Indigenous Art Meets Fashion at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia

May 30, 2017

During the parades of Sydney’s Fashion Week, emerging designer Johanna Louise Smith debuted her latest collection featuring works by indigenous artists Jakayu Biljabu and Bugai Whyoulter, from Martumili Art Centre in Newman in Western Australia.  Ms Smith collaborated with the artists to have their original works printed onto fabric for the garments in her Resort ’18 collection.

This collaboration was in part made possible by the Copyright Agency | Viscopy licence that Ms Smith’s label ‘Yohana’ acquired to use the work. The licensing process allows the copyright owner and the licensee to reach a mutually beneficial, and legal, arrangement.

The stunning garments were inspired by the designer’s passion for art and the Australian landscape. Ms Smith previously spent time working as a teacher in Wilcannia, in far west New South Wales, where she engaged with the local Indigenous community and learned about their art and culture. Enjoying the way that Indigenous artists depict the Australian landscape with such vibrancy, colour and spirituality; Ms Smith sought to create fashion designs that demonstrated this beauty.

Smith discovered a more contemporary style of Indigenous art at the Martumili Art Centre in Western Australia and was especially captivated by the works of Biljabu and Whyoulter. “Their way of life and culture is strongly reflected in their [art]work,” Ms Smith said. “Such artists should be household names across Australia.” Alongside the use of their artworks, both Biljabu and Whyoulter are profiled on the official Yohana website.

The reproduction and re-appropriation of Indigenous artworks can often be a grey area of both ethics and the law since traditional Western concepts of ownership differ to Indigenous ones. This was exemplified recently with the controversial ‘Chanel Boomerang’ – an expensively priced luxury item from the French fashion giant that was made with no Indigenous consultation and offered no remuneration to the Indigenous community.

In contrast, Yohana designs paid both collaborating artists, and ensured conditions such as payment, production quality and acknowledgement all met the requirements of the parties.

Viscopy Visual Arts Account Manager Glen Menzies said, “This is a wonderful example of copyright at its best, and demonstrates artistic respect amongst creators.”

Yohana: Resort ’18 collection, image courtesy of the designer

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