As a descendant of the Ngugi people, the traditional landowners of Quandamooka Country (Stradbroke Island, Queensland), Elisa Jane (Leecee) Carmichael’s work is deeply entrenched in her cultural heritage. As someone who creates to connect, Carmichael’s work attempts to bring to life what has been lost to history and colonisation. Her work isn’t just about the finished product, instead, it’s the connection to her Country, to her people and to her ancestors that drives her to make.
Hailing from a family of artists, writers and curators, Carmichael works closely with her female relatives to restore, protect and nurture her cultural knowledge and practice. Her art making explores the beauty of nature and surrounding environments, drawing inspiration from her cultural identity and heritage. Whether she is working with textiles, ceramics, or other materials, the changing rhythms of the natural world influence her as organically as the wind blows. Her works are imbued with a sense of timelessness and continuity, as if they are a bridge between the past and the present, connecting her to the wisdom of her ancestors and the cycles of nature.
Carmichael’s passion for creating began at a young age. Growing up in a small community, she was surrounded by the beauty of her saltwater Country and the wisdom of her ancestors. This inspired her to use her hands to bring her visions to life. This expression of saltwater identity and culture is particularly evident in Carmichael’s cyanotypes. These works record the shape of shells and dilly bags and other woven objects when placed on the textile surface and exposed to UV light. Leaving an impression or memory of the objects. Carmichael describes the cyanotypes as being ‘deep like the ocean and allow[ing] the viewer to see inside the weaves’. The deep Prussian blue pigment references the rich colour of the Quandamooka sea. These cyanotypes are a narrative of her life on North Stradbroke Island. Animal tracks, shells, leaves and the saltwater waves leaving an imprint of themselves, like memory, on the pigmented material.
Carmichael’s use of traditional techniques such as weaving and basketry to create contemporary pieces that reflect her connection to the land and her people. One of Carmichael's most notable works is her series of dilly bags of ungaire (swamp reed), that she created with her mother, Sonja, who is also an artist. These are made using traditional techniques passed down through generations of Quandamooka women. Before European contact, these bags were essential to every aspect of daily life on the island. After European invasion, the bags were taken and placed in museums across the world, the practice of making them was discouraged, and after a thousand years of knowledge, was almost lost to the community.
Through her art, Carmichael aims to raise awareness about the importance of preserving and reviving Indigenous culture and traditions. By using traditional techniques and materials, she is able to connect with her family and her cultural heritage and share it with the rest of the world. Her work is a testament to the power of storytelling, connection and the importance of passing knowledge from one generation to the next.
Carmichael has a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University (Brisbane, Australia); and a Master of Fine Arts, QUT (Brisbane). She has created woven wearable collections that have been included in Cairns Indigenous Art Fair Fashion program and Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, Virginia, USA. Her artwork has been exhibited in and collected by galleries and museums across Australia, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Art Gallery of South Australia, Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Queensland Art Gallery and National Museum of Australia. Carmichael’s work has been recognised as contributing to the canon of contemporary Australian art and to promoting Australian Indigenous culture and traditions. She has also been involved in community projects that aim to empower Indigenous youth and promote cultural awareness.