AKIN is a collaborative fashion collection produced in Queensland in 2012 through the pairing of five Indigenous artists with five emerging fashion designers. An initiative of QUT's Creative Enterprise Australia, QUT Fashion, and KickArts Contemporary Arts in Cairns, (with support from Arts Queensland), AKIN set out to establish a model for collaboration between artists and fashion designers, with the hopes of igniting an ongoing platform for Indigenous artists and the Australian design community to work together.
It's not the first time that Indigenous motifs and artworks have appeared in fashion; there is a lesser known history of Indigenous fashion designers and dressmakers, as well as a regrettable history of appropriation by Non-Indigenous fashion designers for their own purposes. With these complexities in mind, AKIN aimed to develop a collection from an equal exchange between Indigenous artists and Non-Indigenous designers.
Art & Fashion
While many collaborations see a designer simply applying an artwork as a print at a later stage, AKIN deliberately brought the artists and designers together at each stage of the process. “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,” said Cynthia Macnee.
The AKIN artist and designer pairings were: Tommy Pau and Shea Cameron; Arone Meeks and Monique White; Sharon Phineasa and Hayley Elsaesser; Napolean Oui and Georgia Grainger; and Margaret Mara and Samantha Delgos. From QUT and Creative Enterprise Australia came Project Organiser Cynthia Macnee, Fashion Project Consultant Kay McMahon and Design Facilitator Jane Morley who worked closely to assist and mentor the artists and designers.
All of the practitioners took part in initial workshops at Creative Enterprise Australia that sought to discuss the ethical nature of the project. As part of the mutual exchange of the collaboration, each artist and designer received equal credibility and profits from the collection, and both names were featured on the garment labels.
From painting to print
Sharon Phineasa is a Torres Strait Islander artist based in Cairns working across painting, printmaking, collage, sculpture and carving. She is a descendant of the Ait-Koedal and Dhoeybaw clans of Saibai Island and Dauan Island in the Top Western region of the Torres Strait. Sharon's work brings together cultural knowledge and experience, particularly in relation to Torres Strait Islander women.
Sharon travelled to Brisbane to work on the AKIN collection with her designer collaborator Hayley Elsaesser. Sharon's painting of three combs was transformed into a striking textile print. Sharon elaborates, “seeing my art in this luxurious material is amazing. Wearable art is something I’ve always wanted to do with my work."
Hayley's resulting garment design featured a dress, short-sleeved blouse, cap, head scarf, shorts and cigarette pants. The entire AKIN collection was designed to be mixed and matched.
This textile design is based on a painting by Napolean Oui, an artist from regional Cairns who draws on a specific tradition of Rainforest Shields that are unique to the Indigenous people of Far North Queensland. Napolean's painting tells a story of the native flightless bird, the cassowary, a rainforest dweller.
Napolean collaborated with fashion designer Georgia Grainger to develop a textile design from his original painting. As part of this process, the participating artists undertook workshops at Creative Enterprise Australia to learn the process of CAD in textile development and design.
On the Runway
After a lengthy process of workshops, meetings and final design production, the AKIN collection was shown in its entirety as part of the 2012 QUT Fashion Design Collection shows, staged on the Kelvin Grove campus. The artists and designers were present for this showing, which drew considerable acclaim from the crowd.
This image shows an ensemble designed by Georgia Grainger in collaboration with Napolean Oui. Its short and loose silhouette and colourful print seems ideally suited to the Queensland climate. Such relaxed shapes were featured throughout the entire AKIN collection, which also featured natural fibres such as silk, wool and cotton.
The AKIN Lookbook
Following a successful runway showing, the AKIN collection was styled and photographed for a lookbook to showcase the results of the collaboration. This image shows the Sharon Pheineasa and Georgia Grainger garments, alongside an outfit by Arone Meeks and Monique White.
Arone Meeks is a Cairns-based Indigenous artist from the tribal area of Laura in North Queensland. His artwork is held in numerous private and public collections in Australia and overseas. Monique's garment designs are made from silk and consist of a loose drop waist dress and double breasted jacket.
Alongside the AKIN project, QUT's Creative Enterprise Australia also developed the inaugural Emerging Indigenous Designer Scholarship. The scholarship was launched at the 2012 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, and was awarded to Tatum Stanbury. Tatum is now working on her design practice in the Creative Enterprise Australia Fashion Incubator at QUT.
Published in Issue 5, on October 22, 2013.