The Aboriginal voice in Australian design

An area of huge significance and potential for exploration in Australian design is our understanding of indigenous Australian culture. A huge difficulty that has faced Aboriginal people is in communication. There is a disconnection in the language between white and black Australia both spoken (heard) and unspoken (seen). This is the result of a violent and guilty past which is tolerated by most white people with embarrassed forgetfulness and by Aboriginal people with anger and sorrow.

Designers have long asserted the influence of their craft on a social and political level. It can be demonstrated – from Jazz, to Nazism – where a visual aesthetic has offered more than a colour scheme throughout the course of history and where the tone of communication has galvanised a message. In this new era, we as experts of visual communication in Australia should be asking what can designers offer to the betterment of this country? And, where have we gone wrong in the past?

Anglo designers and artists working in Australia have, in the past, drawn from Aboriginal motifs in proclamation of our independence and individuality from Britain. On stamps, air hostess uniforms and most blatantly the Sydney Olympic logo. It plays well for our global identity. However, the presentation of Aboriginal culture in this way is perhaps just as damaging, given the ongoing national struggle to fully accept and respect the original owners of our country. The plagiarism and simplification of indigenous motifs and symbols in this way is disrespectful.

Designers today should in all cases aim to present the true sense of what being Australian means, in the everyday visual media that they effectively craft. This should have alive within it an understanding of Aboriginal culture and language. Australian design, fashion, hospitality, entertainment and indeed big business should all be open to the recognition of this cultural asset as part of the make up of their/our visual identity. There will be a time of uncertainty, mistakes will be made to the offence of both sides but this is necessary to strengthen the debate and our understanding and connection to Australia as a country.

As to how this can be achieved in a day to day sense, I need to think a bit longer… but I would say, as usual, education is key.

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One Response

  1. Adrian Kotik says:

    Agreed. Show us a visual example of how you would evoke an Aboriginal presence in an Australian design.

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