Modern Australian

How Indigenous fashion designers are taking control and challenging the notion of the heroic, lone genius

  • Written by Alexandra Crosby, Senior Lecturer, Design, University of Technology Sydney

Indigenous Australians have influenced modern Australian dress since first contact. From possum skin cloaks and booka kangaroo capes to shell necklaces in Tasmania, Europeans have been fascinated with Indigenous materials, skills and aesthetics. They have stolen, purchased, borrowed and worn them for more than 200 years.

In turn, Indigenous Australians have at times enjoyed wearing soldiers’ red jackets as battle spoils and possibly mocked the Europeans by wearing their top hats cockily in the early streets of Sydney.

How Indigenous fashion designers are taking control and challenging the notion of the heroic, lone genius William Barak, Figures in possum skin cloaks, 1898. Wikimedia Commons

Later, as First Australians were dispossessed from their lands and herded into reserves and missions, clothing was imposed on them, ranging from shapeless “mother hubbard” dresses for women to shabby but respectable woollen two-piece suits for men.

Traditional dress practices, along with ceremony, language and music-making, were often banned by the colonisers. Missionaries often taught western-style leatherwork to men and needlecraft to women – yet powerful hybrids of self-determined dress also emerged, expressing subversive gestures and quiet resistance.

In the mid 20th century, missionary nuns in Far North Australia began to allow Indigenous women to craft their own textiles. Brightly coloured fabrics were the result, with unusual combinations of motifs. As Indigenous Art Centres were developed across Australia from the 1970s, mostly in remote communities, the fertile hybrid of painting and textile design generated wholly new looks - leading to the Indigenous textile revolution.

For some time, Indigenous Australian art was often seen as the future of a distinctively Australian design, as evident in the 1970s energy of Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson, but on the whole, Indigenous design was not recognised in its own right. This is now changing - Indigenous fashion design today is being shaped by First Nations people at every level.

How Indigenous fashion designers are taking control and challenging the notion of the heroic, lone genius From Country to Couture: Art Centre: Bula’bula Aboriginal Art Corporation. Designer: Julie Shaw, MAARA Collective. Dylan Buckee

Last weekend, the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair was held on Larrakia Country. For the second year in a row, a major fashion parade more akin to a performance filled Darwin’s large Convention Centre. The fashion event From Country to Couture, held on 7 August, showcased fashion and textile design. But there was a very big difference from the way such a parade would have appeared in the 1980s or even the 1990s.

Indigenous Fashion is about a new framing of self-determination. From Country to Couture was designed, coordinated, produced, curated and mobilised from wholly Indigenous standpoints. This was apparent in many striking ways – from the inclusion of Indigenous models, to the deep strains of a “black power” music track.

How Indigenous fashion designers are taking control and challenging the notion of the heroic, lone genius Artist: Kaiela Arts Shepparton. Designer: Wendy Crow. Collection: Yurri Wala Kaiele- Fresh Water River. Dylan Buckee

This year’s creative director of the event was Grace Lillian Lee, whose own designs are in major collections including the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Sydney). Grace also leads a project called First Nation Fashion + Design which nurtures relationships between Indigenous artists and the fashion industry. Lee notes that she is “empowering black women and men to have their voices in the fashion space, which doesn’t always have to be overtly political, and can just be beautiful, and a lot of fun”.

Lee worked with dozens of artists, mainly from remote Indigenous Art Centres. Textile approaches ranged from silkscreen, batik, weaving, natural dying, digital printing, and embroidery. Some of these collaborations had the energy of new experiments, and others are ongoing.

The anniversary collection of Tiwi clothing label Bima Wear, in collaboration with Clair Helen celebrated 50 years of the women’s creative enterprise. The designs worked with the quintessential geometric patterns of Bima in bold combinations. The message was as much about ethical, community-led industry as it was about beautiful textiles and clothes.

How Indigenous fashion designers are taking control and challenging the notion of the heroic, lone genius Bima Wear artists. James Taylor

Fashion has always been collaborative. It relies on the varied skills of textile designers, manufacturers, hidden hands or makers (petits mains in French), stylists, marketers, photographers, distributors, as well as designers. Yet since the late 18th century, the idea of fashion has been generated around one powerful individual – the high fashion designer.

Indigenous fashion challenges this focus on hero designers – many of whom are men in western society. Based on deep community engagement, it challenges the conventional understanding of the fashion designer as sole, individual author and draws on the talents of large numbers of women.

As much a cultural performance as a fashion parade, Lee’s Darwin event featured a set and a narrative of smoking, burning, and regeneration to thread the six collections together, interspersed with dance performances by Luke Currie-Richardson and Yolanda Lowatta.

From Country to Couture highlighted how the success of the textile design movement in remote Indigenous communities has shaped high-end fashion in Australia. But it also signalled a new way forward, grounded in community relationships, for Indigenous fashion design.

Authors: Alexandra Crosby, Senior Lecturer, Design, University of Technology Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/how-indigenous-fashion-designers-are-taking-control-and-challenging-the-notion-of-the-heroic-lone-genius-121041

NEWS

Altruistic or self-serving? Four things judges consider when sentencing politically-motivated crimes

This morning an Extinction Rebellion protester was arrested after hanging from a rope over the William Jolly Bridge in Brisbane, blocking all lanes to peak hour traffic. And earlier this...

Why do I dwell on the past?

Dwelling on the past, like writing in a diary, is part of being human and helps us form our identity. But not all memories are helpful.from www.shutterstock.comMany of us enjoy...

Surge in pre-poll numbers at 2019 federal election changes the relationship between voters and parties

Another issue is that pre-polling gives an advantage to the major parties over the smaller ones, due to the latter having fewer resources.AAP/Bianca de MarchiOn the morning of the last...

why memorising poetry still matters for human connection

Committing poetry to memory is so much more than a rote exercise.Taylor Ann Wright/UnsplashMemorising poetry was once common in classrooms. But it has, for the most part, gone out of...

what exactly does a showrunner do?

Donald Glover is the showrunner on Atlanta, 'perhaps the most curious credit in the history of the small screen'. imdb/FX NetworksWhat do J.J. Abrams, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Shonda Rhimes, David Lynch...

How many people have eating disorders? We don't really know, and that's a worry

Eating disorders disproportionately affect females and young people.From shutterstock.comLast week, federal health minister Greg Hunt announced that more than 60,000 Australians will be asked about their mental health and well-being...

keep in mind the 'bacon and eggs' principle

Morrison describes the “the bacon and eggs principle" where "the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed".AAP/Shutterstock/The ConversationScott Morrison has a sharp lecture for bureaucrats about their KPIs, in...

Frydenberg outlines financial sector reform timetable

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has issued a timetable for the government’s dealing with the recommendations from the royal commission into banking, superannuation and financial services, which aims to have all measures...

For the first time in centuries, we're setting up a generation to be worse off than the one before it

The avocado latte is indeed a thing, but young Australians are spending less on luxuries than they used to, while older Australians are spending more. ShutterstockEach new generation of Australians since...

Michelle Grattan on the Pacific Islands Forum wash-up, media freedom and the public service

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu.AAP/Mick TsikasMichelle Grattan talks to University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Deep Saini about the week...

Pacific Island nations will no longer stand for Australia's inaction on climate change

The Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Tuvalu this week has ended in open division over climate change. Australia ensured its official communique watered down commitments to respond to climate change...

Glamorising violent offenders with 'true crime' shows and podcasts needs to stop

Even in death, the voice of Carl Williams is louder than that of his victims. Intimate prison letters written by the convicted murderer and drug trafficker to his ex-wife, Roberta...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

The Process Followed by Car Removal Companies5 Ideas for Small Melbourne BackyardsSplurge or Save: Our tips on what to Spend the Big Money on for your Wedding5 ways to make sure you have a good camping tripMouth Ulcer Treatment – The Easiest It Can GetLaser Treatment For Skin Tag RemovalThe Importance of Mental Health During PregnancyFavourite Pastimes for SeniorsHow to Dress for Work: Chic 9-5 StyleFind out how reading Funeral Poems can bring comfort to your griefWhat Men Like in Women’s FashionDocument you need for a divorce7 Steps Complete Guide to Sustainable Lifestyle5 ways to hydrate your hair and skin while you travelGreat Ways to Stay Fit When You are Busy