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Meet the curator of the upcoming ‘Contemporary Indigenous Fashion’ exhibition

WORDS BY BRIDGET CALDWELL

Shonae Hobson is quite the woman.

Kaantju woman and curator Shonae Hobson is just 23, yet she’s already made history as the First Nations Curator at Bendigo Art Gallery, the first role of its kind within the institution since its inception in 1887. Despite its modest location, the gallery is an unsuspecting host to some of the world’s greatest fashion exhibitions, including the Victoria and Albert Museum’s recent Balenciaga retrospective. Shonae is set to join those ranks year, launching her first major fashion exhibition in the space.

Titled Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion, the exhibition will feature fashion and design items from around Australia, showcasing the strength and diversity of the growing Indigenous fashion and textile industry.

She says the idea behind the show is to spotlight the creative work produced within First Nations communities, and to celebrate the continuation of cultural practice through wearable art.

It’s also giving audiences, who might not be familiar with Indigenous art or history, a different way of perceiving contemporary Indigenous art.

“I think we’re at a time when we are seeing a shi in how people approach contemporary Indigenous fashion and also how young Indigenous people can be included in that space, whether that be through modelling, makeup [or] fashion design,” she says. “It’s definitely a direction the fashion industry’s looking in.”

The exhibition comes at a time when the broader Australian fashion industry has increasingly welcomed collaborations with First Nations peoples, but where not all of these have been handled well. “We have seen a lot of questions around what is ethical collaboration, but what we are seeing here is Indigenous creators taking the lead,” she says. “For me, it’s really important that these stories be told. So in my role as curator, I hope I can get those stories out there for wider audiences.”

Shonae says the word ‘piinpi’ comes from her great-grandmother’s language, and is an expression used to describe seasonal changes and regeneration, or looking after Country.

The idea of caring for Country and land is very much intertwined throughout the exhibition, as well as through the garments themselves. “There’s a cultural knowledge of the land and passing on of traditional weaving practices [evident] throughout the pieces,” she says. “The use of traditional plants and FIbre materials [is] really [prominently] showcased.”

Having grown up in Coen, a town on the Cape York Peninsula with a population of only 360 people, Shonae’s connection to culture and traditional practices has remained strong from a young age. Now, she has the opportunity to share these practices with others and shape how wider audiences interact with Indigenous Australian design.

“There is definitely a big responsibility that comes with my role, but that also means I have a certain power to enact change.”

bendigoregion.com.au/bendigo-art-gallery

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