• National Indigenous Fashion Award Nominee: MAARA Collective x Bula'Bula Arts Photo: Cybele Malinowski (Supplied)Source: Supplied
The inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards kicked off the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair last night, awarding some of the top names in Indigenous design - both emerging and established.
Emily Nicol

6 Aug 2020 - 12:13 PM  UPDATED 6 Aug 2020 - 2:25 PM

Showcasing some of the most diverse talents from the fashion industry, the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards have highlighted nominees from the areas of design, collaboration and social impact.

With a combined prize pool of $60,000, six awards were presented. 

Cultural Adornment and Wearable Art Award: Peggy Griffiths, Wirrawong artists

Peggy Griffiths' submission was a legacy design that passes on deep cultural knowledge. The collaborative piece depicted the bush cucumber, consisting of 10 layers of printed linen designed by her grand-daughters, and hand-painted by Ms Griffiths herself. She said her everyday life influences a lot of her work. When her children are with her, they go hunting for bush food. 

Ms Griffiths' daughter Jan, one of the contributing designers, said the piece contains knowledge. "It's stories from my old people. So each of the layers represents each artists story that we would normally do on canvas, or as a children's story."

"We are always doing on the paper, but then I started to think we could do the pieces together and make it like a dress," said Ms Griffith. "Make sure we keep our culture strong, you know. I'm so proud of all the artists."

Fashion Design Award: Julie Shaw, MAARA Collective

With over a decade of experience working in the industries in Sydney, Melbourne and London, Yuwaalaraay designer Julie Shaw of MAARA Collective was the winner of a 12-month mentorship with Country Road, and a 12-month membership to the Australian Fashion Council.

A premium brand with an inclusive approach to design, social impact is a key pillar of Ms Shaw's business, with a "giving-back" program contributing to social initiatives focused on supporting Indigenous causes.

Ms Shaw told NITV that she always wanted to be a designer.

"I knew that was my path, and I guess I was one of the lucky ones. I knew what I always wanted to do," said Ms Shaw. "So I took the right subjects at school. I studied fashion design down in Sydney at UTS, and then after that started applying for roles in the industry."

"I've been in the industry for over a decade, across a range of different roles from working with smaller design labels through to larger fashion wholesalers. So I've really learnt that full circle of how the industry works how to bring product to life and those design concepts into reality. Designing fashion is important to me; it is the medium that I express my culture."

Textile Design Award: Kieren Karritpul; Merrepen Art, Language and Culture Centre

26-year-old Kieren Karritpul creates intricate and complex textile designs. As an artist, Mr Karritpul draws attention to the environment, land and waterways around his community. His work aims to educate others about his culture and community.

Mr Karritpul said he has learned everything he knows from his mother and grandmothers.

"I come from the Nauyia community near the Daly River. It's a special place. When I was a kid I used to go out with my mother and grandmother and great grandmother out bush, we'd go hunting, fishing or collecting weaving materials," he told NITV.

"They used to do art and weaving and painting. I used to sit and watch, and I started painting when I was five years old. I want you to see that in my art, there is a story behind it that's been passed down from my elders. I want to show my culture."

Talking of a particular design called The Fishnet, the designer says it represents the women in his family. "I used to sit and watch them do every little weave in every little hole. I thought to myself, it was just like they were weaving the fishnet to show me to be humble and patient."

"My mother, she raised me good way, and that's like a fishnet. You do every little hole slowly, and then I thought to myself, she was weaving me."

"And that's how I became who I am today. Sometimes when I go to big cities, and I see people wearing my design, I feel proud seeing someone wearing it. It makes me think that I'm in the design they are wearing."

Community Collaboration Award: MAARA Collective x Bula'Bula Arts

This award recognised effective and productive relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and the textile and fashion industry.

The winner, MAARA Collective x Bula'Bula Arts, celebrated contemporary design and ancient Indigenous cultural knowledge and technique. Yawalaraay fashion designer Julie Shaw travelled to Arnhem Land to work with three senior Yolgnu women - who are master weavers - from Bula'Bula Arts in North East Arnhem Land.

Ms Shaw said of the collaboration, "My relationship with the ladies from Bula Bula art was through an introduction via the Arts centre manager. I was put in touch with them, we communicated via email from Sydney to Raminging, and I travelled up to Arnhem Land and spent a couple of weeks working with the women at the Arts Centre."

"What would it mean if the ladies from Bula Bula arts centre won the award?" Ms Shaw said prior to learning of the win. "I think they would be pretty blown away. They came to a show last year and sat front stage with me, and we saw the collection come out on stage, and it was a very special moment. So I'm sure they'd be thrilled as well."

Environmental and Social Contribution Award: Ninti One Limited

Wadi Wadi and Walbundja woman, designer, and board member of Ninti One Alison Page told NITV, "Design is part of what we have done for generations, what our ancestors have done, is communicate. Communicate through symbols and stories, and applying those symbols and stories to the world around us."

"And so for me to see these awards grow in this way, and to see community producing more and more innovative and cool products, I feel like we would be doing our ancestors proud."

Special Recognition Award: Bede Tungutalum

Bede Tungutalum's work has been a prominent feature of the Australian Art Fashion scene for 50 years. His career has been bookended by enormous achievements, starting in 1970 when Mr Tungatallum and Giovanni Tipungwuti created the iconic Tiwi fabric label, Tiwi Design.

Mr Tungutalum, from Melville Island, told NITV his biggest interest even in his school days was his art. "I loved to draw. I used to draw things, sketch things. I was very good at it, and I liked it."

He spoke about the evolution of his business. 

"We formed a partnership, me and the arts centre we started up. Gradually from printing wood blocks, we decided to move on to silk screen, which was a new one for me and my partner and from that, we had a lot of exhibition on from that."

"The women of Tiwi people used to draw bark painting while the man do design on pole for ceremony. That's the design we have been using the architect design they been passing on to us. We thank them very much. I do thank them. There's some other designs I do create myself. It's lot of designs I've been creating it just comes from what's up in my mind."

That deadly look: the National Indigenous Fashion Awards releases list of nominees
The inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFA) will be celebrated this week, shining a spotlight on the many talented First Nations designers and creatives working in the industry.