Mangkaja and Gorman create an Indigenous collection setting a benchmark in collaboration
Pic credit: Vassi Lena
“Mangkaja wanted to explore the fashion world with a partner that has a strong reputation for celebrating artists, and we identified Gorman as that partner,” Ms Cook says. “As Gorman was yet to do a collaboration with an Indigenous art centre or Indigenous Australian artists we thought perhaps it was time – and it turns out it was.”
Over the past 10 years, Gorman has produced collections with more than 80 local and international contemporary artists, designers and creators, but it had not worked with Indigenous artists.
“When Mangkaja approached us with an idea of an Indigenous collection I was honoured and excited," says Gorman founder and CEO, Lisa Gorman. “The Mangkaja artists were interested in what we could do with them, on their terms, at a time that was right for them. To me, this felt like a good way to start a collaboration. “I knew that Belinda at Mangkaja held the interests of her artists at the forefront and that she would work to facilitate their goals within this project. Having an authority on Indigenous art, and a link between myself and the artists to negotiate the cultural elements of such a project, has made the collaboration possible. On top of that, having a copyright licence agreement that ensured all was above board, fairly negotiated and documented, gave us all the confidence to proceed with the collaboration.” The Copyright Agency is Australia’s national copyright licensing organisation for the publishing, media, surveying and visual arts industries, and now represents more than 13,000 Australian and New Zealand artists and 40,000 international artists through global partners.
Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling says: “We are proud to have been entrusted with the responsibility of negotiating the licence for the use of Mangkaja artists’ works and ensuring ethical processes were followed.
“This licence is an example of best practice as we worked with both Mangkaja and Gorman to respectfully negotiate fair and reasonable licensing fees. We made sure terms, conditions, attributions and acknowledgment of the artists were negotiated to protect the artist and the
reproduction of the artwork. And crucially, we ensured the artists had approval throughout the whole process, from concept to instore delivery, and the approach to promotion via online platforms and social media.”
Artworks of five Mangkaja artists feature in the Mangkaja x Gorman collection: Ngarralja Tommy May, Sonia Kurarra, Daisy Japulija, Nada Tigila Rawlins and Lisa Uhl. With the collaboration over two years in the making, sadly during that time Ms Lisa Uhl passed away at the age of 43 due to kidney failure, a condition that is rife in remote communities like Fitzroy Crossing More recently senior artist Mrs. Nada Rawlins passed at the age of almost 90, a founding member of Mangkaja Arts. Both women’s artworks have been exhibited and collected nationally and internationally, and their families have honoured their wishes to have their work included in the Mangkaja x Gorman collection in recognition of their contribution to the Australian contemporary art scene.
Tommy May is the founder and senior advisor of Mangkaja Arts and has three artworks in the Gorman collection. His art tells stories from his country in the Great Sandy Desert and he had artistic control over their representation – and that of all the artworks featured in the collaboration.
“We talked about this, we worked on this for a long time before anything happened. We did this the right way. The way things happened was all alright, nothing was stolen. This was my idea and I want it to run for a long time, I want it to have an impact. All of the artists, and the board, we all know the right way to do things and we are happy. We gave them artwork [featuring stories] we are happy to wear, that is safe, not hard [law] stories. We let them [Gorman] do the designs, make the clothes, that’s their job. We checked all the drawings and the samples. We are the artists, our artwork looks good on those materials, on the clothes. We are happy,” says Mr May. Belinda Cook says one of the most rewarding elements of the collaboration was the artists and their families’ responses to the samples when they arrived. At every stage, the artists and the Mangkaja board and membership have been excited and positive about this opportunity.
“The dresses, shapes and designs really celebrate the women of our community’s flair for colour, while respecting their values and reflecting on historical shapes and fashions in a contemporary way,” explains Ms Cook.
“This project is about promotion and sharing our artists’ stories. The five artists in this collaboration have all been leaders in innovative arts practice, and art is their vehicle to express themselves and their legacy. This project is a major opportunity to share with new audiences, younger audiences and those who have not yet been exposed to the brilliance of contemporary Indigenous art practice. We hope that this project will bring attention to not just our Mangkaja artists, but to the incredible art movement that is Australian Indigenous art – one that continues to be arguably the most successful and innovative art movement produced in Australia.” The Copyright Agency views this licence as a benchmark for future fashion licensing agreements.
Mr Suckling says, “This has been a true collaboration, with the artists and Gorman showing respect for each other’s expertise and valuing each other’s opinions. It has been a project of shared experiences and when all parties walk away happy and proud of the final outcome, then it is a successful licence, and that has huge potential for growth and replication elsewhere.”