UQ Anthropology museum unveils long-lost Indigenous sculptures

University of Queensland

Three sculptures carved by an Indigenous Elder are on display together for the first time in 90 years at an exhibition at The University of Queensland Anthropology Museum.

UQ Anthropology Museum Director Michael Aird said the exhibition, Voices of our Elders: Aboriginal Storytellers features 30 Aboriginal people who have contributed to recording and maintaining Indigenous history and culture.

“The most significant artefacts are three carved sculptures created in the 1930’s by Fred Embrey, a notable figure in the history of the Cherbourg Aboriginal settlement in Southern Queensland,” Mr Aird said.

“The carvings d­epict Djan’djari, mischievous guardian spirits who lived in the forest on Kabi Kabi Country.

“The descendants of Fred Embrey were aware of two of the sculptures, which have been at Queensland Museum since the early 1990s, however they were unaware a third one existed prior to it being purchased by QAGOMA in 2020.”

Mr Aird said the mission to reunite the three sculptures was achieved through the Fred Embrey Research Project, an Indigenous-led research collaboration between UQ and Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA).

“To have all three sculptures together in one place for the first time is very important and significant to the family,” he said.

“We are very fortunate that Queensland Museum and QAGOMA have lent us the sculptures for the exhibition.

“Since it opened in February it’s been wonderful to see members of the Aboriginal and broader communities connecting with the people featured and the stories that are told.”

Fred Embrey’s Great Granddaughter, Beverley Hand said the carvings told an important story of reconciliation.

“This is how reconciliation works – these pieces have a shared history and demonstrate how things can move forward together,” Ms Hand said.

“There’s no doubt that these pieces have our Country in it – it has our ochres, our feathers, our string.”

UQ Anthropology Museum Curator Mandana Mapar said the artefacts showcased in the exhibition were important for the preservation of Indigenous culture.

“Other people featured in the exhibition include Paul Ambrose Tripcony, an Indigenous historian who donated many works to UQ over the years; and Willie Mackenzie, who was recognised as the first Aboriginal person employed at the university,” Ms Mapar said.

“It’s anchored with photographs and short biographies of Aboriginal people from south-east Queensland who have contributed to documenting history and culture in some way.

“All the people in the exhibition have passed away, so this is a rare opportunity for viewers to understand the lives that these people lived.”

The exhibition will run until late November.

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Images available via Dropbox.

Watch the Fred Embrey Research Project video.

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