Aboriginal textile artists take a seat at the table
A new exhibition at JamFactory Adelaide (until 28 November 2021) puts works by Aboriginal artists in conversation with modern Australian furniture design
Textile works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists have a well-deserved moment in Australia’s fashion industry, but this series of new works commissioned for the Tarnanthi Art Fair shows that there is also entry into the furniture world.
For ‘Rekkan / Tamuwu / Nyinakat (sit / sit down)’, the South Australian studio and gallery JamFactory has paired three First Nations textile artists working from art centers around the Northern Territory with furniture designers based in Adelaide in the Kaurna Country.
Collaborative furniture design
‘Boulder’ chair and footrest by Caren Elliss and Keturah Nangala Zimran
The shapes are eclectic and the palette is bold, from the light touch of Ndjébbana-Kuninjku artist Raylene Bonson’s ‘Love Bench’ collaboration with design duo Daniel To and Emma Aiston – an elevated twist on unfoldable camping furniture – to Caren Elliss and Luritja -Pintupi- artist Keturah Nangala Zimran’s more lounge-ready ‘Boulder Chair’.
For ‘Love Bench’, To and Aiston (who run their own design studio, Daniel Emma, in addition to acting as JamFactory’s creative directors) sought to create a ‘transportable utility object’ while complimenting the story of an ancestor. river crossing told through Bonson’s line work.
‘Inspired by and desire to reflect life in and around Maningrida [Bonson’s home], we have designed two foldable, functional benches that pay homage to the true nature of Wubbunj (the paperbark canoe) that Raylene’s silkscreen fabric depicts, ” the couple explains of their pastel-colored steel frames. “We really liked the concept of the piece that was actually used, especially on Country as an everyday usable item.”
‘Pupuni Punarika (Good Waterlily)’ by Dean Toepfer and Roslyn Orsto
Zimran’s vibrant block colors and curved shapes illustrate the rocks and dunes of her home in the central desert. Printed on linen and stretched over Australian Blackwood by Elliss, the full-bodied armchair and footrest set evokes the soft-hard duality of the landscape, while reflecting the geology of its upholstery.
Tucked between smooth panels of Tasmanian Oak by designer Dean Toepfer, Tiwi artist Roslyn Orstos pays homage to Punarika (water lily) pattern the waterways and life cycle of the Tiwi Islands, just north of the mainland.
In passing, the bright colors and shapes seen across the collection may seem to evoke the kind of day-glo Australiana that non-native artists like Ken Done made famous in the 1980s. But these pieces are part of something that goes deeper – and continues to evolve.
“Australian design is nothing without input from the people of First Nations,” To and Aiston say of the exchange of knowledge and skills at the heart of the collection. “Without this, it will simply be a single-layer story.” §