Aboriginal Australian textile design in the northern territory
: Postcolonial making as praxis

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Arts and craft centres were introduced within Indigenous Australian communities across Australia from the 1930s onwards in order to provide a creative outlet for some members of the communities. The creative output of these centres is very varied, with artists producing a range of material from painted works to sculptures, ceramics or printed textile designs. Rooted in the missionary and colonial power systems, art centre managers are usually settler Australians and these centres arguably serve as a concentrated microcosm of the wider neo-colonial issues within Australia. This thesis explores the tensions between artist and art manager, colonised and coloniser by focusing on the textile designing and printing practices that a selection of artists at art and crafts centres engage in. It concentrates on communities in the Northern Territory as this is the state with the largest population of Indigenous Australians and where a large amount of art and craft centres are located.

The textiles have become increasingly popular, with the rise of Indigenous fashion shows both within Australia and globally. The fact that most of the textiles are made to be worn means that both artist and customer have very different relationships to the creation than they would with an acrylic painting on canvas (the most commonly known form of Indigenous Australian art). By using the idea of hybridity, notably through the work of Homi Bhaba, the thesis considers how the artists are able to gain agency within the current structures of power through their textile designing practices. It considers how the artists’ practices are informed by the changing political and cultural landscape of Australia and explores how these practices help the artists create their own narratives on Indigenous Australian history and culture. It also considers the position of the artists within both their local and global communities. This has been investigated through a Design History-focused lens and is the culmination of five months of fieldwork within Australia. I visited the centres where textiles are designed and conducted interviews with people who work with the textiles. 3 This thesis therefore uses a combination of interviews, archival research and personal observation in order to build its argument.

Historically Indigenous peoples have been written about through an anthropological lens that often serves to underline their otherness. This is done by exoticising their spiritual connection between the body, place and stories. By structuring the thesis around these three themes I attempt to provide a decolonial critique of their importance to my research participants while removing the othering actions these subject areas usually entail.
Date of AwardApr 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorMegha Rajguru (Supervisor), Claire Wintle (Supervisor) & Jonathan Woodham (Supervisor)

Cite this