In 1999, Lisa Gorman launched her eponymous label with a fifteen piece collection. Twenty years on, Gorman is a leading fashion brand with forty-two stores across Australia and New Zealand.
In August 2019, Gorman celebrated its 80th artist collaboration with a collective of Indigenous artists from one of Australia’s most remote art centres, Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency in Western Australia.
The collaboration was Gorman’s first with Indigenous artists and saw the Copyright Agency negotiate what has been billed as a national benchmark in fashion licensing rights for the adaptation of the Indigenous artists’ works.
Artworks of five senior Mangkaja artists feature in the collaboration: Ngarralja Tommy May, Sonia Kurarra, Daisy Japulija, Mrs Rawlins and Ms Uhl.
At every level of the process, design concepts and products were presented to the Mangkaja artists for approval, including the final collection, which was approved at the board’s annual general meeting by Indigenous senior leaders.
It was vital that the agreement was created prior to any part of the design commencing, so Gorman could ensure that every aspect of the collaboration was highly considered in terms of cultural respect. The project, in turn, was endorsed by the Art Code.
The collaboration has highlighted the strengths of both partners, respecting Indigenous cultural protocols at each stage, creating an opportunity to reach new audiences and economic development for Indigenous Australian artists.
A commercial-in-confidence financial agreement was made including fees for each artist’s piece, and in addition, Gorman donated funds from the sales of the collection to support youth programs and further development through Mangkaja to the youth of Fitzroy, WA.
Model and Fitzroy Crossing resident, Shaniqua Shaw, is the face of the campaign and modelled alongside Indigenous models in the debut runway show at Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair.
One of the most important elements of the design process was adapting the original works onto textiles. The forms in the artworks helped determine how the garment shape would transpose.
45% of the collection is made from sustainable fabrications, which include organic cotton and recycled polyester.
Manager of Mangkaja, Belinda Cook explains that Indigenous artists are masters in the field of visual arts and are excited to partner with leaders in the fashion and design field.
“The invitation from Mangkaja to collaborate was welcomed because it meant the timing was right for the artists,” Lisa Gorman.
As a multi-faceted collaboration that involved an Indigenous community, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, the MCA, a fashion label and an international photographer, it was vital that every component of the work that was created was highly considered at every stage to deliver a fair, honest and beautiful collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people coming together to learn about each other and create new work.
Daisy Japulija, Sonia Kurrara, Mrs Rawlins and Ms Uhl exhibited their work as part of the recent ‘The National 2019: New Australian Art’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), earlier this year.
As a follow up, Gorman worked with the MCA to formally launch the collaboration alongside Ngarralja Tommy May, with Charles Freger’s portraits of each artist on country.
In documenting the collection, Lisa Gorman reached out to French photographer, Charles Fréger, known for his large series of photographic portraits highlighting the power of dress codes and costume adopted by different cultures as a means of nonverbal communication, to photograph the collaboration.
Lisa’s goal was to capture the essence of the artists’ culture, and therefore invited Charles to photograph the campaign on country, overseen by local elders.
Gorman has committed to an Indigenous artist collaboration for August 2020, due to the incredibly positive response this project has received. Lisa has been invited to present the learning’s and outcomes of this collaboration at various events and ultimately wants to encourage other designers to explore Indigenous collaborations of their own.