In the Aboriginal culture of Australia, art and design have been used as forms of communication and education for more than 50,000 years, since the mythical Dreamtime. During our recent family trip Downunder, I explored what Australian design has to offer to the rest of the world – beyond the ubiquitous Ugg boots.
Our trip coincided with this year’s NAIDOC week, which celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In line with NAIDOC 2018’s theme “Because of Her, we can”, here is a look at female designers with an indigenous ancestry who are forging a new sense of the Australian identity.
Lyn-Al Young is a Gunnai, Wiradjuri, Gunditjmara and Yorta Yorta fashion designer and artist living in Melbourne.To mark NAIDOC week celebrations, she has developed an exclusive collection for Australia’s major department store David Jones. Entitled ngu-ng-ga-dhaany, which means ‘carrier’ in Wiradjuri language, the collection aims to celebrate and honour all women. Each piece is made from merino wool and silk, with a unique story relating to the colours, textures and materials used.
Lucy Simpson studied graphics and textile design at the University of New South Wales’ prestigious College of Fine Arts in Sydney. She now runs her own design practice called Gaawaa Miyay (River Daughter), taking inspiration from her Yuwaalaraay family country in New South Wales.
Nicole Monks is an award-winning contemporary designer currently creating two furniture ranges inspired by her Aboriginal, Dutch and English heritage. Nicole belongs to the Wajarri Yamatji language group of the Gascoyne-Murchison region in Western Australia. The furniture is custom-made from eco-friendly materials, made to order and manufactured locally, such as the Walarnu (Boomerang) chair.
Cairns-based artist Grace Lillian Lee uses traditional Torres Strait Islander weaving techniques, which are on display at the National Gallery of Victoria, to create intricate collars and necklaces.
Since the inaugural Australian Indigenous Fashion Week in 2014, the interest in Aboriginal fashion and design has been steadily growing. Global footwear brand Jimmy Choo has recently used the designs of Noongar man Peter Farmer on a pair of its high-end stilettos.
Doubtless, there are inevitable sensitivities around cultural appropriation and cultural appropriateness. In response to the influx of cheap imported trinkets marketed as “authentic Aboriginal art”, the National Aboriginal Design Agency was set up in 2012 to ensure that indigenous traditions and customs are respected, while protecting and rewarding Aboriginal artists themselves.