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19 February 2021

Australia’s first major survey of contemporary Indigenous textiles and fashion

Bendigo Art Gallery’s spectacular exhibition of contemporary Indigenous fashion will open at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra on 19 February 2021 as part of a national tour.

Featuring the work of Indigenous artists and designers from the inner city to remote desert art centres, Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion celebrates Australia’s leading First Nations creatives.

The exhibition comes as part of a long-standing collaboration between the Alastair Swayn Foundation and the National Museum, through the Museum’s Swayn Fellowship in Australian Design.

The exhibition was curated by Bendigo Art Gallery’s First Nations Curator, Kaantju woman Shonae Hobson, and brings together around 60 works by creators and brands including Grace Lillian Lee, Lyn-Al Young, Lisa Waup x Verner, Hopevale Arts and Culture Centre, MAARA Collective, the Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, AARLI Fashion and LORE.

National Museum of Australia Director Dr Mathew Trinca said: ‘We are delighted to bring this extraordinary exhibition to Canberra for people in this region to enjoy. It will provide a joyful start to 2021 as one of the key celebrations during the Museum's 20th anniversary year and an exquisite showcase of exciting new work from rising stars in Indigenous fashion design.’

Bendigo Art Gallery Director Jessica Bridgfoot said: ‘Piinpi marks a significant moment in time in Australia’s cultural history – the hailing of a unique cultural movement which is fast gaining momentum in this country and internationally. The fact that this exhibition, created by Bendigo Art Gallery, will travel to our national museum in Canberra following the Bendigo season reinforces to us just how powerful it is – a must see for every Australian.’

‘I am so excited to shine a light on a significant cultural fashion movement blossoming here in Australia – a design movement that is Indigenous-led, industrious, innovative and has the potential to redefine the way the world engages with Indigenous Australian culture and history,’ Ms Bridgfoot said.

The Swayn Senior Fellow in Australian Design at the National Museum, Adrienne Erickson, said: ‘The Swayn Foundation is very excited to support Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion as our first design-focused exhibition at the National Museum, and we hope the start of a strong partnership in presenting Australian design exhibitions and events at the National Museum.’

Curator Shonae Hobson said: ‘Indigenous fashion is not a ‘trend’ but an important movement that has put Indigenous voices and artistic expression at the centre of the global fashion agenda. These pioneering artists and makers are carving the future of fashion and design in Australia and leading important conversations about ethical and sustainable practices.’

‘Contemporary Indigenous fashion is celebrated for its rich storytelling and avant-garde aesthetic and the fusion of old and new materials and techniques. Woven into the fabric of this show is a shared vision for storytelling, continuation of cultural practices and optimism for the future,’ Ms Hobson said.

Piinpi is an expression that Kanichi Thampanyu (First Nations people from the East Cape York Peninsula) use to describe changes in the landscape across time and space. The exhibition explores the way understandings of Country and culture are reflected in and inspire contemporary Indigenous textile and fashion design.

Some of the many highlights include:

  • Four new pieces by Gunnai, Wiradjuri, Gunditjmara and Yorta Yorta woman Lyn-Al Young. Handpainted using ancient techniques, the collection captures the subtle transformations of Young’s Country over time.
  • A possum skin cloak made by Dja Dja Wurrung/Yorta Yorta Elder Rodney Carter. The work showcases the continued resilience of the Dja Dja Wurrung people from Central Victoria, who are revitalising their cultural traditions through powerful forms of artistic expression.
  • Woven pandanus hats and accessories created by Margaret Malibirr, Mary Dhapalanyand Evonne Munuyngu from Bula’bula Arts in East Arnhem Land in collaboration with Yuwaalaraay woman Julie Shaw, creator of the luxury resort-wear line MAARA Collective. The pieces take inspiration from the Australian landscape and were a major hit at the Country to Couture runway event at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair in 2019.
  • Several highly sculptured pieces by Grace Lillian Lee, including A Weave of Reflection (2018). Grace is a descendant of the Meriam Mir people of the Eastern Islands of the Torres Strait, and creates wearable art pieces using techniques taught to her by artist Uncle Ken Thaiday.
  • Teagan Cowlishaw’s sparkly Deadly Kween jumpsuit, made from upcycled materials including a remnant cushion, a faulty ‘deadly’ T-shirt and aqua metallic gold lustre vinyl print. A proud Bardi and Ardyaloon visual artist, Teagan creates custom garments using dead stock and discarded materials, seeing recycling as a way of paying respect to her Ancestors by committing to sustainability and preservation of Country for the next generation.

Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion will be on display in the Focus Gallery at the National Museum of Australia from 19 February until 8 August 2021. Entry is free.

Media contact: Diana Streak 02 6208 5091 | 0409 888 976 or

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