Indigenous Australian Design

(picture above – David Lancashire)

On Monday I was asked to be a ‘respondent’ ( my first time as a respondent!) at this event – Culture Shift:

Culture Shift: An Indigenous Future for Design

There’s a global shift in design towards greater collaboration. In Australia, designers have learnt greatly from working with Indigenous communities. But as with the new wave of Indigenous film directors, there is also an emerging generation of Aboriginal designers in fields such as architecture, fashion and interior design. Join a discussion about how our future will be shaped by Indigenous design.

INDIGO is an international platform that asks – What is Indigenous design? As an Icograda-led initiative of the IDA (International Design Alliance), INDIGO is a multi-disciplinary network of designers and stakeholders generating a community and presenting a series of projects to explore the meaning and interpretation of Indigenous design culture throughout the world.

During the State of Design this free public forum will bring together Indigenous and non-indigenous designers and commentators to look forward, examining how their architecture, product design, craft or art practice can step between cultures, drawing benefit from both, and generating a new proposition for Australian design language.

I saw some work that was spoken of as connecting to land, country and culture. The speakers spoke to motifs, colors, forms and process – all as distinct with a desire to produce something specific and precise. The specific and precise is my way of constructing a category of the ‘meaningful’ in design. Design is often utilitarian – of course – and here were designers and architects working to add an extra dimension – in the porcess hinting at the existence of an indigenous ‘way of design’. I am intrigued by this suggestion of the redesign of the design process itself.

My response was as usual all over the place and spoken very fast ( there was very little time and a lot to say ). I am at this very moment writing a piece on ‘design and the sacred’ and suddenly I was furiously rewriting the main points because the ‘sacred’ was being replaced by the ‘significant’ or the ‘uncanny’. Many people walked away that evening with the notion ‘ anything can be made sacred’ – which was me doing Durkheim. I also threw in a generous dose of the roots of design in India. I said that at that time in 1854 there were three parts to the “project” of design for indian crafts – one was a school ( a curriculum- lithography, pottery and so on), the other was the ‘institute’ of art in industry( to bring industry – read clients – and artists together) and the last was a journal (to influence opinion).

Four things are interesting here – as a construction of the elements of the theory of indigenous design:

Re Designers: There are two parts to this one indigenous designers doing design ( indigenous inspired – Alison – or just normal design) and the other is non-indigenous designers (David) doing indigenous inspired design.

Re works: The focus of this work is either for consumption by indigenous communities (troppo, merrima) or by all (Page jewellery, David).

Re Genre: Are we arriving at a specific class of artefacts, designs, experiences that classify themselves as indigenous? Is there a new design process, or is the artefact valuation (appreciation) different?

Re Context: I am inspired by David’s location in NT and the opportunity for immersion. Indigenous imbued-inspired artefacts in natural settings and in contrast in urban settings.

Which has started me off on thinking about INDIGO and a hypothetical project – indigenous australian design practice.

1. What is it: There are many practitioners who are pioneers in Australia and are making a mark. This jewellery is by Alison Page – who is striking out on her own in defining ‘aboriginality’ in design. Some very exciting stuff. Others are Troppo and David Lancashire. Then there is indigenous design in the Americas. (I went looking for some of this stuff – see following posts)

(images above – Alison Page, and work by Troppo Architects.)

Diamond Dreaming – Rare and beautiful jewellery, Sydney, Australia

Mondial Neuman Jewellers have collaborated with Indigenous Designer Alison Page to create an unique range of contemporary Aboriginal jewellery using natural coloured diamonds and precious metals. Diamond Dreaming is the first range of jewellery of its type in Australia.

2. Why is it this way: The project is an amplification and appropriateness, or a quest for the indigenous and a grounding of the design in context. So this is one way of describing the project of ‘doing the indigenous’

3. What else can it be: The main work is now happening in ‘industry’ as commercial projects, a lot of it is state funded projects – there is however very little from the universities. hat can be the location of an initiative.

4. What should it be: A three year project to build a multidimensional action research project. Some design, some research and some teaching – just three things.

(this is writing in progress)

Do you have a comment to offer? How would you answer – what else can be done?

Published by Soumitri Varadarajan

Soumitri lives in Melbourne, Australia - #probonodesign #codesign #sustainability #patientexperience #quantifiedself #mdg

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  1. I was very taken with the concept of ‘sacred design’, not in any new age sense, of course. But that there was a dimension of design that involves a kind of sanctification, which would include even branding. This takes it beyond mere marketing to the way we engage with symbolic values. This seems to be how trade marks like Fair Trade function. We seek some authority for our desire. But the problem seems to be that the sacred co-exists with the profane. What is their relation? Can there be a blessed design that doesn’t work properly?


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