Australian Indigenous Inspirations in Contemporary Fashion: Scratching the Surface or Channeling the Country?
RMIT University, Australia
The incorporation of Australian indigenous motifs in contemporary fashion in Australia is a long-standing but increasingly contested area. Some motifs such as stylised boomerangs and kangaroos are regarded as generic symbols that can generally be used but as art works are appropriated or modified for use in textiles (in particular) questions have been raised about the appropriateness of this use. There have been a number of media, public, copyright and legal challenges which have raised the awareness of the issue but not definitively resolved it. Despite the introduction of Codes of Conduct and Certificates of Authenticity, the inspiration of indigenous motifs remains a contentious issue.
This paper explores how the debate has been framed and developed in recent years, taking as its starting point the writings of Margaret Maynard (1999, 2000, 2001). To give a contemporary flavour to the issue, I explore the work of non-indigenous designers who have engaged in extensive collaborations with indigenous artists and designers (notably the ongoing works of Linda Jackson, Jenny Kee, Peter Morrissey, Roopa Pemmaraju, and the Queensland University of Technology Fashion Incubator AKIN project) and indigenous individuals or collectives who have developed a strong presence in the field of fashion including Bronwyn Bancroft, John and Ros Moriarty of Balarinji Design Studio, Tiwi Design and Art, and Jimmy Pike’s licensed artwork for Desert Designs. Reflecting the growth and maturation of indigenous inspiration in mainstream fashion, the lead up to the inaugural Australian Indigenous Fashion Week which will be held in Sydney in April 2014 will also be used as a case study.
The key question posed is to what extent have indigenous motifs and aesthetics shaped the culture of fashion in Australia and the expression of national identity through fashion?