Megan Cope

Megan Cope is a contemporary artist with a strong exhibition profile nationally and increasingly, internationally. She is a descendant of the Quandamooka region (North Stradbroke Island) and until recently lived and worked in Brisbane. She is a member of Aboriginal art collective, Proppa Now.

You’re interested in toponyms – place names – and your work has re-inscribed the Australian landscape with its Indigenous custodianship by using Aboriginal names on maps of local regions. You recently did a commissioned work on a huge scale at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art for the ‘My Country, I still call Australia home’ exhibition, for which you used vintage military survey maps of the Greater Brisbane region. What makes toponyms so powerful?

I became interested in toponyms after studying several maps of Brisbane from different times, more specifically Parish Maps (circa 1890s) and then Military Maps (circa 1930-40s). What struck me was the change of place names over time within the same geographical space—I found that the Parish maps included more Aboriginal toponyms, many of which became absent in the Military maps while the English names remained and multiplied.

This lead me to start asking questions about the re-naming and claiming of place names and geography.

Toponomy and place names are an important aspect of culture and identity as they provide a location where history, events, landscapes and people are remembered, celebrated and most importantly continued.

I found it interesting that changes in the social landscape were also marked on maps via language.

Your work is so connected to place, particularly your ancestral home of North Stradbroke Island. How does this specific locality translate to national and international audiences? For example, you recently showed work in Hong Kong – did your work resonate strongly with audiences there?

I’ve often wondered how audiences would connect with the work if they are not familiar or personally connected with the geography, however there are many layers within that series that translate issues relating to Colonialism and also environmental change; these are issues that permeate globally.

The works that I showed in Hong Kong were in an exhibition titled A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story. The exhibition traced different narratives, historical backgrounds as well as the implications of these events in relation to the contemporary culture and politics of Hong Kong and the world.

I made text-based works that discussed prejudice and law, specifically about Aboriginal people, and employed language to articulate expressions with dual meanings—in glow paint, which was both absent and present.

I feel like if I were to exhibit or undertake a residency overseas I would investigate and research similar aspects of culture and history and could apply my conceptual methodologies to maps of that geography.

What is your relationship to fashion; self-loathing, or self-expression?

Self-expression: dressing is an important ritual in everyone’s lives and speaks volumes about a person’s character without words. However I must admit, I seem to have slackened my style probably because I’m so busy now.

Where do you look for inspiration on matters of style?

Op shops and garage sales mostly. I love well made, well fitted and natural fabrics as mush as possible.

I think the beauty about this kind of style is the adventure of rarely finding an item that fits perfectly, but when it does and is a bargain, it’s such a treat. You also know that it’s been loved by someone else; often at garage sales people will tell you a story about the garment, and I believe recycling is also simply good practice.

What is your most treasured dress-related object or memory?

I have a pair of ostrich leather RM Williams boots that I’ve never seen on anyone else before. I love them so much and will have them for the rest of my life.

Give us three words, people or places you associate with Queensland fashion…

Gold Coast + Boobies + Boardies

Is there such a thing as a distinct Queensland style?

I think people dress according to their subculture ultimately.

If I had to point out one distinction it would have to be the embrace of bare shoulders and upper arms.

Megan Cope's work at A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story, Para Site, 2013
Megan Cope's work at A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong story, Para Site, 2013Megan Cope

Published in , on March 11, 2014.