Ufla Yumpla

Where fashion meets art
Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal, Shed 2
25 July 2014

‘It’s all about heart and fashion, and fashion and heart’1

The Ufla Yumpla (You Fella You People) fashion performance was one of the highlights of the 2014 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. Following the success of the 2013 textile forum and parade, the evening event combined the talents of Indigenous textile artists, fashion designers and models based in far north Queensland. Grace Lillian Lee, a Torres Strait fashion designer based in Cairns, curated the event. 

The fashion performance involved seven Indigenous designers and fifteen Indigenous models. A flash of lights announced each designer, as silhouetted models entered the runway. At the end of each collection spotlights linked the contributing textile artist and designer in the crowd. This highlighted the important cultural ties behind the designs. 

The parade commenced with two Torres Strait designers, Tommy Pau followed by CDA Balas. Both incorporated the motif of the iconic Torres Strait Dhari (headdress) in their designs. Next was Cynthia Voglar and her screen and batik printed A-line skirts. Then followed Lynelle Flinders’s label, Sown in Time, which was a collection of subtle hand printed designs. Sown in Time was styled with Savage Tribal accessories and intricately carved pearl shell jewellery by Samuel Savage. 

The overarching concept for the event was, ‘where art meets fashion. As the night progressed it was increasingly evident that the most successful pieces were in fact achieved with the influence of both art and fashion. Most interesting were those from Torres Strait fashion designer Grace Lillian Lee with her use of traditional Torres Strait techniques to adorn her contemporary designs. Lee is a graduate of RMIT and has an established line called Jetty Love in Cairns. She showcased her latest range, Island Time, and also collaborated with Erub Arts designs on their current range.

Lee’s designs displayed an exceptional union between the traditional and the contemporary. In Island Time, she created very detailed and exquisite structures of shell and feathers that create bodices for her dresses. She experiments with her materials to great effect. It was exciting to see how she uses traditional knowledge and transforms it into high-end fashion pieces. Lee says: 

"I have been exploring my Torres Strait background with my mentor Ken Thaiday Senior. Ken Thaiday Senior taught me traditional techniques of weaving with palm leaves. It was inspirational to learn these traditional ways so that I could then create my own interpretations in my bodice, harness and neck wear designs."

Lee uses these weaving skills in her woven neckpiece range Get Your Weave On. These neckpieces are all hand woven and sewn, melding the trend of bold geometric colors with traditional weaving techniques. 

Eva Wanganeen’s latest work was also a standout. Her collection of painted iconography on silk, gives effortless movement to her designs. Bold designs of bright pinks, turquoise blue and yellows work intuitively with her simple Kaftans, creating a magical melting pot of influences. Wanganeen’s work is a product of painstaking detailing—the designs are painted on a template of the garment first, ensuring each pattern will flow and sit according to the cut of the piece. The Kaftan worn by countless cultures around the world is the perfect item to display the splendor of her work. Wanganeen trained with silk artist Marie France over ten years ago, gaining a high level of expertise in painting her designs on this luxurious material. She explains

"I have a real passion for painting on silk, it has such a luxurious texture and delicate beauty whilst remaining incredibly strong. I love the magical way the dye flows onto and infuses into the silk and the way the different free flowing colours interact. The colours are dynamic, vibrant and limitless, and with different processes magical effects can be achieved. Silk painting allows me to express my Aboriginal heritage in a unique way which allows me to apply the icons and stories to fine art pieces that hang on the wall or as a piece of wearable art.2"

Textile design is an exciting outlet for Indigenous artists and provides a new way to diversify business for remote art centers. This is certainly the case for two far north art centres, Erub Arts in the Torres Strait and Yalanji Arts in Mossman Gorge. 

Erub Arts presented their Ailan Pasin collection in collaboration with Grace Lillian Lee. The textile designs are of hand drawn totems and the garment designs are a contemporary interpretation of the traditional Torres Strait Island dress. Ailan Pasin was styled with Erub’s flagship Ghost Net jewellery and bag range. To produce these, ghost nets (large floating and discarded fishing nets) are collected and recycled into sustainable products. 

This was Yalanji’s debut into the textile and fashion world and it was certainly done in style. The printed textiles captured the rainforest influence that is Yalanji’s strength, and the fragile grass woven arm and headpieces showed the influence of their traditional grass weaving techniques.

After a short intermission a closing ceremony performance combined textile designs from all the designers brought together by Grace Lillian Lee. The performance was a spiritual ending to the night, with two of the Indigenous models singing a cappella throughout. It was a significant ending, which linked the stories behind the textiles and designs. 

The most important message from the Ufla Yumpla evening was that Indigenous designers have an important role to play in bringing a sense of meaning and ethics to an often superficial fashion industry. Let us hope they can move to the next level—that of production—and that these designs and textiles can break into the mainstream.

Ufla Yumpla: Where Fashion Meets Art, 2014. Indigenous fashion design. Parade, showing designs by Eva Wanganeen. Image courtesy Kerry Trapnell and Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. 

Ufla Yumpla: Where Fashion Meets Art, 2014. Indigenous fashion design. Parade, showing designs by Eva Wanganeen. Image courtesy Kerry Trapnell and Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. 

Ufla Yumpla: Where Fashion Meets Art, 2014. Indigenous fashion design. Parade, showing designs by Erub Arts, Ailan Pasin Collection, in collaboration with Grace Lillian Lee. Image courtesy Kerry Trapnell and Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. 

Ufla Yumpla: Where Fashion Meets Art, 2014. Indigenous fashion design. Parade, showing designs by Eva Wanganeen. Image courtesy Kerry Trapnell and Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. 

 

notes: 

1. Seith Fourmile of Gimuy Walubara Yidinji, in his welcome to country.

2. See www.evawanganeen.com