Blak Designs Matters The national survey of Contemporary Indigenous Design exhibition

“When I see a work of art or design by one of my people, I see an invitation to join them on a journey” Aunty Joy Murphy‘s words capture the essence of this exhibition as you enter. Over the past decade or so, Australia has begun a greater recognition of Indigenous work of art across a range of creative endeavors. This has lead to the resurrection of exhibitions such as ‘Blak Design Matters’ by the Koorie Heritage Trust group, the first national survey of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander design led by Jefa Greenaway.

As you make your journey through space, there is a sense of connection to the place where one can feel an uncanny motivating power within. This exhibition has sought to provide a representative sample of largely established designers many of whom operate across multiple disciplines. Blak Designs Matters captures a moment in time and aims to shine light upon the story of a young group of indigenous designers who design our clothes, furniture, spaces and take great pride in their rich cultural heritage. Amongst all talented designers, fashion designers like Aarli (WA), Lyn-Al Young (VIC), Arkie Barton (QLD) and MI Arts (QLD) standout. ‘Growing up and participating in an entrepreneurial environment has definitely helped me develop an appetite for running my own business.’ Lyn-Al Young Dress by Lyn-Al Young, photo via the Koori Heritage Group Facebook page.

The first astonishing outfit made from pure silk with soul-soothing prints running through the piece representing the most vibrate hues of color belong to Lyn-Al Young, a Gunnai woman from Yorta Yorta in Australia. Lyn-Al Young is an Indigenous designer who escalated her career in the Fashion world quite rapidly in recent years. Growing up in a family of artists, entrepreneurs, and strong leaders has shapes Lyn’s personality which is reflected in her designs. ‘Growing up and participating in an entrepreneurial environment has definitely helped me develop an appetite for running my own business’, says Lyn-Al Young. She further adds, ‘One of the key questions my siblings and I have been asked by our parents is ‘Do you want to be a consumer or a producer?’ It’s in our spirit and heritage to produce’. Since the young age, Lyn had a creative calling for designing clothes. She started selling custom handmade jean bags at the age of twelve. She then channeled her creative calling at the age of 17, straight out of high school, into establishing her own design label called ‘Lyn- Al’. The Lyn-Al brand is also recognized for its three pillars of creativity: ‘The Fashion Design, The Contemporary Artwork, and The Creative-Cultural Workshops. Pieces showcased at the exhibition are from her recent line of collaboration with David Jones. These pieces are also runner-ups in DJ’s opening runway shows for Spring Fashion week in Melbourne. In a press release, Lyn-Al states, “The textures in this collection represent the basket weaving to symbolize our connections to one another”. She adds, “The curvy lines represent the Coolamon, which was traditionally used by our ancestors to carry babies and cart our food and water”.

The colors and landscape markings are symbolic of the nurturing and healing spirit that is deep within the fabric of all women,” she further adds. Lyn-Al is showcasing her work later in the year at Hong Kong fashion week, which marks an iconic moment in Australian Indigenous Fashion Design. Lyn sees a very bright future for Australian Indigenous fashion designers in Australia as well as across the globe. She believes that soon we could be expecting fashion festivals dedicated to indigenous fashion designers. Next in line is Arkie Barton, the designer behind the brand ‘Arkie the label’ who is bringing contemporary Aboriginal culture to mainstream Australians through fashion. Arkie’s work is intended for a younger target market with the taste for modern cuts and Aboriginal textiles.

Arkie’s hand-drawn prints are carefully represented, with each of the bright artisanal prints telling a story, largely influenced by the designer’s heritage and inspired by the Australian native nature. The prints are then digitally finished onto wearable textiles making every garment even more desirable. ‘I am still being as resourceful as my ancestors, even though I am not living in the Country’- TJ Cowlishaw (Aarli) 2018. Aarli’s styles are carrying a certain new edge in the Australian Fashion. TJ Cowlishaw’s designs are symbols of herself expressing her Indigenous roots while capturing the essence of her modern- world upbringing. Aarli’s brand specializes in sustainable upcycled streetwear, apparel, and eco-couture gowns. ‘I believe it’s my duty as a next generation leader to be creating a positive influence on the “stereotype’ or societal perception of Aboriginal people. I am a next-generation Indigenous fashion designer who wants to use fashion to change Australia’s schema of the Aboriginal people, the traditional custodians of this country’. Aarli’s fashion collaboration with the Sydney-based Indigenous street brand Haus of Dizzy in 2017 became a great success when both designers shared their forward-thinking, compassionate, sustainable, ecological and socio-economical practice began directing the arguments around Australian design in a very inspiring hopeful path. Their work serves as a timely reminder that design is always political. Dress by Grace Lillian Lee on the runway at the Australian Indigenous Fashion Week. Photo via AIFW. Grace Lilian Lee is a multicultural Australian artist known for drawing inspiration from her Indigenous heritage. Grace’s recent collaboration with leading Queensland Indigenous Art Centre Mirndiyan Gununa based in Mornington Island, Queensland marks the life the brand ‘MiArt’. MiArt Designs explore the boundaries of contemporary art and textile fashion. This leads the artist to create a line of handcrafted wearable designs including silk felts, hand-painted canvas bags and accessories. The most recent design styles are the resemblance of colorful patterns and textiles inspired by the vibrant and culturally rich heritage of the communities of Mornington Island. MiArt Design is most famous for their forward-thinking Fashion movement in 2016 when the brand launched its products by taking their own models to the Melbourne Fashion Festival as part of the Cultural program, and since the showcased them designs at fashion shows across Australia. MiArt’s handcrafted bags are must-have-items which you can purchase from NGV stores. Inspiration lies within every section of this exhibition.

Despite the challenges Indigenous people experienced throughout their lives, alliances have been forged amongst people like Lyn-Al Young who created new models of collaboration with mainstream fashion labels, MiArt Designs group who became pioneers in Cultural Festival programmes, TJ Cowlishaw and Arkie Barton who create trends by pushing boundaries. This is just the beginning of recognition, preservation, and celebration of traditional and multicultural creations of our Indigenous designers. The exhibition has strictly no photo policy to protect designer’s work and currently runs for free at the Koorie Heritage Trust building in Federation square of Melbourne till 30 September 2018.