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“Frock On” brings an expert on aboriginal fashion to Charlottesville

The Kluge-Ruhe lecture offered insight into indigenous Australian textiles and garments from an experienced anthropologist

“Frock On” showcased the global extent of the Kluge-Ruhe's revived efforts by inviting an expert on Aboriginal culture and fashion, Dr. Louise Hamby, all the way from Canberra, Australia.
“Frock On” showcased the global extent of the Kluge-Ruhe's revived efforts by inviting an expert on Aboriginal culture and fashion, Dr. Louise Hamby, all the way from Canberra, Australia.

The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection hosted an audience in Campbell Hall Friday night for a lecture from Dr. Louise Hamby, an American research fellow in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. The lecture discussed the recent rise in popularity of Aboriginal designs in the global fashion industry over the past few years.

Hamby began with a brief survey of the evolving role of indigenous textiles in the modern fashion industry. She explained that Aboriginal peoples began producing significant quantities of textile designs through screen printing techniques in the 1980s as an efficient means of creating jobs and supporting their communities economically. 

Hamby then went on to describe how that conception has changed in the modern fashion industry. Today, Aboriginal textiles no longer serve as merely commodities whose manufacture and sale creates jobs, but as serious works of art worth celebrating.

“Frock On” is a part of a larger effort in recent years at the University to bring Aboriginal fashion to Charlottesville. Back in 2016, Lauren Maupin, the Manager of Education and Programs at the Kluge-Ruhe, helped start this effort by organizing an Aboriginal fashion show called “Culture Couture.” The show took place at the Jefferson Theater and featured couture clothing designed by University students using textiles made by indigenous artists.

“But that was in 2016,” Maupin said. “And so we did that whole project. It was amazing. And [we] haven't really been able to replicate that since, for lots of reasons — COVID being one of them.” 

COVID-19 presented an obvious challenge for all public institutions in recent years, especially when it came to public programming. As restrictions have lifted, however, the Kluge-Ruhe has effectively revamped its mission to continue educating the local public on Aboriginal textiles and fashion in addition to its staple Aboriginal painting and sculpture collections. 

“Frock On” showcased the global extent of the Kluge-Ruhe's revived efforts by inviting an expert on Aboriginal culture and fashion, Dr. Louise Hamby, all the way from Canberra, Australia. Although separated by thousands of miles, the Kluge-Ruhe has had an important and long-standing relationship with Hamby since shortly after its founding in 1999.

“Louise is American, even though she's lived in Australia for many years, so she has a close relationship with the Kluge-Ruhe,” Maupin said. “Just knowing that we're the only museum dedicated to indigenous Australian Art in the United States.”

As an American studying the far-away Aboriginal culture, Hamby expresses a certain excitement for the Kluge-Ruhe’s presence in the Charlottesville community.

“I think it really has to do with the fact that it's in America,” Hamby said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “I’ve been living in Australia, and it's so good to be able to see an American institution promoting the work — not just remote communities, [but] Aboriginal art in general — just very exciting.”

The latter half of the lecture on Friday focused on highlighting the recent 21st-century trend of fashion designers around the world using Aboriginal textiles to create couture clothing. Hamby elaborated that this cultural collaboration has led to appearances of Aboriginal textiles on major runways in cities such as Paris and Los Angeles. Hamby emphasized that what constitutes Aboriginal fashion is far more diverse than what gets displayed on the runways.

“This ‘movement,’ if you like, has a lot of variations,” said Hamby. “From the top end down to what people wear in the community. And we tend to lump this under a big term as ‘fashion.’ I think we need to think about the terminology and what you're actually referring to … people get the idea, but in fact, it can be very complicated.”

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