Lisa Waup on why fashion should embrace cross-cultural collaborations


It’s where the “magic” happens.

This week we welcome a guest editor to Fashion Journal, Rona Glynn-McDonald. Rona is the founder of Common Ground, a not-for-profit organisation educating Australians on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Rona is joining us for Reconciliation Week, which runs from May 27 to June 3. Read more about Common Ground and Rona’s work here.

“Most of my work is about storytelling. The idea of sharing that connection to country and that connection to family,” Lisa Waup tells me over the phone from her home in Melbourne.

For the award-winning Gunditjmara and Torres Strait Islander artist, that sense of storytelling is embedded in everything she creates, from sculptures to woven works to drawings to more recently, fashion. 

Her works engage with cultural and ancestral identity and have graced the walls of ACCA, NGV and ReDot Gallery in Singapore.

As I connected over the phone with her, I couldn’t help but gush over her latest collection with Verner – just look at this oversized t-shirt dress and these stripy straight leg jeans.

Their second collection together, titled Journeys, is an introspective voyage through history, family and time. Following the success of their first collection, Lisa and Ingrid Verner, Verner’s founder and head designer, decided to team up again, with Lisa contributing her artworks and Ingrid driving the rest. 

“It’s always been a dream of mine to work with fashion. [My first collection] was a collaboration with Verner that started with Craft Victoria and Creative Victoria,” Lisa says. 

Craft’s curator and commissions manager, Sarah Weston, asked Lisa if she’d like to be part of a fashion collaboration that was being showcased as part of VAMFF’s Global Indigenous Runway.

“And I’m like, ‘Oh gosh, yes!’ Ingrid and I just really hit it off instantly. There was a lot of discussion, and I feel like she really represented that first collection very respectfully.”

When she was approached to create another collection for Hong Kong Business of Design Week, Lisa could think of  no one better to collaborate with than Ingrid. With the clarity of firsthand experience, Lisa feels such cross-cultural collaboration should be embraced more by the Australian fashion industry.

“I think it’s so underrated. I think that’s where magic comes. You’re both coming from two different worlds, but you both have these two amazing creative processes and thoughts. You get two of those together and I think it’s really, really special… I think it makes [fashion] even richer,” she says. 

“One really successful [example] was the Mangkaja X Gorman collaboration. There’s so much history and so much beauty in the creativity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, it needs to be seen on a platform.”

Three original works were created as prints for Journeys – ‘Continuity’, ‘Tracing History’ and ‘The Eyes of Our Ancestors’. 

‘Continuity’ came about through Lisa’s fascination with circles, which represent family to her.

“My husband said to me, ‘Why don’t you do a square?’ Squares are good because they give you points to rest, a place where you can stop and can think, as opposed to circles that are continuously moving and going,” she says. 

‘Tracing History’ is a representation of totem poles. Lisa explains how in Indigenous Australian culture, totem poles are passed down through generations, belonging to a certain family, tribe or clan. As someone who was adopted at a young age by an Italian family, Lisa continually seeks to discover more about her ancestral past.

“For me, it was something that was missing, so I kind of created my own totem poles and it was like a stepping stone of history.”

‘The Eyes of Our Ancestors’ surrounds the idea that our ancestors are still present in our lives. It’s seen through the symbolisation of eyes and masks, inspired by Lisa’s time spent in Papua New Guinea.

I asked how her nonlinear cultural upbringing (Lisa is Gunditjmara and Torres Strait Islander, was raised by an Italian family and went on to live in Papua New Guinea) has shaped her as a person and an artist.

“It is all interwoven into my work, to tell you the truth. There’s definitely an aspect from each of [these cultures] that is part of it. [Being a] Gunditjmara and Torres Strait Islander, that’s history that I’m continually unearthing as well. There’s been a lot of detachment from that, through historical events and my own upbringing. It’s a constant search,” she confides. 

“My mum who I’ve grown up with is full of unconditional love and compassion, and that’s definitely woven into my work as well. I think being in Papua New Guinea has really shaped who I am as well, and changed my perception of the world. It’s all in there.”

With her work so closely tied to her cultural identity, seeing it brought to life through fashion was a whole new experience.

“They were these drawings from my visual diary. And to then see them animated and moving and walking on catwalks… it was unbelievable. It was just an absolute dream come true,” she says. 

“Fashion is definitely a platform for education and representation. I think it’s a really clever way to educate people about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history – by wearing it!”

As part of Reconciliation Week, the NGV is hosting a series of live in-studio artist visits. Lisa Waup will be taking over @NGVMelbourne on Wednesday June 3 at 6pm. Find out more here.

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