From the Top End

Aboriginal Screen-Printed Textile

Today, I visited the Fowler Museum at UCLA and was entranced by an exhibition hall filled with screen-printed textiles created by Australian Aborigines. According to the Museum:

This exhibition takes us on a journey around northern Australia, known as the “Top End,” and invites us to explore more than 70 distinctive, screen-printed textiles made by contemporary artists at five Aboriginal-owned art centers. Since the 1960s, these textiles have become a vibrant medium for Indigenous expression, perpetuating traditional knowledge and reinvigorating its visual manifestations. Today these fabrics both serve the needs of their communities and circulate as prized collectibles, interior furnishings, and fashion apparel. The Fowler installation, organized around the individual art centers, reveals the creativity and innovation of Aboriginal artists and their sources of inspiration. Accompanying videos offer glimpses of the process of screen-printing textiles and the ways artists have translated ancient painting techniques into new media. The videos also introduce local environments—escarpments, flood plains, waterholes, rivers, and seas—that shelter the local flora and fauna seen on fabrics in bold colors and striking patterns. Screen-printed textiles enable Indigenous artists to share their cultures and identities, while providing them with a sustainable livelihood. The exhibition pays tribute to the resilience and beauty of Aboriginal Australia and reminds us of the enduring connections between peoples and their lands.

In each case, the artists created their own “brushes” from a native sedge, as well as their own paints made from vegetable and mineral sources.

I have always though the Australian Aborigines to be the most elusive primitive peoples of earth. They are all very conscious of revealing only so much of their secrets, and no more. The exhibit also contained several videos showing the textiles in the process of preparation.

Many of them were strikingly beautiful in strange ways.