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Drawing inspiration from Country and culture

Inside the walls of the University’s new Inveresk Library are unique artworks telling the story of an ancient culture that lives on across the site.

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The creations of Tasmanian Aboriginal artist Caleb Nichols-Mansell can now be found at Inveresk Library after he was commissioned to design feature carpets for the building’s interior.

A proud and deep connection to Country and culture is the inspiration underpinning Caleb’s resulting pieces - each anchored by kanamaluka, the nearby Tamar River.

“Growing up in Launceston, I spent a lot of time exploring and connecting to Country. There was always something mystical about this waterway that drew me in, it was like an energy,” Caleb said.

“It was important that I brought kanamaluka from outside into the campus and told the story of how it supported our old people and still connects and supports our community today.”

Positioned across all three levels of the Library building, the circular artworks measure between 3 - 6 metres in diameter while the rectangular pieces are up to 15 metres in length. The colours and patterns emerging from the canvases represent themes and features connected to the nearby waterway.

The grass-toned shades within ‘Wetlands’ illustrate the surrounding environment that’s known for sustaining life and providing natural resources likes reeds used for weaving cultural baskets.

“Our old people would travel to kanamaluka hunting native wildlife that was abundant. Moving through the reeds, living in harmony with the waterways and Country they called home,” Caleb said.

Pictured: Caleb’s ‘Wetlands’ artwork is featured on Level 1 of the Library building near the main entrance

Shades of blue emerge from ‘muka’ which translates to saltwater in palawa kani language, while ‘kanamaluka one, two and three’ feature ochre hues inspired by the country surrounding the river with strokes of black marking the human impact.

“kanamaluka was a beautiful water source that supported our community for thousands upon thousands of years, and now you can't fish in it. I hope that through this telling and sharing of our knowledge and our experience we’re able to repair the waterway and bring it back to what it once was.”

The final piece ‘Flats’ represents the mud flats around the banks and the mouth of the river as the tide drifts in and out.

Caleb Nichols-Mansell with his artwork muka
Pictured: ‘Muka’ can be found in the Riawunna Collection area on Level 2
Image of Caleb's carpet creation beneath study tables and chairs
Pictured: ‘Flats’ is located on Level 3

Caleb spent several weeks visiting and studying the river’s flow, lighting, colours, and natural forms, creating a mood board to help conceptualise his artwork. The designs were achieved with assistance from digital tools and all elements were individually hand drawn.

Janette Burke, University Librarian, and Caine Chennatt, Associate Director Cultural Collections, jointly initiated the art commission in collaboration with Arts Tasmania.

“Our vision for Inveresk Library has been to integrate art that helps bring the themes of discovering and creating new knowledges to life,” Janette said.

“Caleb’s work does this in such a unique, special and inspiring way, bringing knowledge of Country into the building.”

Pictured: ‘kanamaluka one, two and three’ are also positioned on Level 3

Professor Greg Lehman, Pro Vice-Chancellor Aboriginal Leadership considers the commission of Caleb’s work to be particularly significant for the University.

“Caleb’s art practice is widely admired and appreciated and we are fortunate to have his contribution as a superbly integrated component of an outstanding architectural and interior design achievement with the Inveresk Library building,” Professor Lehman said.

“Perhaps more importantly, Caleb is a former student at the University of Tasmania. To have him bring his talents back home for the benefit of future staff, students and community is very special.”

Caleb’s creations add to other Aboriginal artworks and knowledges which have and will be embedded into the new Inveresk campus precinct.

These include the Riawunna cultural collections which are also housed in the Library, the pulingina milaythina Aboriginal Welcome space nearby, guardian stones that have been positioned at entrances into the precinct, and a new Aboriginal garden to come that will feature edible native species.

Everyone from the community is welcome to see and experience Caleb’s artworks. Library opening hours for the general public across all three levels of the building are Monday – Friday, 8am – 5pm.

Discover Caleb’s artwork and hear about his experience and journey bringing the carpet designs to life in this short video clip.