When Grace Lillian Lee slips on a necklace, hand-woven using techniques taught to her by her Torres Strait Islander ancestors, she feels a deep sense of pride.
"Being able to wear something that’s just beautiful in its own right, and then for people to be curious about learning more and I can inform them of where it’s from, really pays homage to my ancestry," she says.
The Cairns-based designer's talent for fusing ancient culture with modern fashion is well-known in Australia and internationally. Now, in the lead up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games in April, she's sharing her skills with a handful of First Nations artists on the Gold Coast as part of the Intertwined fashion showcase at Festival 2018.
"That’s been a really great way for me to connect with my lineage, and so I guess it’s a way for me to share with other people like myself who may want to learn more, or connect with their culture, through fashion," she tells NITV News.
Ms Lee will hold a series of workshops with local artists, helping to transform their works into wearable art. Those designs will then be worn by local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander models at two fashion shows at Broadbeach during the Commonwealth Games.
Participating artist Carol McGregor says the project is making Indigenous art more accessible to the general public.
"It’s not up on a wall in a white box, it’s activating the art."
"Our work always has stories and that comes from our heart, and I think more and more people are appreciating that," says the Wathaurung artist.
"And it’s lovely... when you are out and about, it’s like a walking gallery – it’s not up on a wall in a white box, it’s activating the art."
Her collaborator, Yorta Yorta/Tungarung artist Glennys Briggs, adds that the Commonwealth Games showcase provides a platform to share traditional art, and the stories behind it, with a wider audience.
"When it’s going worldwide, it gives us a chance to put our stories out there for other countries to understand about the Indigenous people of this country," she says.
For Jabirr Jabirr artist Neville Torrisheba - or Torry, as he prefers to be known - the workshops are his first foray into the fashion world.
Inspired by the designs at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, he hopes the fashion element will entice local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth to connect with, and learn more about their culture.
"A lot of story, it can be told verbally, but by wearing it as well, it brings also a lot of cultural awareness to that fabric - what it is about and connection to place and country as well," he says.
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