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Concept: The Dreaming Dress

"Those who lose dreaming are lost" ~ Aboriginal proverb

The art of indigenous Australians (also called Aboriginal Art) is possibly the oldest living art in our world. Their drawings and paintings told stories, passed down knowledge, and communicated from generation to generation. More recently, contemporary Aboriginal Art has been used to bridge the gap between indigenous culture and modern society. Aboriginal women have been leaders in this area, taking control of their stories and often embracing new colours as they express history and culture from their perspective.

In return, we can create art to acknowledge and pay our respects to people and cultures whose lives have intertwined with our own in contemporary society. This was the concept behind the Dreaming Dress. A dress which wasn't just functional, but also symbolised and honoured indigenous women in Australia. It may be a simplistic gesture, but any form of art that inspires or educates just one other person is still worth attempting.

The patterns and colours

The main material is a cotton printed with the 'Utopia Bush Plum' design by Betty Mbitjana.

From the Utopia region in central Australia, Betty is the equally capable daughter of celebrated indigenous artist Minnie Pwerle, and also the sister of Barbara Weir. Betty's paintings carry on the tradition of Awelye body paint designs (Awelye means womens' ceremony). The womens' ceremonies pay their respects to their ancestors and country, and acknowledge their role as women in their community group.

The second printed material has a pattern by Anette Doolan, 'Spirit Dreaming'. Anette is from Santa Terese, Central Australia.

Her pattern represents ancestral spirits, occupying both past, present and future - the creators who remain with them as they take different forms after death (eg tree, river, mountain etc).

Dreaming is a concept in aboriginal culture which conflates time and place - it represents past, present and future, links people to the land and assists them in understanding their place in their traditional community and environment.

The pink material was chosen not just because it ties in with the colours of the printed materials, but to symbolise women (pink being socially constructed as a feminine colour), and because pink has been embraced as a colour by Aboriginal artists since it became more widely available to them in the 1980s - especially the females who were emerging as artists in their own right at that time.

The design

The patterns are by women from two different communities, or 'country'. In past history, they would have been unlikely to have had any connection. But in today's world, with our intrusion into their country, outside influences, communications and new technologies just to name a few, their worlds and ours have overlapped and been interwoven. They maintain their positions as storytellers and/or leaders of their community, but they also have interactions with the outside world, both positive and negative.

The dress was deliberately pattern-mixed to show these interconnections. At the hem and bottom of the sleeve, the ruffles overlap, symbolic of the overlaps between their traditions and modern living. The ruffles also were designed to soften the look - floating in the breeze at any sign of a wind due to the lightness of the cotton, acknowledging the elements.

The Rainbow Serpent

The rainbow coloured handbag and shoes add a further dimension to the outfit. They invoke the idea of the 'Rainbow Serpent', a creator god common to most of the different aboriginal communities (although differing between them in specific details). Dreaming stories tell of the Rainbow serpent coming from the ground and creating mountains and gorges, and being in control of water, the most precious resource.

This dress is suitable for many types of outings. But when people look at it, maybe they will ask about the patterns. Maybe they will recognise the style of painting. Maybe it will provoke a discussion about our indigenous culture, or aboriginal art, or indigenous females in society. It's a start.

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.” – Aboriginal saying

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