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Indigenous fashion showcased at the National Museum of Australia

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Australia has a rich tradition and appreciation of Indigenous art, and the National Museum of Australia (NMA) is hoping to spearhead a similar reverence for Indigenous fashion design.

Featuring the work of Indigenous artists and designers from the inner city to remote desert art centres, Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion celebrates Australia’s leading First Nations creatives.

The exhibition was curated by Bendigo Art Gallery’s First Nations Curator, Kaantju woman Shonae Hobson, and brings together around 60 works by creators and brands including Grace Lillian Lee, Lyn-Al Young, Lisa Waup x Verner, Hopevale Arts and Culture Centre, MAARA Collective, the Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, AARLI Fashion and LORE.

Peggy Griffiths, Delany Griffith, Anita Churchill, Cathy Ward, Kelly-Anne Drill, Legacy Dress.

The NMA is hosting the Bendigo Art Gallery’s exhibition as part of a national tour.

National Museum of Australia Director Dr Mathew Trinca said: “We are delighted to bring this extraordinary exhibition to Canberra for people in this region to enjoy. It will provide a joyful start to 2021 as one of the key celebrations during the Museum’s 20th anniversary year and an exquisite showcase of exciting new work from rising stars in Indigenous fashion design.”

The Swayn Senior Fellow in Australian Design at the National Museum, Adrienne Erickson, said: “The Swayn Foundation is very excited to support Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion as our first design-focused exhibition at the National Museum, and we hope the start of a strong partnership in presenting Australian design exhibitions and events at the National Museum.”

Grace Rosendale Seed Pod top and pants

Adrienne acknowledged that Indigenous fashion had yet to find the same level of appreciation and value as Indigenous art, but that was changing.

“Indigenous fashion is very much about slow fashion, not mass production, not targeting any demographic or market in particular. It really is an expression of the artists and designers about their connection to country and the stories they want to tell,” she said.

“With time and development of skill and ideas, fashion and design will become a popular way of expressing stories and connection to country. Indigenous fashion from communities in remote and regional areas is becoming an economically sustainable form of self-reliance, using materials that are readily at hand, as well as upcycling and adaptable reuse. It’s not about taking over the fashion industry but becoming a new cultural movement of itself.”

Adrienne said the exhibition showcased garments that would appeal to all ages and backgrounds—from the monochromatic, urban, unisex geometry of Lisa Waup, to the soft and muted, hand-sewn sculptural pieces of Trudy Inkamala who hand-paints birds and native wildlife on her garments.

Curator Shonae Hobson said Indigenous fashion was not a ‘trend’ but an important movement that had put Indigenous voices and artistic expression at the centre of the global fashion agenda.

Piinpi is an expression that Kanichi Thampanyu (First Nations people from the East Cape York Peninsula) use to describe changes in the landscape across time and space.

The exhibition explores the way understandings of Country and culture are reflected in and inspire contemporary Indigenous textile and fashion design. Some highlights include pieces by Gunnai, Wiradjuri, Gunditjmara and Yorta Yorta woman Lyn-Al Young which are hand-painted using ancient techniques, a possum skin cloak made by Dja Dja Wurrung/Yorta Yorta Elder Rodney Carter, woven pandanus hats and accessories created by Margaret Malibirr, Mary Dhapalany and Evonne Munuyngu from Bula’bula Arts in East Arnhem Land in collaboration with Yuwaalaraay woman Julie Shaw, creator of the luxury resort-wear line MAARA Collective, and the inaugural Indigenous Designer of the Year 2019. These pieces take inspiration from the Australian landscape and were a major hit at the Country to Couture runway event at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair in 2019.

Anindilyakawa Arts. Photo Anna Reynolds

There are also several highly sculptured pieces by Grace Lillian Lee, including A Weave of Reflection (2018). Grace is a descendant of the Meriam Mir people of the Eastern Islands of the Torres Strait, and creates wearable art pieces using techniques taught to her by artist Uncle Ken Thaiday.

Teagan Cowlishaw’s sparkly Deadly Kween jumpsuit, made from upcycled materials including a remnant cushion, a faulty ‘deadly’ T-shirt and aqua metallic gold lustre vinyl print. A proud Bardi and Ardyaloon visual artist, Teagan creates custom garments using deadstock and discarded materials, seeing recycling as a way of paying respect to her Ancestors by committing to sustainability and preservation of Country for the next generation.

The exhibition is free and runs until August 8.

Main image: Grace Lillian Lee, Body Armour – A Weave of Reflection Pink and Orange.

THE ESSENTIALS

What: Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion
When: Showing until 8 August
Where: The National Museum of Australia, Lawson Crescent, Acton Peninsula
Cost: Entry is free
Website: nma.gov.au

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