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Designs from the bush

Wendy Johnson

When Claire Summers talks about Aboriginal art it’s captivating.

Claire, who lived for eight years in a remote part of wild and rugged Arnhem Land, is the Director of the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation. It’s a profound understatement to say she knows a thing or two about the incredible work being produced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Canberrans can count their lucky stars that Claire will be in the capital during DESIGN Canberra, at ‘Designs from the Bush’, a pop-up shop showcasing a diverse range of unique, hand-crafted works by emerging and established artists from many of the communities dotted around Australia.

Pieces are all 100 per cent authentic and range from about $50. Fibre sculpture, jewellery, fibre craft, textiles, fashion apparel, designer homeware and more are available at the pop-up, which is on until 29 November (various days and times). Better still, it’s guaranteed that proceeds from all sales will go straight back to the Art Centres that produced the work, supporting artists, their families and creating sustainable communities along the way.

Image Credit: Tsialos John Merrepen Fashion

Image Credit: Tsialos John, Merrepen Fashion

“When buying art work sourced from Indigenous owned Art Centres, you’ are supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to generate income and increase their economic capacity. This allows people to continue living on their own homelands, speaking their own languages, and practicing their cultural traditions,” says Claire.

“These artists not only work and live in some of the most remote places in Australia, they work and live in some of the most remote places on earth, so to bring their art to the capital is very special. It’s also fabulous for the artists as it gives them an opportunity to move into new markets.”

So what can you expect to see at Designs from the Bush? Claire says the selection will delight and surprise.

“The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation represents more than 50 Arts Centres in the Northern Territory and each one produces different types and styles of art,” says Claire.

“We’ll have baskets woven using traditional materials and techniques colours. But there will be elements of surprise.”

Image Credit: Injalak Women Fibre artworks

Image Credit: Injalak Women Fibre artworks

One element of surprise will be traditional fish traps, one of the oldest hunting tools used to catch fish in the Top End that are still used for survival today. While created using ancient techniques, the traps are attracting designers who are using them to create lamps.

‘They’ve appeared in Vogue and other high-end fashion magazines,” says Claire.

“They’re incredible and the light bulbs placed inside project designs on the roof and surrounding walls that is stunning. The fish traps have also appeared in Darwin’s best magazines and in some Darwin hotels. They’re a fabulous example of how old can become new again.”

Another element of surprise is the movement with new materials, such as fabric, and the associated freedom of expression for artists.

“Fabric is a modern material for many of these artists,” says Claire.

“Many artists are expressing themselves more freely with it and are using new colours in their work. Some are creating and even licensing textile designs. Others are extending that work and creating award-winning fashion items and accessories.”

Image Credit: Bai Bai Napangardi/Balgo by Kristi McMullan. Mulupuku

Image Credit: Bai Bai Napangardi/Balgo by Kristi McMullan. Mulupuku

“Fashion and textile design is a growing area and some arts centres are really embracing it,’ says Claire. ‘It’s something we want to share with Canberra. Textiles are pivotal to branching into new markets and introduce to audiences who may not have thought of Aboriginal art. It’s being very quickly accepted as contemporary art in many circles.”

Designs from the Bush is a truly magical pop-up. The artists themselves will not be in the capital—travel is costly from remote Australia—but Claire says if the DESIGN Canberra experience is what she expects then more work and other activities will unfold during the 2016 festival.

The essentials

What: Designs from the Bush

When: Thursday 26 November to Sunday 29 November. Times vary so check www.designcanberrafestival—Designs from the Bush—for details.

Where: Suite 2, 72 Northbourne Avenue (access via Cooyong Street).

How much: Free to the public and drop-ins welcome.


Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business. More about the Author

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