Indigenous artists take on high fashion

05 October 2012

Artwork from established Queensland Indigenous artists will be taken out of the gallery and transformed by emerging QUT designers into high fashion cotton, silk and wool garments.

The Contemporary Indigenous Fashion Project will showcase textile prints from Cairns' artists Arone Meeks, Napolean Oui, Sharon Phineasa and Tommy Pau, as well as Margaret Mara, from Mapoon, near Weipa.

Five final-year QUT Fashion students were working at the CEA Fashion Incubator this week with the artists to turn their artworks into a 20-piece collection including dresses, jackets and t-shirts. It will be debuted at the QUT fashion show on November 21 and 22.

Project organiser Cynthia Macnee, from business development agency QUT Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA), said it was hoped the project would lead to a new label featuring collaborations between emerging designers and Indigenous artists.

"We really want to take beautiful Indigenous art and put it on the runway," Ms Macnee said.

"Indigenous art works really well transformed into textile prints.

"Why have this art on canvas in galleries when it could be seen on some of the best dressed men and women in the world?"

Ms Macnee said profits from sales would be split evenly between designers and artists, with both names featured on a tag on the garments.

She said a contract ensured the artists' work was treated in a culturally sensitive way.

"So often designers are conflicted about how to approach and work with Indigenous communities and Indigenous artists and this project hopes to break down those barriers," she said.

"We're trying to set up a process that can be used by designers to work with artists and develop new income streams for both."

Cairns artist Sharon Phineasa had an artwork featuring three combs turned into a black-and-white textile pattern for the project.

"Seeing my art in this luxurious material is amazing. Wearable art is something I've always wanted to do with my work so it's a fantastic opportunity," she said.

Mrs Phineasa said it was important the project was a collaboration between artists and designers.

"They're conscious of the cultural protocols and are following every step so our work is used in a sensitive way in terms of the stories behind the art, and appreciated by people who want a high-end product," she said.

Third-year QUT fashion student Hayley Elsaesser said she would turn Mrs Phineasa's print into a dress.

"To take part in something new that hasn't been done much in Australia is really good especially because it's being done in a responsible way and keeping in mind the integrity of the artists and designers."

The Contemporary Indigenous Fashion Project is a collaboration between QUT Fashion, QUT Creative Enterprise Australia and KickArts Contemporary Arts in Cairns, with support from Arts Queensland.

Catch the Fleeting-moment and grab funky gear for Spring
QUT Fashion Incubator helps Brisbane designer take on world

Media contact: Stephanie Harrington, QUT media officer, 3138 1150,

Final-year QUT fashion student Hayley Elsaesser will turn Sharon Phineasa's art print into a dress.