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Despite the ravages of colonisation, Tasmania’s Palawa people have made necklaces of lustrous strings of pearlescent shells in an unbroken cultural practice over thousands of years.

Growing up on Cape Barren and Flinders Islands in Bass Strait, Palawa Elder Lola Greeno absorbed the cultural wisdom relating to precise protocols for the making of shell necklaces. The beauty of Greeno’s work lies in her intimate knowledge of the centuries-old cleaning and polishing processes used to reveal the shells’ lustre. With an inherent sense of design, she creates harmonious pairings of luminous colours and perfect forms.

Reflecting the brilliant colours of the sea, multiple strands of each species on display in APT9 emphasise the shells’ particular characteristics: the translucent green/blue of maireener shells, the icy tones of pointed banded silver kelps, the iridescence of abalones, the patterned warrener, and the dense black of crow shells. These beautiful strands require only minimal presentation to highlight their subtle elegance.

In ancient Palawa tradition, shell necklaces were gifted as a mark of esteem. Over a two-year period, Greeno sourced 143 large and rare king maireener (rainbow kelp) shells for a special commission for Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) to honour international performance artist Marina Abramovic. On meeting her, Greeno was satisfied that the intensity of the visiting artist’s personality matched the brilliance of the stunning neckpiece.

Through her practice, Lola Greeno ensures that Tasmania’s uniquely beautiful shells continue to be revered. She teaches others, with great patience and dedication, and engages the support of her family to continue ancient traditions.