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January 8, 2021

Contemporary Indigenous Fashion: Piinpi at the Bendigo Art Gallery

Garment and textile designs by artists and designers from the world’s oldest living culture have been collated in the Australian exhibition Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion.

Currently on display at the Bendigo Art Gallery until January 17 and set to move to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra soon, the exhibition is the first major survey of contemporary Indigenous Australian fashion and features designers from all around the country, including Lyn-Al Young, Grace Lillian Lee, Hopevale Arts and Culture Centre, Maara Collective, and Aarli Fashion.

Curated by Bendigo Art Gallery’s First Nations Curator and Kaantju woman Shonae Hobson, the exhibit features pieces celebrating Indigenous art, history, and culture through the lens of contemporary fashion, an industry blossoming with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creators in recent years. The wearable garments and accessories on display come from a range of styles, from high-end attire to rebellious streetwear, all while channelling the designers’ connections to their ancestors and Country. Each designer’s sense of place and storytelling is inherent in their garments, both symbolically, through representations of culturally significant stories and motifs, and more literally in pieces that make use of traditional fabric techniques and styles.

The title of the exhibition, Piinpi, is a word used in the language of Kanichi Thampanyu (the original name for the East Cape York region) to refer to the seasonal changes and regeneration of Country that occur throughout the year. Regionally specific seasons have particular significance in many Indigenous Australian cultures, indicating when it’s time to collect different foods and materials needed for ceremonies, and each room in the exhibit is named after the seasons of the Kuuku Ya’u people as a way to take visitors on a journey across Country. We at Casper Magazine are particularly inspired by the Piicha Piicha room, which is named after the season of cool winds. This section of the exhibit is themed around the use of recycled materials and natural materials found on Country in order to emphasise sustainability in fashion, a value at the core of many First Nations peoples’ relationship to the land.

The Piinpi exhibition is a beautiful illustration of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers forefront their sense of Country, history, and culture in their works, engaging with the constructs and systems of contemporary Australia on their own terms. You can explore the exhibit through the virtual tour with curator Shonae Hobson below or, if you can make it to Bendigo in person, you can visit for free by registering for the exhibition’s closing week here.

To read more about the intersection of fashion and identity, check out our recap of Melbourne Immigration Museum’s VAMFF event, Fashioning the Body.


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