Aboriginal Australian textiles from the Northern Territory: In and Out of Place

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Aboriginal Australian textiles are simultaneously deeply ingrained within the place in which they are designed and/or printed; whilst also forming part of a global narrative through their tourist based clientele. These textiles are designed in isolated community groups where the majority of the population are Indigenous Australians. The textiles are imbued with a ‘sense of place’; predominantly due to the remoteness of the centres. Only a limited range of printing techniques can be utilized as, unlike an urban textile design company, access to resources is very limited. This has resulted in the widespread practice of lino block and screen-printing.

The designers are largely inspired by their surroundings, therefore, textiles adorned in sea life are generally produced by coastal communities, whilst depictions of town life are from those living within the Alice Springs area. Designs are conceived, transferred to screens and printed in the heart of the community that inspired them. This cultural identity and pride is often reflected by wearing clothing made from the textiles at important ceremonies, such as funerals. As the communities are very remote, they tend to depend upon art fairs, markets and online stores to sell their textile products. Consequently, the designs are frequently purchased by non-Indigenous tourists who have no experience of the community and place which was so important to that textiles’ development. Divorced from their initial context, the centres then attempt to produce a ‘story’ and meaning to the fabric through the marketing process.
This paper will draw from my recent fieldwork in the Northern Territory, where I visited centres and interviewed those involved in the design, printing and selling process. I will focus on the inspiration for the designs and how ‘place’ has been imbued within the textiles. Additionally, I shall reflect on how this sense of connection is lost during trading and how the stories and purchase experiences attempt to substitute that missing context. By investigating the understandings of these textiles both in and out of ‘place’, I will consider how they may be a tool to correct the often negative and patronising portrayal of Indigenous Australians within the global context.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2018
EventTextile and Place - Manchester School of Art, Manchester
Duration: 12 Apr 201813 Apr 2018


ConferenceTextile and Place
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