VOGUE Living Australia - - Contents - By AN­NEMARIE KIELY Pho­tographed by LAU­REN BAM­FORD

In­spired by her fore­bears, this artist brings her ‘play’ on Tor­res Strait Is­lands craft into the spot­light

HOW TO CAT­E­GORISE GRACE LILLIAN LEE — the Cairns-born cre­ative who is fast work­ing her way to cen­tre stage with stand­alone ex­pres­sions of sar­to­rial de­sign, per­for­mance and cu­ra­tion? The Cairns Post had a crack, rank­ing Lee num­ber 22 on their 2016 list of ‘50 Most In­flu­en­tial Peo­ple in Far North Queens­land’, while Arts Queens­land sim­i­larly polled her pro­duc­tiv­ity, rat­ing the artist num­ber 1 of ‘16 Queens­lan­ders To Watch’. It’s big praise for the busy Lee, whose 2017 diary spreads across multi-dis­ci­plines, multi-states and the de­vel­op­ment of a men­tor­ing pro­gram that matches In­dige­nous Aus­tralian de­sign­ers in re­mote lo­ca­tions with fash­ion brands and uni­ver­si­ties. Yes, she ac­tively re­sists def­i­ni­tion, but ‘Amaz­ing Grace’ just slips from your lips af­ter view­ing film footage of the four fash­ion per­for­mances she has cu­rated for the Cairns In­dige­nous Art Fair (CIAF) since 2012 (her fifth is com­ing up on July 14). They strip the cat­walk of the usual clichés and re­place with im­mer­sive dream-weav­ings of In­dige­nous sound, song, arte­fact, style and story-telling. Th­ese won­drous pro­duc­tions, feed­ing into the fol­low-up show that Lee took to the Vir­gin Aus­tralia Mel­bourne Fash­ion Fes­ti­val in 2016, ev­i­dence a sharp cu­ra­to­rial eye (ed­u­cated at RMIT Uni­ver­sity’s School of Fash­ion and Tex­tile De­sign) and an ex­tra­or­di­nary lay­er­ing of wo­ven as­sem­blages that begs the “who, what, where and how to buy?” Lee laughs, in full hu­mil­ity, and in­forms that what seem­ingly reads as a con­fu­sion of El­iz­a­bethan or­na­ment and In­dige­nous craft is her per­sonal play with the tra­di­tional palm leaf weav­ings of the Tor­res Strait Is­lands. ‘Play’ un­der­states the com­plex­ity, cul­tural load­ing and cu­ra­to­rial in­ter­est in her mak­ings (as fea­tured in the re­cent ex­hi­bi­tion Who’s Afraid of Colour? at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria (NGV), but it suits Lee’s buoy­ant per­son­al­ity and her sub­sti­tu­tion of palm leaves with high-vis web­bing. The artist in­forms that a dif­fu­sion line of her jew­ellery is now avail­able at the NGV and Chris­tine in Mel­bourne, be­fore elu­ci­dat­ing on the ‘why’ of it all. “My mum is Ger­man, Dan­ish and English,” she says, “but my fa­ther’s side wasn’t so well known. He was born on Thurs­day Is­land to a Chi­nese fa­ther and a Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der mother. Grandma brought him to the main­land when he was three and iden­ti­fied him as fully Chi­nese, be­cause it was bet­ter not to be of In­dige­nous de­scent.” Sad­dened to learn of this sup­pres­sion of lin­eage, Lee de­cided to es­cort her grand­mother back to the Tor­res Straits in 2010 — “some 57 years af­ter she left” — for the emo­tional un­veil­ing of her sis­ter’s tomb­stone. “It was amaz­ing to meet the rest of my fam­ily and it made me want to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple like my­self to con­nect with their his­tory through the act of cre­ation and per­for­mance.” And that she has, tire­lessly weav­ing the craft tra­di­tions of the Tor­res Straits into her own work while teach­ing Top End com­mu­ni­ties to re­dress the cat­walk as a plat­form for em­pow­er­ment. Ac­cep­tance is so much more than the ti­tle of one of Lee’s con­cep­tu­ally loaded as­sem­blages; it is her on­go­ing cul­tural agenda.

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from top: Grace Lillian Lee wear­ing one of her Wo­ven neck­pieces. An En­light­en­ment body sculp­ture from the de­signer’s 2016 show at the Cairns Re­gional Gallery. An In­dige­nous dancer modelling one of Lee’s weaves at the Spirit Fes­ti­val.

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