Bruce Carnie in Ernebella

Some months ago I interviewed Dr Bruce Carnie, a Lecturer in Textile Design at the University of Leeds, for the Design Routes research. I was interested in hearing about Bruce’s thoughts on working with traditional patterns, and the difference between ‘taking inspiration’ and ‘revitalising’.

Bruce spoke about his experiences as a teacher and also as a professional textile designer, working primarily in Australia. One of these experiences was a hands-on example of revitalisation he had been directly involved in. Here’s a brief summary of the story:

In the mid 1980s, Bruce spent three months working in an aboriginal community in the centre of Australia, Ernebella (now known as Pukatja) to engage the young people with silk-screen printing. Before travelling to the community, Bruce needed to learn the language, and gain an understanding of its culture.

Check out the incredible landscape!

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The project aimed to support the young people to translate culturally significant patterns - originating in sand paintings - through silk screen printing. This craft was new to the community, although batik was well-established, having been introduced by a missionary some decades earlier.

Here are just a few of the designs created by the young people - with the girls, in particular, working with the traditional patterns:

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Bruce explained that the experience of this project shaped his thinking about the moral issues surrounding the use of traditional patterns - and directly affected the way he approached briefs then given to him as a professional textile designer.

Many thanks to Bruce for sharing the story, and the slides. You can read more about arts in Pukatja on the fantastic Ernebella Arts website.

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