20 Nov

Designs on culture

Words by
Marina Williams
Pictures by
Bronwyn Kidd

Australia’s rich and vibrant history will feature in a landmark major survey of contemporary Indigenous Australian fashion at Bendigo Art Gallery.

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Australia’s rich and vibrant history will feature in a landmark major survey of contemporary Indigenous Australian fashion at Bendigo Art Gallery.

Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion has more than 100 garments and design objects from 70 Indigenous artists and designers.

It has been created exclusively for and by Bendigo Art Gallery, says First Nations curator and Kaantju woman, Shonae Hobson.
The pieces come from major public and private collections, as well as new collections from designers and arts centres. While each piece draws on thousands of years of history, culture and storytelling, visitors will see synergies with contemporary textile and fashion designs.

“Many of the garments selected for the exhibition are an expression of Country and contemporary Indigenous culture. Through the use of natural and recycled materials, traditional weaving techniques and hand-painted prints, the First Nations artists and designers are expressing their culture and connection to Country in very exciting and bold ways – distinct from anything else being produced around the world – and this is something worth celebrating,” Shonae says.

The exhibition title, Piinpi, comes from Shonae’s great-grandmother’s language. It is a Kanichi Thampanyu (East Cape York) term referring to changes in a landscape that happen across time and space.

“For me, the word Piinpi was important to use as it encapsulated a lot of what the exhibition was about. For Indigenous peoples, our knowledge of the land and seasons is culturally important as it signifies the abundance of certain bush foods, when we can travel, and when is a good time to collect traditional materials for ceremony and dance.”

The designers and artists share their stories through beautifully crafted fabrics and wearable art, with the exhibition divided into four seasons widely recognised in many First Nations groups, using the Kuuku Ya’u words: Kayaman (dry season), Pinga (regeneration), piicha piicha (cool season) and ngurkitha (wet season).

Kayaman was a time for many to travel to visit families, go hunting and prepare for ceremonies. Piicha piicha signifies strong winds and cold nights, and is considered the best time of year to gather materials to make hunting tools, with traditional possum and kangaroo skin cloaks and emu feather earrings on display.

Pinga is the season of flower, signalling the right time to collect bushfoods and manage harvests to ensure long-term availability of resources. Cotton material from some seeds are used for body decoration and in ceremonies.

The largest section of the exhibition is devoted to ngurkitha, when heavy rainfall fills rivers, swamps and creeks. The hand-painted garments, textiles and jewellery pieces are bold and vibrant, reflecting the colours that inundate the land following the heavy rains.
The exhibition will feature collections from Lyn-Al Young, Grace Lillian Lee, Babbarra Women’s Centre, Marree Clarke, Lisa Waaup x Verner, Hopevale Arts and Cultural centre and many more.

Bendigo Art Gallery Director Jessica Bridgfoot says the gallery will acquire several key works that will form the beginnings of the Australian Fashion Collection.

“We are thrilled to mark this important moment in Australian fashion and design history with a new collection focus. The launch of Piinpi and the new Australian Fashion Collection are an exciting new chapter for Bendigo Art Gallery.”
Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion is a free exhibition scheduled for October 31, 2020 to January 17, 2021.