Honoring Indigenous Artists

Indigenous artists from around the world have been at the core of several recent initiatives in the worlds of licensing, collaboration, fashion, and retail. Some announcements in the past couple of months have included:

  • Last week’s debut of the National Indigenous Fashion Awards in Australia, developed by the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation. Nominations included 33 Indigenous designers and artists in six categories. A double-award winner, Sydney-based Yuwaalaraay designer Julie Shaw, launched Maara Collective last year as a resortwear line highlighting collaborations with Indigenous artists; the first collection, in 2020, was a partnership with the Bula’bula Arts Center in Ramingining, Northern Territory.
  • In July, Oregon-based outdoor footwear marketer Bogs announced it was collaborating with Roots Studio for a collection of boots featuring prints from Roots’ Patch Collection, set for spring 2021. Roots Studio was founded in 2016 and represents Indigenous artists from rural villages all around the world, with a focus on Asia. It creates its own products, such as its Heritage Mask Collection featuring imagery from the Miao, Warli, Bhil, and Gond tribes; tea towels and coasters featuring the artwork of Gond artist Kuldeep Kushram; wrapping paper incorporating Toraja art; and stationery and notebooks highlighting images from Gond and Phad Chitra artists. It also has done collaborations with the likes of H&M, Tommy Bahama, and PrAna.
  • In June, Canadian luxury department store Simons launched a new Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto x Edito collection of Indigenous fashion from eight artists across Canada, available in nine of its stores and online. This marked the start of an ongoing platform to highlight Indigenous creators over time. Products in the first collection included a unisex shirt, pants, evening dress, and day dress, all for Simons’ Edito departments, which carry high-end, unique, hard-to-find brands, with the selection varying by location.
  • Also in June, the Southwestern Association for Indian Art announced a partnership with the Clark Hulings Fund to facilitate the 2020 Virtual Indian Market, live from August 1 through August 31, prompted by the cancellation of the physical Santa Fe Indian Market. SWAIA also partnered with Artspan to bring to life a permanent global marketplace and e-commerce site specializing in Native American art. Artspan is providing websites for the SWAIA’s individual artists, all accessible through the central marketplace. Artists will also receive business training and support.

A number of agencies around the world specialize in licensing artwork by Indigenous creators. For example, The Copyrights Agency in Australia focuses on licensing the artwork of more than 5,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Some of its deals have included biodegradable food bags with German company Bild-Kunst featuring the art of Susannah Blaxill, canvas sneakers with the NGV Design Store incorporating images from artist Allen Mitelman, and Deonte Wines labels sporting the paintings of Meg Lewer.

The Aboriginal Artists Agency, also in Australia, is a nonprofit launched in 1976 that represents more than 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, many from Central Australia. Much of its work centers on gallery shows and the use of artwork in books and other publications. It has distributed more than $1.5 million to individual artists over the years.

And the Art Gallery of Ontario licenses its Indigenous Collection, which encompasses works from the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people of Canada and Alaska, as well as Indigenous art from Africa, Australia, and the Torres Strait Islands. In 2018 it signed a deal with CAP and WinnDevon to market The Indigenous Collection by CAP, a range of gifts and stationery including notebooks, calendars, puzzles, kitchen goods, and ornaments based on the artists and artwork in AGO’s collection. Several assortments featuring different artists have been released to date.

While these and other Indigenous art specialists have been on the scene for some time, interest in Indigenous culture has been gaining a higher profile globally of late. Authentic Native American culture, art, and themes have been on the rise in the U.S. over the past few years, for example, in restaurants, children’s entertainment, fashion, and art, and the same is true for Indigenous culture in other countries. The concentrated focus on racial and ethnic equality and inclusion prompted by the events of this summer is likely to spur more interest in programs such as these going forward.

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