• New Australian label, 'Yohana' in at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia in Sydney (2017) (Getty)Source: Getty
Forget florals, stripes and even paisley - an emerging fashion label at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia uses Indigenous artwork for its new collection.
Natalie Cromb

19 May 2017 - 2:26 PM  UPDATED 22 May 2017 - 2:12 PM

In a week marred by the disgraceful abuse of Indigenous culture - in yet another appropriation of culture - this time by global designer label, Chanel who created a ‘Chanel Boomerang’ with no Indigenous consultation or contribution to the very people the label is profiting from, it is with pleasure we can report on a positive story which showcasing Indigenous culture in mainstream fashion.

The city of Sydney has been awash with gorgeous wares of established and emerging Australian labels for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia (MBFWA), and none more so than the up-and-coming label ‘Yohana’, which is the come-to-life dream of designer, Johanna Louise Smith. Yohana was a part of 'The Innovators - Fashion Design Studio' an incentive of MBFWA, which showcases Fashion Design Studio graduates who represent the future of the creative Australian fashion. 

Ms Smith was originally a teacher who spent time in Wilcannia in far west New South Wales where she fell in love with the community and its Indigenous people and culture. She saw how beauty in the vast land mass, arrangement of colour in outback Australia and the unique interpretations of colours and were utilised to create exquisite art by Indigenous Australians.

"After spending time experiencing [Indigenous] culture, I was inspired by the way of life, the landscape in colour and the spirituality and meaning in [Aboriginal artists'] approach to art.

I have always follow art and I am passionate and intrigued in finding out about great artists. From there I came across Martumili Art Centre in Western Australia and the movement - if you like - in Contemporary Aboriginal art. I was captivated by Bugai Whyoulter and Jakayu Bilabu's work and knew it was something special," Ms Smith told NITV

Ms Smith knew she wanted to work with Indigenous artists, but was adamant she did not want 'bespoke art' and wanted to keep the art works in their original state of design and print as is onto the fabric which, she considers, is a testament to the exquisite work of the artists.

"I was passionate for the art to remain in its natural state on the garments. Curating the painting was really about displaying and sharing their authentic works and what is happening in Indigenous art centres across Australia.

"It is important that their art is understood for how multi-faceted, strong and detailed it is and how it compares on an international level."

It is important that their art is understood for how multi-faceted, strong and detailed it is and how it compares on an international level. I see so many artists come out of universities and begin to paint or go through a 'life crisis' which initiates their inspiration, which is fine. For [today's] Indigenous artists, they are painting with a rich life experience of Australian history and from a place of isolation. Their way of life and culture is strongly reflected in their work, which is of great significance artistically - such artists should be household names across Australia and prominent figures in the education system," Ms Smith said.  

Two artists, Jakayu Biljabu and Bugai Whyoulter, from Martumili Art Centre in Newman in Western Australia particularly captivated Ms Smith, and she approached them with a collaboration idea to have their original art printed onto fabric, that she subsequently brought to life in the garments for her Resort '18 collection, which eventually walked the runway of Australian Fashion Week.


About the artists

Jakayu was born a little way north of Pitu around 1937. She grew up around Pitu, Wikirri, Rarrki, Wantili and Nyinyari on the Canning Stock Route. After travelling with her family throughout the stock route before moving to Punmu community in 1982. Jakayu has painted primarily in Punmu community, where she has continued to live surrounded by her children and grandchildren, teaching her grandaughters about their history and country.

Bugai was born at Pukayiyirna, on present day Balfour Downs Station, and her parents soon took her north through Jigalong and Nullagine to Kunawarritji. She grew up, walked and hunted primarily around Punmu, Kunawarritji and Kun Kun, and as a young woman travelled the Canning Stock Route where she met cattle drovers. Bugai continued to live nomadically, with her family and later with her husband, before eventually deciding to live at Jigalong Mission, with many other relatives. In recent years she has lived at Kunawarritji where she was taught to paint by Nora Nungabar and Nora Wompi. The three women paint together as often as possible. Bugai has one son Narran who lives in Hedland. She has 4 grandchildren who live in Jigalong. Her sister was fellow artist, Nancy Patterson. 

Both, Jakayu and Bugai were paid by Yohana, with all intellectual property remaining with the artists. 

Like the content? Follow the author @NatalieCromb

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia 2017 is at Sydney Carriageworks from 14 - 19 May. 


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