In the last 10 years there has been amazing growth in design and production of fabrics coming out of remote community art centres around Australia. The fabric designs are vibrant, beautiful and meaningful. But there are challenges. A range of factors make the fabrics unavoidably expensive. Plus they can be hard to source and hard to sell because the workshops are remote. Whilst there is a keen market for fabric lengths – it’s quite small. When Flick returned to manage Injalak Arts – now one of Australia’s biggest hand-printing fabric workshops (after a gap of 18 years) she found herself thinking ‘how can we value add to the fabrics to create products for a wider audience?’. The answer was to create a project bringing together her fair trade producer networks in Cambodia with art centres.
A very short history of FFF
Before Flying Fox Fabrics there was the Cross-Cultural Collaboration Project (CCCP) that I created whilst providing consultancy services to Injalak Arts in 2013. I had already developed extensive networks with social enterprises in Cambodia after living and volunteering in the country since 2010. In Cambodia human relationships are the foundation of business partnerships and these develop over time. As I already had networks with Indigenous art centres throughout Australia I was delighted that I could share my Cambodian networks and ideas with Indigenous Australian artists. The CCCP involved taking Injalak Arts hand-printed fabrics to fair trade manufacturers in Cambodia to be made into bags and accessories.
I had to make a decision early whether to develop the project as my own enterprise or not as I was the only person who had the networks and knowledge to make it work. In the early days I also trialled fabric from other art centres (Eru Arts, Bula’bula Arts, Wadeye, Babbarra Designs and Tiwi Design) and they all looked amazing. Due to unusual circumstances (a new manager was recruited but pulled out just before they were due to arrive as dry season was imminent) my consulting role with Injalak Arts extended beyond the initial contract. I took on a Mentor Manager role for a year in July 2013 and it made sense to keep it as an Injalak Arts project for the duration of my work with that art centre.
After a very humble beginning the project grew in response to demand and began to expand to clothing and homewares. Over six years it delivered fair returns for the designers, printers, Injalak Arts and the artisans. In addition the project was a hit with Aboriginal people, they loved the products! It as so satisfying to see the team wearing shirts and carrying bags made from their own designs. Not a small number of bags and clothing were given by Injalak Arts to its members.
Managing Injalak Arts was a challenging gig but there were so many good times. My absolutely favorite part was the hours spent in the print workshop/studio working with the designers and printers and bringing in trainers who gave professional development to the team. There were so many laughs and collaborating to create textiles of such diversity and beauty was enormously satisfying. On a practical note here’s some behind-the-scenes snaps: getting base cloth in and out of Gunbalanya for Injalak Arts print workshop during wet season was a labour of love. The only access to the remote community for approximately 5 months from December – April/May is light aircraft.
I left Injalak Arts in February 2019 and as the project relied on my networks, expertise and IP the new management decided not to continue it. I then established Flying Fox Fabrics as a stand alone social enterprise to expand the model and continue to give work to disadvantaged Cambodians. I have sourced fabrics from my own stash of vintage and more contemporary Injalak Arts fabrics purchased over the years, from stashes of friends and families (who were big patrons) and from new purchases and partnerships with art centres.
NB: Flying Fox Fabrics is not affiliated with Injalak Arts. As a former Mentor Manager I do take great pride in the ongoing achievements of the art centre and wish them the very best. Visit the Injalak Arts Etsy shop to see the beautiful fabrics available online.
A brief account of my life with Indigenous fabrics
Since the late 1980s I have been on a quest to bring Indigenous hand-printed/dyed fabrics to a wider audience and generate greater awareness and demand. I travelled Darwin with five lady batik artists as the Art Coordinator of Warlukurlangu Artists in 1986. We attended an exhibition of batik art pieces they had created curated by Chips Mackinolty. In the early 1990s worked at Injalak Arts as Manager for the first time and oversaw the print workshop, hand-printed fabrics were part of an exhibition at Meat Market Craft Centre in Melbourne. I left Injalak Arts in 1995 and in 1996 whilst working for Desart conceived and wrote a submission for a book about Aboriginal hand-made textiles and the result was Putting in the Colour. published in 2000. I wrote an essay for that book and also for the catalogue for the NGV exhibition Raiki Wara – long cloth from Aboriginal Australia and the Torres Strait published in 1998.
See this ABC article from 2018 Inside Injalak Arts, the tiny art centre that used the internet to become a global sensation discussing my work at Injalak Arts as Mentor Manager and success we had in promoting the art centre and its fabric printing.
Fabric at Provenance Arts
One of my proudest achievements in recent years was the establishment of Provenance Arts – Know the Origin. It is an Injalak Arts owned micro-business to create an ethical gallery, retail, tourism and education hub in Darwin that opened in July 2018. It showcases artworks from Indigenous community art centres all over Australia. It was a huge undertaking and took more than a year of work to get the doors open. The 400+ sq metre of space includes a whole section devoted to Indigenous textile design and products. The gallery now has the largest range of hand-printed Indigenous fabrics in Australia.
Manager of Injalak Arts – twice!
My recent role as Consultant/Mentor Manager with Injalak Arts 2012-19 saw me supporting and supervising the artists, fabric designers and printers in that now famous print workshop. As the first Manager of Injalak Arts from 1991-95 I had already supervised the workshop before and had established relationships. Upon my return I facilitated design and professional development workshops for women and men with visiting trainers including Tim Growcott and Jude White and then oversaw daily the printing of (now) more than 45 designs. Over six years the number of printers more than tripled, women became equally represented and the quality and output dramatically improved. Using social media, markets and online sales portals Injalak Arts achieved strong brand recognition and created a worldwide market for its fabrics and fabric products.
Special fabric activities at Injalak Arts
In 2015 Injalak Arts had its first exhibition of women’s fabric designs at Framed Gallery in Darwin. It was the culmination of five workshops with Jude White where the women were designing and printing fabrics. In the first two years the women only printed when Jude was on site and lacked confidence to continue. By 2015 they began to print at least one day a week and became increasingly competent. The exhibition was a momentous occasion and more than 100 people attended the opening, many dressed in clothes made from Injalak Arts fabrics. See the photo album here.
Wearables – Elizabeth Martin curated an outstanding exhibition called Wearables – Ancient stories/contemporary mediums. An exhibition of wearable art and adornment of the body it was shown at Tactile Arts in Darwin 2015 and later toured to Santiago de Cuba in 2016. It traced body adornment from ancient times as depicted in paintings in rock art through to printed fabric. Flick supported the exhibition with interpretive text. See the photo album here.
Get It On! In 2017 Flick conceived and developed a participatory event called Get It On! that saw designers/sewers creating extraordinary outfits from Injalak Arts hand-printed fabric. Based on cooperation and reciprocity the event resonated with creatives, fabric loves, fashionistas and attracted a wide audience. The exhibition was held at Aboriginal Bush Traders in Darwin and achieved record attendance. The event was repeated in 2018 at the same venue. Clare Martin, former Chief Minister of the NT, was the MC for the Awards Ceremony. She has been a passionate supporter of Aboriginal arts, culture and tourism in the NT and had loved Get It On! 2017.
Flick has consulted for many art centres including those with fabric printing workshops: Injalak Arts, Babbarra Designs, Palngun Wurnangat/Wadeye Women, Bula’bula Arts, Erub Erwer Meta and Jilamara Arts. She has researched many more as part of The Art & Craft Centre Story Project (1996-1999). She was a contributor to the Raiki Wara – long cloth from Aboriginal Australia and the TS Catalogue (1998) and donated batik textiles to the NGV that featured in that exhibition. Whilst working for Desart Inc she conceived and sourced funding for Putting in the Colour – Contemporary Aboriginal Textiles (2000). More recently she has been writing catalogue essays for an exhibition of Australian Aboriginal hand-printed textiles to be presented by Fowler Museum, UCLA in 2020.
In a career spanning 30+ years in the Indigenous arts sector she has worked with many textile artists and fabric printers. She has been an art centre manager, researcher and advocate amongst other things. When she began working as Art Coordinator for Warlukurlangu Artists in 1986 the ladies were creating batiks and they went to Darwin for Rdaka Warlpiri-Kurlangu Nguru Warlpiri-Kurlangu (Warlpiri Hands, Warlpiri Country) exhibition of textiles. In 1988 she was in the Great Victoria Desert with people making lino prints in the community that would become Tjuntjuntjara. In 1991 she became the first manager of Injalak Arts and oversaw the print workshop curating an exhibition at the Meat Market Craft Centre in Melbourne that featured hand-printed fabric lengths amongst other things.
Consulting/workshops/research in communities, towns, art centres:
Northern Territory: Gunbalanya (Oenpelli); Haasts Bluff; Hermannsburg; Katherine; Keringke; Maningrida; Merrepen; Milikapiti; Mutitjulu; Ngukurr; Nhulunbuy; Nyirrpi; Pularumpi; Ramingining; Wadeye (Port Keats); Warlayirti (Balgo); Wurrumiyanga/Nguiu; Yirrkala; Yuendumu
South Australia: Amata; Ceduna; Coober Pedy; Copley; Coorong; Ernabella; Hawker; Koonibba; Mimili; Mt Gambier; Murray Bridge; Nyapari; Oak Valley; Oodnadatta; Port Augusta; Port Lincoln; Port Pirie; Riverland (Berri, Renmark);
FNQ & Torres Strait: Aurukun; Cairns; Coen; Cooktown; Erub (Darnley Island); Gordonvale; Hopevale; Injinoo; Laura; Lockhart River; Mapoon; Mornington Island; Mossman Gorge; Mt Isa; New Mapoon; Pormporaaw; Ravenshoe; Thursday Island; Weipa; Wujal Wujal; Yarrabah
Western Australia: Balgo; Kalumburu; Papulankutja; Tjuntjuntjara