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Australia’s first major survey of contemporary Indigenous Australian textiles and fashion will now open at Bendigo Art Gallery in September 2020, postponed from the original opening date of July due to national COVID-19 gallery closures.

Featuring the work of Indigenous artists and designers from the inner city to remote desert art centres, Piinpi will shine a light on Australia’s leading First Nations creatives, and a design movement that is fast becoming a recognised fashion phenomenon.

“The rapidly expanding Indigenous fashion and textile industry is one of the freshest and most exciting fashion movements of our time. It is a celebration of Indigenous art, history and culture, showcased through the lens of contemporary fashion and design,” said Jessica Bridgfoot, Director of the Bendigo Art Gallery.

“We want to ensure that as many people as possible can see this important exhibition, so postponing opening of Piinpi until September is the safest option at this stage,” she said.

“We are also monitoring travel guidelines for First Nations artists and communities from regional and remote locations closely, and hope they will be able to celebrate the exhibition if not in September, at a later date. We will also ensure people in remote communities can access the exhibition through digital platforms and online tours and other programs.”

Curated by Bendigo Art Gallery’s First Nations Curator, Kaantju woman Shonae Hobson, and featuring works by Grace Lillian Lee, Lyn-Al Young, Maree Clarke, Lisa Waup x Verner, Hopevale Arts & Culture Centre, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, MAARA Collective, the Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, AARLI Fashion, LORE and many more, the exhibition highlights the strength and diversity of the Indigenous fashion and textile industry.

The word Piinpi is an expression that Kanichi Thampanyu (First Nations people from the East Cape York Peninsula) use to describe changes in the landscape across time and space.

“For Indigenous peoples, our knowledge of the land and seasons is culturally important as it signifies the abundance of certain bush foods, when we can travel, and when a good time to collect traditional materials for ceremony and dance,” Ms Hobson said.

“Throughout the gallery we present beautifully crafted fabrics and wearable fashion items, each expressing a connection to culture and to Country through very bold and exciting ways – distinct from anything else being produced around the world,” Ms Hobson said.

It’s the same storytelling, it’s still the same narrative and design, just different form and medium.

“It is wonderful to see our garments and our designers recognised in a museum, which is quite a western space. First Nations people have some of the best art in the world and our fashion is no different.  It’s the same storytelling, it’s still the same narrative and design, just different form and medium.”

The Australian Fashion Collection
Key works featured in the exhibition will be acquired by Bendigo Art Gallery and will form the beginnings of the Australian Fashion Collection, a new collection focus for the gallery.

Ms Bridgfoot said that, while the gallery has been closed due COVID-19, the curatorial team have been able to make significant progress in this area, acquiring several new works which will also feature in the exhibition, including garments by Grace Lillian Lee, AARLI Fashion and Injalak Arts.

“We are aware of the impacts COVID-19 has had on many artists across Australia including those involved in Piinpi, so acquiring works is one way Bendigo Art Gallery can offer support during these difficult times.

“We have also commissioned Gunai, Wiradjuri, Gunditjmara and Yorta Yorta artist Lyn-Al Young to create five new garments, which will feature as an introduction to the exhibition, each responding directly to the theme of Indigenous seasons, drawing on her own personal connection to Country and culture,” she said.

Piinpi will be running from September 2020 – February 2021.

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