A phrase told to Dr Gretchen Stolte by artists she had worked with, that had been told to them, is at the centre of the presentation she’ll be delivering in November.
These artists were repeatedly told: “Aboriginal people don’t use glass beads”.
“Galleries and museums would turn artists away who used glass beads and encouraged them to use natural seed beads instead,” explains Dr Stolte, a material culture anthropologist with the ANU Centre for Digital Humanities Research
“Natural seed beads are a common and beautiful form of Indigenous cultural expression across Australia. But glass beads also have a place in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island innovation, creativity and artistic works.”
Dr Stolte’s passion for beads began in 2010: “Beadwork was a way of decompressing from the stress of completing my PhD but it began as a way of connecting to my [Native American] Nez Perce heritage,” she says.
“The history of Indigenous beadwork includes fascinating stories of innovation, adaptation and creativity.
“Beadwork can also be very individual and works can reflect family ties and personal tastes as well as cultural backgrounds and traditions.”
Dr Stolte has organised a conference on Indigenous beading and research in Australia, being held at the Australian National University.
ANU speakers include Dr Louise Hamby and Dr Mirani Litster, both from the School of Archaeology and Anthropology. The conference keynote will be Lola Greeno, who won Craft Australia’s Living Treasures Award in 2014.
Apart from being a renowned practitioner of jewellery-making, Dr Stolte says that what stands out about Lola is her devotion to continuing traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal culture through the practice of shellwork.
“Greeno is incredibly generous with her knowledge and has helped to promote Tasmanian Aboriginal culture, renewal and continuity,” Dr Stolte says.
This year’s ACT NAIDOC Artist of the Year, Krystal Hurst, will be running two workshops associated with the conference as well as presenting.
“Her presentation will cover how her beadwork reflects her cultural heritage, what it means to collect materials on country, and how her art practice and her Aboriginal identity are deeply connected,” Dr Stolte says.
Thursday will be a day of beading workshops, run by Hurst and Ikuntii Artists from Haasts Bluff in the Northern Territory.
“In addition to coming away with a beautiful piece of jewellery, workshop participants will get a chance to have a truly unique experience learning about the artist’s country, traditions and cultural meanings surrounding beaded objects.”
Workshop registration is separate from the conference.
Registration is free for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and students can register for $50.