A collection of wearable stories of Country and culture is coming to Bendigo Art Gallery. Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion will showcase leading First Nation designers who are making moves towards a new and powerful medium.

With work hailing from the saltwater coastlines, to the red desert, to claypan country, Piinpi, as an exhibition, weaves a diverse and strong voice through Indigenous fashion.

Scheduled to open in July 2020, Piinpi is curated by Bendigo Art Gallery’s First Nations curator, Shonae Hobson.

A strong Kaantju woman, Hobson has personal ties to the word Piinpi and has been given the go-ahead to name this exhibition in its honour.

“My great-grandmother who is a Kaantju Elder from Cape York, she gave me permission to use the word,” Hobson said.

“There’s not really a western word that translates, but it’s an expression we use in Cape York to describe seasonal changes and the regeneration of Country.

“For example when a certain flower blooms we know that the rock wallaby are fat to eat and we know when it’s time to burn the grass in the dry season.”

“It’s that whole kind of cycle of life, Indigenous people read the land and know the Country well.”

“It’s such a beautiful word. I thought [it would be] such a great word to use for the exhibition as well because a lot of the garments are really about Country and culture like our painting and art, other forms of art.

“The use of natural material and weaving, the colours, it all comes from Country. It was important to use that word as it encapsulated a lot of what the exhibition was about.”

Piinpi includes collections from Grace Lillian-Lee, Lyn-Al Young, Maree Clarke, Lisa Waup x Verner and Hopevale Arts, whilst also hosting items from public and private collections and new collections from designers and art centres.

“Never before have so many works by Indigenous designers and artists been brought together to this extent, and in this way,” said Bendigo Art Gallery Director, Jessica Bridgfoot.

Key works from the exhibition will remain with the gallery and form the beginnings of the Australian Fashion Collection.

“We are thrilled to mark this important moment in Australian fashion and design history with a new collection focus.

“Bendigo Art Gallery has a celebrated, proven track record presenting exhibitions that highlight revolutionary and historically important aspects of fashion and design, so it is only fitting that as an institution we start to build on a collection that preserves and captures key moments in Australian fashion history.

“The launch of Piinpi and the new Australian Fashion Collection are an exciting new chapter for Bendigo Art Gallery.”

Hobson hopes the exhibition will give audiences a new appreciation of Indigenous culture and instil pride in mob.

“It’s empowering. It’s great to see our garments and our designers recognised in a museum, which is quite a western space. We have some of the best art in the world and our fashion is no different,” she said.

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

“It doesn’t matter what medium they are working in, if they’re an Indigenous person, it is always going to be Indigenous art. No matter whether it’s digital, acrylic on canvas, bark painting, fashionable garments or textiles.

“The beauty with this exhibition is that audiences can see the diversity of Indigenous practices, but we are also trying to reflect living cultures and the continuation of Indigenous storytelling and culture through fashion – reflecting culture today.”

Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion is presented as part of Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival’s Arts Program. The exhibition will be a point of discussion for MTalks on Saturday March 7 at MPavilion.

By Rachael Knowles