One of the Rodarte dresses featuring Benny Tjnagala's art
Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 16.03.12
"The Mulleavy sisters stand out from the New York Fashion Week crowd with an imaginative Fall line full of Outback influences", pronounced The Daily Beast blog on February 14 this year. "The two sisters behind the Rodarte label are rare young self-taught designers who continue to surprise and dazzle. They did just that with a fall 2012 collection inspired by Australia, referencing Aboriginal art and hand prints inspired by ancient cave paintings. 'The inspiration came out of nowhere,' explained Laura Mulleavy after the show. 'We’d done so much research and looked at photo books of different eras. But we kept coming back to the idea of Australia'".
For many, Rodarte‘s 2012 prints were nothing more than a pretty appropriation that's gone a little further afield than New Mexico. But for Megan Davis, the academic who heads up the UNSW Indigenous Law Centre and is also a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the prints were an insensitive theft of her Australian Aboriginal culture.
“It is completely insensitive to Aboriginal art and spirituality and land and how they are inextricably linked,” she told the Frockwriter blog. “The sisters admit they have never been to Australia, so they must have had ‘inspiration’ from books, images, web or Aboriginal art, including 60,000 year old rock art; a clan’s songlines, story, life and very essence, with responsibilities and reciprocal obligations to land and kin are all part of a religious Aboriginal system of knowledge and there are cultural responsibilities for the protection and use of those images as well as custodial obligations.”
“As an Aboriginal lawyer I found the designs offensive,” Davis said, adding, “particularly when you keep in mind the abject poverty that a lot of these groups live in in mostly remote Australia. The thought of seeing women walking around in this particular ready-to-wear collection sickens me. Because it is my culture and it is where I come from”.
Unfortunately, Ms Davis has jumped to a whole raft of unjust conclusions here. Rodarte offered Frockwriter the following statement:
“We deeply respect and admire the work of other artists. Through the appropriate channels, we licensed the Aboriginal artwork that influenced prints in our collection. As a result, the artists will share in proceeds of the pieces inspired by their work.”
Indeed, a quick check with the Aboriginal Artists' Agency which represents Papunya Tula Artists in this matter, confirmed the licence. “The widow of artist Benny Tjangala will see this use of his artworks quite differently to the professor", explained Anthony Wallis of AAA. "She will appreciate the royalty flow over the next 12 months! And these 'frocks' follow an art series by the Mulleavy sisters based on Van Gogh, and they cost $3000 apparently – so there won't be many on the streets. It is a small independent family business based in Pasadena".
I wonder whether they'd sell in Australia?
The Rodarte frock featuring Aboriginal cave stencil motifs
As a signatory to the Indigenous Art Code we are committed to ethical and transparent business dealings with Indigenous visual artists and abide by the standards set out in the Code.