Mangkaja and Gorman create an Indigenous collection setting a benchmark in collaboration

July 19, 2019

One of Australia’s most remote art centres, Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency in WA, has teamed up with one of the country’s most iconic fashion brands, Gorman, to design a capsule collection that will launch in August. The collaboration is Gorman’s first with Indigenous artists and saw the Copyright Agency negotiate what has been billed as a national benchmark in fashion licensing rights for the adaptation of the Mangkaja artists’ works.

Mangkaja artists are renowned for their uninhibited style and lively use of colour, which fits perfectly with Gorman’s bright aesthetic. Belinda Cook, manager of Mangkaja Art Centre, explains that while Indigenous artists are masters in the field of painting, drawing, design and artifacts, when it comes to new areas of the arts, their aim is to partner with leaders in those fields to ensure a connected and viable sector.

“Mangkaja wanted to explore the fashion world with a partner that has a strong reputation for celebrating artists, and we identified Gorman as that partner,” Ms Cook says. “As Gorman was yet to do a collaboration with an Indigenous art centre or Indigenous Australian artists we thought perhaps it was time – and it turns out it was.”

Over the past 10 years, Gorman has produced collections with more than 80 local and international contemporary artists, designers and creators, but it had not worked with Indigenous artists.

“When Mangkaja approached us with an idea of an Indigenous collection I was honoured and excited,” says Gorman founder and CEO, Lisa Gorman. “The Mangkaja artists were interested in what we could do with them, on their terms, at a time that was right for them. To me, this felt like a good way to start a collaboration.

“I knew that Belinda at Mangkaja held the interests of her artists at the forefront and that she would work to facilitate their goals within this project. Having an authority on Indigenous art, and a link between myself and the artists to negotiate the cultural elements of such a project, has made the collaboration possible. On top of that, having a copyright licence agreement that ensured all was above board, fairly negotiated and documented, gave us all the confidence to proceed with the collaboration.”

The Copyright Agency is Australia’s national copyright licensing organisation for the publishing, media, surveying and visual arts industries, and now represents more than 13,000 Australian and New Zealand artists and 40,000 international artists through global partners.

Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling says: “We are proud to have been entrusted with the responsibility of negotiating the licence for the use of Mangkaja artists’ works and ensuring ethical processes were followed.

“This licence is an example of best practice as we worked with both Mangkaja and Gorman to respectfully negotiate fair and reasonable licensing fees. We made sure terms, conditions, attributions and acknowledgment of the artists were negotiated to protect the artist and the reproduction of the artwork. And crucially, we ensured the artists had approval throughout the whole process, from concept to instore delivery, and the approach to promotion via online platforms and social media.”

Artworks of five Mangkaja artists feature in the Mangkaja x Gorman collection: Ngarralja Tommy May, Sonia Kurarra, Daisy Japulija, Nada Tigila Rawlins and Lisa Uhl. With the collaboration over two years in the making, sadly during that time Ms Lisa Uhl passed away at the age of 43 due to kidney failure, a condition that is rife in remote communities like Fitzroy Crossing More recently senior artist Mrs. Nada Rawlins passed at the age of almost 90, a founding member of Mangkaja Arts. Both women’s artworks have been exhibited and collected nationally and internationally, and their families have honoured their wishes to have their work included in the Mangkaja x Gorman collection in recognition of their contribution to the Australian contemporary art scene.

Tommy May is the founder and senior advisor of Mangkaja Arts and has three artworks in the Gorman collection. His art tells stories from his country in the Great Sandy Desert and he had artistic control over their representation – and that of all the artworks featured in the collaboration.

“We talked about this, we worked on this for a long time before anything happened. We did this the right way. The way things happened was all alright, nothing was stolen. This was my idea and I want it to run for a long time, I want it to have an impact. All of the artists, and the board, we all know the right way to do things and we are happy. We gave them artwork [featuring stories] we are happy to wear, that is safe, not hard [law] stories. We let them [Gorman] do the designs, make the clothes, that’s their job. We checked all the drawings and the samples. We are the artists, our artwork looks good on those materials, on the clothes. We are happy,” says Mr May.

Belinda Cook says one of the most rewarding elements of the collaboration was the artists and their families’ responses to the samples when they arrived. At every stage, the artists and the Mangkaja board and membership have been excited and positive about this opportunity.

“The dresses, shapes and designs really celebrate the women of our community’s flair for colour, while respecting their values and reflecting on historical shapes and fashions in a contemporary way,” explains Ms Cook.

“This project is about promotion and sharing our artists’ stories. The five artists in this collaboration have all been leaders in innovative arts practice, and art is their vehicle to express themselves and their legacy. This project is a major opportunity to share with new audiences, younger audiences and those who have not yet been exposed to the brilliance of contemporary Indigenous art practice. We hope  that this project will bring attention to not just our Mangkaja artists, but to the incredible art movement that is Australian Indigenous art – one that continues to be arguably the most successful and innovative art movement produced in Australia.”

The Copyright Agency views this licence as a benchmark for future fashion licensing agreements.

Mr Suckling says, “This has been a true collaboration, with the artists and Gorman showing respect for each other’s expertise and valuing each other’s opinions. It has been a project of shared experiences and when all parties walk away happy and proud of the final outcome, then it is a successful licence, and that has huge potential for growth and replication elsewhere.”

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About Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency

Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency is an Indigenous owned and governed art centre in Fitzroy Crossing in the Western Kimberley region of WA. Established over 30 years ago, Mangkaja is home to five language groups  of the region from the river country; Bunuba, Gooniyandi and Nyikina to the Great Sandy Desert; Walmajarri and Wangkajunga. The combination of artists from these vast areas of country creates a vibrant and exciting array of artworks, stories and cultural connections. Mangkaja gives artists the opportunity to work alongside their family and community members and develop skills and artistic practice together. Mangkaja artists are renowned for their uninhibited style, innovation in new mediums and lively use of colour, painting images of country that share stories of culture and identity. Their works are exhibited and collected in national  and international galleries, museums and private collections.

About Gorman

Lisa Gorman launched an original eight piece unisex collection at FAT under the Gorman name in 1999. The collection was a sell out and soon Lisa started developing more of her own clothing on the side, while keeping her design and nursing jobs until the fateful age of 28, when she took the plunge and started her own business: Gorman. By 2003, Gorman was stocked in 55 retailers in Australia and 15 in Japan, and a year later in 2004 the first Gorman boutique opened on Chapel Street in Prahran. Today, nearly 20 years after launching her eponymous label, Gorman now has 40 stores across Australia and Lisa and her team are forever proud to dress those who dare to be themselves.

About the Copyright Agency

The not-for-profit Copyright Agency connects users and creators of content, providing licences for the use of copyright material such as text, images, art and survey plans. We manage the educational and government licences for the use of text and images, as well as the resale royalty scheme for artists (by Government appointment). Our members include writers, artists, surveyors and publishers. Membership is free.

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