Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander motifs, designs and fabrics: a recipe for a ‘fashion label’

I learned from the ABC news in Australia that the manager of an art centre in the Badu Island has hired a textile tutor to assist local artist to launch a label. Mr Richard Butler, the manager that brought the idea, noted that this project is an opportunity for the artist to share their work. He added "What I see is a huge level of enthusiasm and pride in what they do and that the artists are taking steps not only for a financial independence but a cultural independence as well". According to the news the proposed fashion label “could help to bring traditional culture into households around the country.”

The benefits:
  • Exploitation of Intellectual Property Rights by their own people: In this matter I would like to refer to a post that was published on 20th March 2012, here in this blog, when two fashion designers used indigenous motif in the fabric of their dresses in a catwalk. The story did have a happy ending when we learnt that the designers did pay royalties for the use of the said art. But this is not always the case. Reading ‘the carpet case’ for example will give you an idea that Torres Starit Islander not always has had a good experience. The case refers to a businessman who had carpets made in Vietnam with images from Aboriginal paintings. The artists took him to court and the businessman was ordered to pay compensation but went bankrupt.
  • Exploitation of creative work is more than a mere exploitation: Aboriginal creation and designs are based on symbols and motifs that do hold cultural significance. The utilization of this by third parties may impact not only the artist but also the community e.g. mistreatment, misuse and depletion to name a few.
Doing a little bit of digging here and there I found two interesting pieces of information:
1.- The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols: section 10 covers ‘Respecting Culture and Heritage’ covering the following:
 “...Copyright and the protection of intellectual property are key issues to be aware of when working with the Indigenous community. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the custodians of their culture and have the right to own and control their cultural heritage. Unfortunately the cultural and intellectual property rights of Indigenous Australians are not always recognised or appropriately respected and our current legal framework provides limited recognition and protection of these rights.”
Therefore, in this regard, the idea of bringing a fashion label will grant them a more straightforward entitlement [not that they did not have any].

2.- The web page from the NWS Department of Education and Training Resources is full of goodies in this area. It covers issues on fashion design, aboriginal motif and art, copyright and the like. I read how the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander textiles have had an influence in non-indigenous designers. Moreover and relevant to the blog: have these designers acknowledged these? As mentioned the exploitation of aboriginal art covers not only monetary reward (licenses/royalties) but also the need to be treated respectfully. While I did not find a direct answer to my query I believe that it could be answer it affirmatively. The info reveals by naming particular designers: how they have worked with the aboriginal communities, not only to obtain better knowledge of their art but also giving back -- by being members of different projects which seek Aboriginal development. Also, designers usually will show their products to the communities – perhaps a way of looking for approval and I believe a policy of goodwill.

Is this the start of Aboriginal people making a statement?

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