Abstract The legacy of colonialism in Australia has resulted in the devaluing and exploitation of Indigenous visual culture, design and representation. Through reinterrogating, revealing and documenting previously unacknowledged or omitted Indigenous contributions to communication design history in Australia, this article seeks to reposition examples of Indigenous visual culture as powerful sites of iconographic symbols, graphic forms and political posters. In this article, communication design as ‘visual communication’ is utilized as a framework to re-evaluate Indigenous contributions to Australian design history. This article presents a number of case studies of Indigenous contributions to communication design within a historical timeline, from prehistoric visual communication to twentieth-century examples—mirroring the development of the communication design industry. Parallel to the historical timeline, I note the emergence of recurring themes that are critical to the incorporation of Indigenous contributions into design history more broadly; notably effects of national politics, conflicted ideas around national identity, cultural ownership of work and the inclusiveness of the design industry. Through an applied retelling using a decolonizing historical paradigm, key Indigenous contributions are recognized and misappropriated work is repositioned, to acknowledge and give voice to Indigenous communication designs and their undeniable role in creating a national design style. Introduction In The Journal of Design History’s special Australian issue, Daniel Huppatz states that a ‘significant theme worth addressing is where to situate the history (or perhaps the prehistory) of Indigenous design in Australia. Indigenous material culture has thus far not been discussed in design historical terms.’1 This article is a direct response to that call and seeks to review, reveal and recontextualize Indigenous contributions to communication design in Australia. Since colonization, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People have borne the brunt of extreme prejudice, discrimination and misunderstanding, and their interests, rights and concerns have often been dismissed or ignored.2 Europeans have co-opted Indigenous visual culture since the earliest days of colonization to define and control the dominant cultural dialogue. This legacy has resulted in exploitation through the devaluing of Indigenous culture, design and representation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture have been relegated to the margins of Australia’s design industry. This has also meant that respectful use of Indigenous iconography and culture has often been overlooked in favour of dominant western standards and practices.3 As a ‘visible part of the ongoing living narrative of culture’,4 communication design offers an approach for inquiry that places cultural, social and aesthetic aspects of design at the centre of expressions of communication.5 These cultural and social perspectives of design are imperative where the object of activity is communication, whether narrative or aesthetic. Although this analysis focuses on the discipline of communication design, some areas of overlap with Australia’s broader design history are unavoidable because of the overall paucity of documented historical examples of Aboriginal communication design. Situating this retelling from a communication design perspective, rather than broader interdisciplinary areas of design history or anthropology, allows for a more effective reframing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander works through the lens of visual language and communication, iconography, communication practices and national identity. The desired effects of this re-reframing is not to disrupt the current standing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander works within the art world, as this history does not have to fall within separate categories of art and design. This retelling is instead part of a cross-cultural history, offering an additional viewpoint through the lens of communication design. Through a ‘decolonizing’ historical lens (which focuses on undoing the effects of colonialism and regenerating Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing.) we are able to recognize key themes or shortcomings that design history in Australia has the opportunity to address by incorporating Indigenous contributions. These include (non-Indigenous designers, such as myself) recognizing our current limited understanding of Indigenous design practice and outcomes, addressing cross-cultural tensions surrounding cultural ownership, seeking ways to enable equal respect and acknowledgment, and the contested nature of the formation of a national identity through design. These highly contested themes mirror the social and political climate throughout Australian colonial history. Approaching these challenges through a decolonizing paradigm can expand our understandings of communication design and strengthen the contemporary design industry in Australia. New ways of seeing Considered within an art history frame, Indigenous contributions are commonly described as having journeyed from ‘Anthropology’ to ‘Art’.6 This post-colonial narrative has already grappled with notions of exploitation, classification and representation.7 However, it is not the aim of this article to follow art history and draw on a post-colonial lens in which to merely re‘view’ Indigenous contributions. Rather, the objective is to take steps towards achieving a decolonized view of design history. European ways of talking about historic events, or classifying Indigenous people and culture limit the ways of knowing what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture might be.8 As Anita Heiss argues, the term ‘post‐colonial’ is largely meaningless to Aboriginal people, bearing in mind the political, social and economic status Indigenous people currently occupy.9 In Possessions Nicholas Thomas introduces concept of ‘Indigenous sovereignty’ as the interplay of the dispossession and repossession of Indigenous visual culture.10 These intersections between indigenous and non-indigenous cultures, their borrowing and lendings, involve what he calls a ‘productive blurring between anthropology and art history’.11 In Textual Spaces: Aboriginality and Cultural Studies, Stephen Muecke offers another approach, aiming to ‘decolonize’ and ‘reconstruct’ Aboriginal culture and history and questioning ‘how’ Aboriginal people want to be represented.12 This reasoning is reinforced by Maori academic Linda Smith, who argues western ways of viewing, talking about and interacting with the world are embedded in racialized discourses that can lead to ‘stealing’ knowledge from Indigenous perspectives and re-presenting it in the wrong way and in the wrong place.13 Visual culture through art has become a prominent public domain where Indigenous experience in Australia is confronted, politicized and recognized. It suggests that Indigenous creative work constitutes a strong movement towards the ‘decolonization of Australian mythologies.’14 Indigenous academics support the use of a ‘decolonized’ paradigm.15 Smith argues that research is linked to colonialism and oppression and must be decolonized.16 Janke argues for researchers to shift their ‘colonising lens of scientific rationality to an Indigenous perspective that considers traditional knowledge.’17 Within other colonial spaces, Canadian Michelle Raheja argues for ‘visual sovereignty’, which offers the possibility of engaging with and deconstructing white-generated representations of indigenous people, but also how it intervenes in larger discussions by advocating for indigenous cultural and political power.18 McKee argues that design historians of the Americas have positioned Indigenous peoples as subordinate subjects of print culture rather than as agents of cultural difference.19 From a South African context, Carey addresses ways that in both its contemporary practice and in its history, communication design colludes in a process of marginalizing Indigenous people.20 Western historians have routinely misrepresented Indigenous cultures by suppressing local forms of visual language and communication. This case can also be made in Australia. There is a great need to deconstruct and contest communication design history as a western-dominated field of representation, and to encourage greater engagement with Indigenous design histories in a contemporary movement towards cross-cultural design research and collaboration.21 Communication design has a vital role to play in forming public opinion, and reinforcing our perceptions around identity, representation and value. Visible recognition allows for a new voice, new perspective and a new visual identity to emerge within Australian design. It repositions Australian communication design on the international stage, drawing upon our unique cultural aspects to challenge contemporary practice and established western notions of design aesthetics and outcomes. Iconographic Foundations A close connection exists between the drawing of pictures and the markings of communication and ideas.22 Symbols, marks and icons become graphic counterparts to language, religion and identity. From this viewpoint communication design in Australia has existed for up to 50,000 years and Indigenous contributions form Australia’s first visual icons, symbols and graphic representations. There is a wealth of pre-colonial visual materials that upon inclusion in the narrative of Australian communication design lends significant strength and cultural insight—revealing Indigenous production methods and prehistoric understandings of iconography and pictorial storytelling. Within communication design’s most noted history book, Philip Meggs argues the ‘dawning of visual communication’ began with the cave paintings of Lascaux in Southern France.23 Although not referenced within his history, the connection to Aboriginal rock painting in Australia is undeniable (see ). Meggs also documents petroglyphs (carved or scratched signs or simple figures on rock) as forms of prehistoric visual communication. Although Meggs highlights examples from Africa to North America, most importantly within this context, they can be widely observed in remote Australia as sacred cultural sites. These sites bear witness to the beginning of pictorial art and symbol making as forms of Indigenous visual communication in Australia. Fig 1. View largeDownload slide Mutitjulu cave painting at Uluru. Image Author’s own. Fig 1. View largeDownload slide Mutitjulu cave painting at Uluru. Image Author’s own. Parallels between communication design history and Indigenous contributions further emerge as we follow Meggs’ history of the development of the discipline. His history of communication design quickly shifts from prehistoric mark-making into a history of writing, as petroglyphs evolved into symbols from spoken language, which later developed into alphabets.24 A close connection exists between the drawing of pictures and the marking of communication. As Indigenous culture in Australia relied on oral history and storytelling rather than written language, the next evolution of communication design from mark-making to phonetic alphabets is not actualized within the Indigenous cultural context. Instead we can draw a parallel to the development of pictorial storytelling. Sand drawing, typically accompanied by the use of an auxiliary sign language is an elaborate combination of narration, song, sign, gesture and drawing (see ). Anthropologist Nancy Munn’s research from the 1950s on the Warlpiri people25 documents the system of totemic graphic representations that appear not just in sand drawings but in ochre paintings on the body, stones and weapons and in preparation of ceremonial grounds and sacred objects. Fig 2. View largeDownload slide Sand drawing in Central Australia. Image Author’s own. Fig 2. View largeDownload slide Sand drawing in Central Australia. Image Author’s own. Although these totemic designs from the Central Desert have been covered by a range of disciplines, such as anthropology and art, since the 1900s, they have remained peripheral to the wider discourse of communication design. These graphic representations serve as ‘visual texts’ and these iconic elements drawn in the sand are some of the world’s oldest forms of visual communication. Therefore, they are crucial to any historical understanding of communication design in Australia and significantly extend our current understanding of Australia graphic representations and the development of a visual language or visual forms of storytelling. The totemic designs of the Central Desert also expand our present comprehension of Indigenous design process and production, enhancing our understanding of cross-cultural design. Munn examines Warlpiri iconography from two perspectives that interrelate and illuminate each other. First, as a representational structure (their primary graphic form) and secondly, as sociocultural symbolism (the symbolic meaning of the graphics).26 This relationship between graphic system and the wider sociocultural order parallels the history of hieroglyphic inscription and Chinese calligraphy, that cultural pictographs or ideographs that once represented the things depicted, or symbols to represent ideas or concepts, developed into a system of visual language.27 The development of Australian pre-colonial communication design diverges here from Meggs’ timeline, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People did not develop an alphabet or subsequent scripts and papermaking techniques. The practices and technologies of printing were neither available nor adopted by Indigenous peoples prior to colonization. Therefore, the practice of sand drawing remained integral to Indigenous cultural practice and still continues as a visual mode of communication in remote communities, signifying the effective and strong culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Tools and Technology Communication design history runs in close parallel with technological developments arising from the industrial revolution and the arts and crafts movement. Current historical design frameworks have not allowed for Indigenous contributions and perspectives, as they remain tied to the western tools and technology specific to the discipline. However, these industrial tools were not developed or adopted within a Indigenous Australian context until relatively recently. This is where Indigenous design seemingly halts and western communication design progresses. Colonial access and control of western design tools and technology has meant Indigenous contributions have often been overlooked. Michael Bogle’s contributions in Designing Australia and Design in Australia 1880–1970 both position Australian design history as beginning with with colonial manufacturing. 28 In this same period, we see a trend where Australian communication design begins to imitate and appropriate the communication styles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. It must also be noted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People rarely had access to contemporary technology. For example, the technology used by western textile designers rapidly advanced through the post-industrial era in the form of more advanced machinery and printing techniques. In contrast, devoid of formal training or the ability to purchase expensive machinery, Indigenous artists were still utilizing rudimentary tools from the early period of colonization. Prior to 1930, this would have been largely in the form of traditional pigment-based rock and bark paintings. Watercolour and acrylic painting were not introduced to Indigenous communities until the 1930s and 1970s respectively. The introduction of reproductive technologies following colonization, such as photography and printing, significantly altered the impermanence of sand drawing and storytelling practices. Indigenous iconography (particularly location-specific cave paintings and petroglyphs) could now be documented, reproduced, taken out of context and thus also become more vulnerable to misrepresentation. Colonial and post-colonial appropriation Communication design history in Australia has consistently failed to include the voices and narratives of its first peoples. These following accounts challenge existing historical frameworks but are crucial in the development of a more inclusive Australian design narrative and identity. As the current literature on communication design history in Australia remains narrow, broader design disciplines are drawn upon to illustrate the historical positioning of Indigenous contributions within Australia. Tony Fry’s Design History Australia begins its history from 1925 with the colonially apt exhibition ‘The Great White Train’.29 Although speaking of the marginalization of design history of Australia within a broader Eurocentric context, his history does not include any reference to Indigenous contributions. His later 1989 paper30 also effectively silences them through omission within Australia’s own industry marginalized as it is on the world stage. There is a distinct lack of any Indigenous narrative or contribution within any of these seminal publications, which highlights the urgent need for this retelling.31 In contrast, Bogle’s account includes a chapter on ‘shared culture’ but focuses solely on western appropriation of Indigenous designs by Western artists. It does not include a single original work by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Person. It begins with French artist Lucien Henry, arriving in Sydney in 1897, arguing for the development of a distinct Australian design style to replace European traditions. This colonial dominance, such that even the initial conceptualization of an ‘Australian style’ is confined to western practitioners, is further reinforced by designer Roland Wakelin, complaining in 1939: In Australia, we of the white race have many disadvantages, compared with the Aboriginies before us, in producing an art, individual, and expressive of our time. But it is time we did try to detach ourselves more from European influences, and to build a strong and vital art, expressive of the life of our own nation. 32 Despite this opportunity for a more inclusive approach to a uniquely Australian form of national expression, the movement instead led to the misappropriation and stealing of work from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Despite perhaps coming from a place of respect, western designers, in drawing influence or ‘sampling’ from Indigenous iconography and art did more than generate ‘creative tensions’ as is often asserted. Rather, this unauthorized borrowing significantly impacted on the culture and livelihoods of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. As Vivien Johnson explains, the Indigenous world held no cultural precedent for taking someone else’s design and using it to enhance the marketability of one’s product.33 Aboriginal elder Garwirrin Gumana (Yolngu) explains ‘When that [white] man does that it is like cutting off our skin.’34 Indigenous artist, activist and elder Wandjuk Marika (Yolngu), who witnessed his sacred paintings being reproduced without consent further expresses these understandings of pain. ‘This is very wrong. These things must not be seen. If they are, my people will die.’35 These statements of pain should not be disregarded, as the misrepresentation of Indigenous design causes both cultural and physical distress. Indigenous visual culture embodies the past history of Indigenous people, their beliefs, the forces of the dreamtime and their strength to survive. While it is hard to argue that western designers did not have ‘good intentions’ we can no longer default to this version of history. Australian design history should no longer continue to herald these misrepresentations as key moments in design without significant consideration and consultation with the people and culture from which the influence was drawn. A 1929 exhibition of ‘Australian Aboriginal Art’ at the National Gallery of Victoria was one of the first displays of Indigenous work in a gallery context, and the first exposure for many western designers to Aboriginal material culture. Shortly after, in 1930, European/Australian artist Margaret Preston published ‘The Application of Aboriginal Designs’36 and became one of the first non-Indigenous Australian artists to use distinct Aboriginal motifs in her work. The article signalled her good intentions, that ‘[t]here are the Australian Aboriginals and it is only from the art of such people in any land that a national art can spring.’ However, she contradicts her own logic and the notion of ‘respect’ in the same article, later stating ‘[a]lso please do not bother about what the carver meant in the way of myths, rites, etc.; that is not the decorators’ affair … then if you combine your line, masses, colours studied from these primitive shields, you probably will be able to produce the same primitive feeling with an educated result.’37 This reductive approach clearly signals the start of the widespread appropriation of Indigenous art, fraught with cultural and ethical complexities. These appropriations did not translate to an understanding of Aboriginal culture and what the artworks actually symbolized and embodied. The primitive shields to which she is referring to (usually omitted from design histories) are traditionally produced in Arnhem Land, where a wealth of shields, bark painting and images of artworks have been accumulated by anthropologists. The shield designs informed a great deal of other colonizing designs from Australia in the 1950s. It is important to reposition these shields as defining moments in Australian communication design history, in addition to anthropological artifacts. The original visual imagery, its original cultural significance, rather than just its western-appropriated form needs to be acknowledged. The original works and the artists deserve the same recognition as their western counterparts. These conflicted effects of cultural ownership versus appropriation need to be addressed within a retelling of communication design history within Australia. In 1941 an ‘Australian art and its Application’ exhibition was staged at the upmarket department store David Jones, in an attempt to broaden the appeal of Aboriginal art as the basis for art and design. While the exhibition did include works by Aboriginal artists, the rest were by non-Aboriginal designers demonstrating the ‘applications’ of Aboriginal art in their work.38 In no accounts are there any references to the Aboriginal artists or their works, echoing Preston’s view of Aboriginal culture as a design resource. Grossman explains, the exhibition was clearly articulated to demonstrate Aboriginal art as a source for inspiration, or in other words, as worthy of appropriation. This commodification and objectification of Aboriginal art has since surfaced in many western-appropriated designs.39 Following Preston’s lead, Frances Burke was one of the earliest pattern designers to draw upon Aboriginal art in the 1940s. This influence is also evident in Italian Claudio Alcorso’s fabric designs, launched in 1946, and many of his works, such as ‘Corroboree’ showed a clear influence. Yet the original points of inspiration do not exist in our current design history. Only the western adaptations are shown, which only perpetuates the notion of the western designer misappropriating tribal imagery while negating any agency for the original creator and the cultural context of the work. While Australian designers struggled to create a sense of place and identity that was uniquely Australian, misappropriation continued. Roy Dalgarno, producing a textile design for David Jones in 1946 explains his work: In Australia we have the opportunity to contribute something new … the difference in idiom which we find all around us should be a fruitful source of newer and more interesting material … Although I have used authentic Aboriginal motifs I have taken all the liberty I felt necessary in the rearranging of the forms to suit my all-over design.40 Mimmo Cozzolino, designer and Italian migrant to Australia, documents Australian communication design history through logos in Symbols of Australia.41 The chapter ‘Famous since Captain Cook’ collects images of Aboriginal culture exploited not only by commerce but also by western designers. It is clear these trademarks reflect the white Australian institutional racism of the time, paralleled through iconography. It highlights the power of design, and those with the power to create a visual language around national identity. Throughout this period, Indigenous visual culture has been used and abused by western designers. Its conflicted telling through current history highlights both the celebration and subjugation of Indigenous work. Through this decolonizing of Australia’s design history, a new way of acknowledging these works can emerge. This contested and political space of cultural ownership can be addressed by including the original works of reference within design history, leading to a cross-cultural historical understanding. It is imperative that correct reference be made to the original artist and the cultural meaning of the work, highlighting the incredible aesthetic development within Indigenous design in Australia. Commercial art to communication design The development of commercial art studios in Australia paralleled that of western Europe, with modern graphic design having its roots in illustration and advertising. The foundation of the Bauhaus by Walter Gropius in 1920s Germany marked the fact that industrial developments had begun to draw in associated fields of visual expression, uniting art and technology.42 Following these developments within Australia, Indigenous art was often united with western technology to create a sense of a new national identity. Yet it was western artists or designers who exclusively used the technology, maintaining a eurocentric understanding of design, one that was only produced by European designers.43 This is reinforced by Geoffrey Caban’s history of Australian commercial art, which exclusively features western designers despite many taking their influences and appropriating images from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art.44 This ‘interest’ in Aboriginal art was common to many post-war European artists and designers, and can be seen in the graphic work of Douglas Annand for Meanjin magazine, and Gurt Sellheim. Sellheim’s posters and murals referenced Aboriginal motifs and uniquely Australian imagery, characteristic of many artists and designers with an interest in Aboriginal culture. His poster ‘Corroboree Australia’ reveals both his European training and the influence of Aboriginal graphic elements. This style is often referred to as ‘pioneering’ the use of Australian Aboriginal imagery in communication design. The poster depicts a strident diagonal composition of four Aboriginal dancers wearing painted ceremonial body decorations of the Arrernte people of Central Australia. Sellheim integrated traditional cultural elements with his modernist interpretation, and utilized the technologies of design (such as photography, paper collage, typography and printing) to create a representation of Australian visual identity. Yet, these visualizations create a colonial space of representation within Australian communication design. Traditional symbols are applied out of context but the European designer maintains control over recognizing and interpreting representation. These visual or cultural depictions are claimed as Australian design by European designers. As Indigenous people rarely had access to the technologies of design, it is imperative to recognize the contribution of painting, ceremonial designs, barks and objects that have ultimately influenced aesthetic styles in Australia. These tensions between Indigenous production and subsequent cultural meanings are another key theme to be addressed by a decolonizing of design history. By including Indigenous examples within design history we are forced to broaden our understanding of communication design, particularly drawing upon Indigenous knowledge, production and aesthetics. The original works need to be referenced within design history, as they push the boundaries of form and outcomes usually referenced within the discipline. Ceremonial designs and sand paintings extend our current understanding of communication design, as do their production techniques. Rather than focusing on western technological developments, we need to instead broaden our understandings of design and include these original points of reference as works of communication design in their own right. Design history needs to position the original works with the same respect it has given to western representations of communication design. Towards appropriate representation The misappropriation of Aboriginal culture has been seen as one of the characteristics of post-war modernist design in Australia. Questions around ownership and copyright have continued along a similar path, and although progress has been made, there seems to be no resolution within the design industry. The appropriated work of Margaret Preston and Gurt Sellheim happened at a time when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not citizens of Australia, did not have the vote and the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families was government policy. Current history casts the likes of Preston and Sellheim as passionate champions of Australian nationalism and Indigenous art. Alternatively, they can also be seen as colonial artists who took images from a culture already abused and exploited, without any cultural, social or political understanding of the meaning of these images, nor of the people from whom they were borrowing. ‘Mythology and religious symbolism do not matter to the artist, only to the anthropologist,’ wrote Preston in 1930. Yet it is glaringly obvious that the western appropriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander motifs, art and design fails to understand and respect these sacred motifs and their cultural meanings, customs, traditions, law and consequences. Australian design has perpetuated colonization through displacement, cultural suppression, and forced assimilation. With the development of more accessible reproductive technologies, Indigenous design has again fought to receive recognition and acknowledgement. The design of Australia’s decimal currency in 1966 used imagery derived from the bark paintings of David Malangi. The original painting by Malangi has the same subject and contains most of the same design elements, which were appropriated through anthropological photographs from Karel Kupka given to the secretary of the Reserve Bank, Gordon Andrews. Andrews, credited as the designer of the $1 note stated his intention was to promote ‘authentic’ Aboriginal art, which he had always admired and respected.45 Yet no permission to use the design was sought from the artist. This trend of reproducing art as design through access to modern technologies continued with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander work being used on everything from t-shirts, to rugs, sarongs and tea towels, all unauthorized and all made so easily possible with readily accessible production techniques. During the 1970s Aboriginal artists ‘began to explore their individual creativity within the bounds of custom, tradition and law, and with new materials.’ 46 This was accompanied by increasing moves to protect Aboriginal works from appropriation and recognize intellectual property. The Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) states: Borrowing can be seen as a form of cultural appropriation by members of a dominant culture from a subordinate one by artists who mostly earn much more from their paintings than do their Aboriginal colleagues … [B]lack traditions serve primarily to revitalize provincial European practice which feels the need from time to time for the injection of nationalism, mystery or even good design principles. 47 The issue of appropriate representation and cultural self-determination of Indigenous people is recognized by the United Nations in its 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which describes the rights of Indigenous peoples to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions of their cultures, including designs.48 The United Nations declaration reminds us that appropriate Indigenous representation is a global issue that is gaining attention. The declaration supports the reinstatement of control over to visual cultural custodians. As design has historically been a space for colonial representation, shifting this power and engaging in a decolonized understanding of design has yet to be resolved within Australia, and Indigenous groups more broadly. Representation in this context, through design, is political. How Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been represented in national culture has reflected the colonial policies of the time49. Wandjuk Marika explains that Aboriginal artists are keen for people to witness the beauty and strength of their work, but it is essential they must be consulted first. It is their responsibility to safeguard their heritage and ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People at last achieve the recognition that is universally attributed to all artists and designers.50 Communication designers need to better understand and promote consultation within their practice. Research is currently developing within Australia on new ways of working with Indigenous knowledge within the communication design industry, presenting a respectful and inclusive way forward.51 Design history also offers an opportunity to reconstruct the way we talk about Indigenous knowledge, practices and outcomes from a communication design frame. Michael Bogle, in Design in Australia, asks ‘How might the Aboriginal fusion of word and image be protected from quoting or sampling, accepting that some of the shapes, colours of forms of Aboriginal art represent a symbolic language of critical cultural significance for its owners?’52 He seems focused on the creation of a shared style or imagery, which again raises tensions between culture ownership and cross-cultural questions of national identity. As non-Indigenous cultural outsiders, we will never truly know or understand the customs and law tied up within cultural visual depictions, or the consequences of their reproductions. As copyright within the Aboriginal art world has its traditional ways, so too does design. Understanding how traditional ways, styles, customs and laws are embedded within Aboriginal communication design has yet to be explored and understood. Through a repositioning of communication design history, we can begin to reveal the strength of Indigenous design in Australia, highlight the wrongs of the past, put the original works in their rightful place in history and explore these contested issues. This retelling can also work to ensure future (non-Indigenous) designers have better awareness and understanding of the negative impact of misappropriation and work towards a more inclusive and ethical communication design industry. Present and future What seems to be a stark omission from current historical accounts is arguably the most important and iconic design of Indigenous Australia, the Aboriginal flag (see ). The flag was designed by Harold Thomas, a Luritja man of Central Australia, and was first flown on National Aboriginal Day in Adelaide in 1971. In 1972 the flag became more prominent when it was chosen as the official flag for the Aboriginal Embassy in front of Parliament House in Canberra. The flag consists of a coloured rectangle divided in half horizontally, the upper half black and lower red. A yellow circle sits at the centre of the rectangle. The designer Harold Thomas says the colours of the flag represent the Aboriginal people of Australia, the red ochre colour of earth and a spiritual relation to the land and the sun, the giver of life and protector.53 This design is not just an authentic and iconic piece of Indigenous communication design; it is a powerful symbol of strength and political resistance. Fig 3. View largeDownload slide The Aboriginal Flag designed by Harold Thomas, 1968. Fig 3. View largeDownload slide The Aboriginal Flag designed by Harold Thomas, 1968. The Aboriginal flag was first raised in the early 1970s—a period when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People were beginning to mobilize politically to fight their exclusion from proper education, health care, housing and employment, and their exclusion from the land they had cared for over countless centuries.54 The flag was held in contempt and denigrated by many non-Indigenous people for more than a decade after it first appeared.55 Some politicians and media outlets referred to it as the ‘black power’ flag and by implication, anyone who wore or displayed the flag was considered both militant and subversive.56 The flag represented the movement of Aboriginal resistance and political struggles as well as acting as a powerful symbol during the land rights movement. In recent years, many non-Aboriginal government authorities, organizations and individuals have shown their support for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People by raising the flags. It now acts to symbolize and celebrate the cultures and survival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples—‘the raising of the flag can be nothing but unifying and inclusive.’57 Indigenous political posters of the 1970s and 1980s are also notably absent from communication design history in Australia. They acted as a dynamic communication medium, able to rapidly inform and galvanize the public on a range of social issues through bold and simple formats. Utilizing screen-printing and collage formats for their economical qualities as well as speed of reproduction, posters that addressed Indigenous concerns such as land rights, welfare, health and justice were used for many street protests of the time. Celebrated examples include the 1985 Uluru ‘handback’ poster, Nyuntu Anangu Maruku Ngurangka Ngaranyi—You are on Aboriginal Land, a joint production between Chips Mackinolty – Jalak Graphics and the Mutijulu Community (see ) and Avril Quaill’s 1982 poster Trespassers Keep Out! (see ) These examples not only reveal Indigenous people’s determination for land rights and their pride in culture, but their capacity to create striking forms of communication design. Chips Mackinolty’s work in conjunction with Jalak Graphics in Darwin, specifically Karli (The boomerang) (1982) and Walyaji wankarunyayirni (Land is life) (1982) (see ) are further examples that highlight Indigenous resistance through communication design. These posters all strategically reference the bold use of colour and design of the Aboriginal Flag. The distinct colour field of black, red and yellow has become a ubiquitous political sign in Indigenous posters.58 They are firmly grounded in country, and in the Aboriginal land rights movement. They are key historical documents for an Indigenous retelling of design and should be given a prominent place in Australia’s communication design history. Yet they have remained largely absent and ignored. Fig 4. View largeDownload slide Chips Mackinolty and the Mutijulu Community, Nyuntu Anangu Maruku / Ngurangka Ngaranyi / You Are On Aboriginal Land, 1985. National Museum of Australia. Fig 4. View largeDownload slide Chips Mackinolty and the Mutijulu Community, Nyuntu Anangu Maruku / Ngurangka Ngaranyi / You Are On Aboriginal Land, 1985. National Museum of Australia. Fig 5. View largeDownload slide Avril Quaill, Trespassers keep out! 1982. screenprint, printed in colour. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Fig 5. View largeDownload slide Avril Quaill, Trespassers keep out! 1982. screenprint, printed in colour. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Fig 6. View largeDownload slide Chips Mackinolty’ in conjunction with Jalak Graphics. Walyaji wankarunyayirni (Land is life). 1982. Screenprinted poster. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Fig 6. View largeDownload slide Chips Mackinolty’ in conjunction with Jalak Graphics. Walyaji wankarunyayirni (Land is life). 1982. Screenprinted poster. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. The work of Garage Graphix Community Art Workshop, formed in 1981, also allowed social and topical issues to be expressed through communication design. This was a time of intense suburbanization for the Aboriginal community, and the poster work corresponded to the production of cultural identity within periods of suburban development. The collective operated in Mt Druitt, a western Sydney suburb with a high Indigenous population.59 The vibrant multi-coloured screen-printed posters of Alice Hinton-Bateup, such as ‘Dispossessed’ (1985) and ‘Peace’ (1986), combine hand-drawn and photo images, and focus on the Aboriginal loss of rightful heritage as they are distanced from their traditional land. Reoccurring themes of the loss and the need to protect Aboriginal land is present within the majority of the political poster work of this time. These poster works are a significant historical record, revealing Aboriginal perspectives and voices of a particular era. Indigenous issues through graphic production have been utilized within the poster format to generate discussion and debate within Australia’s social and political climate. They highlight the contemporary experience of being Aboriginal and through personal narrative and political context, form the basis of communicating identity through design. Importantly, within a design context, these posters were not classified as limited edition fine art prints. Although their collection through art institutions enhances the status of the works as key historical documents, they were produced for large-scale distribution, as pieces of communication design. They had a role in informing and educating the public, and the medium has given form to the political actions and creative efforts of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. These examples highlight how the medium of communication design has allowed for the public expression of Aboriginal voices. They offer positive declarations of Aboriginal identity, activity and possibility.60 Yet again, however, these works remain excluded from Australian communication design history. Rick Poynor's essay on Australian design in Eye Magazine in 2002 highlights the impact of this ‘conspicuous absense’: It’s odd, looking at contemporary Australian graphic design, how little it seems to be informed by a strong sense of place. In my own conversations with many Australian designers, few of them ever mentioned either the landscape or the Aboriginal people, who are so conspicuous by their absence from both the business and practice of design.61 There are a growing number of recent examples of Indigenous design finding its place amidst the contemporary visual communication landscape. The Balarinji design studio of Ros and John Moriarty (Yanyuwa) has created new Aboriginal sites of design, their most notable work being the Wunala Dreaming design of the iconic Qantas airplane. The textile work of designer Lucy Simpson (Yuwaalaraay) reclaims the sites of what was one misappropriation by non-Indigenous fabric designers, moving to to new spaces of Indigenous contemporary representation. This changing perception of indigenous design is not only happening in Australia. Researchers Bidwell and Winschiers-Theophilus have called for a re-examination of this concept in an African context: What is an indigenous design? How do design projects respect the locales of their production? What does it mean to imagine not only locally-designed technological solutions and products—there are many of those—but a pluralistic design process? What would such a process have to teach us all, and how might it help us to reconsider the relationship between design and community, between design and people, or between design and participation? What might it be to ground a progress sense of design within the structures and practices of indigenous knowledge? 62 This reconfiguration of design and design history to acknowledge the contribution of Indigenous people allows us to see differently. It opens the possibility of breaking down the exclusionary borders of eurocentric design and creating a new visual space of representation. This is also paralleled within the United States as visual designers are seeking ‘Indigenous visual sovereignty’ over First Nations imagery—giving visual power and representation back to Indigenous tribal groups.63 Following Raheja’s case concerning the Inuit of Canada, this contemporary movement believes that Indigenous designers can practice visual sovereignty in their work by using the visual language that is unique to their specific cultural heritage, producing something more than pan-Aboriginal imagery and combatting visual stereotypes. This article recognizes that design needs to be understood as ways in which communities can be given (or can take) an active role in shaping the condition of their own experiences. 64 Key Themes and opportunities As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual works have been reconstructed in an attempt to decolonize current communication design history, key opportunities are signposted below that could ultimately allow for a more inclusive design history. The design community can no longer default to western interpretations of what is and what isn’t communication design and what tools and techniques are specific to the discipline. Indigenous contributions offer great strengths to the history of the discipline in Australia and could potentially make the current industry more ethical and inclusive. First, there is a real limited understanding of the important cultural and creative source of Indigenous Australia. There exists 50,000 years of visual communication history that could considerably extend our understanding of communication design in Australia. Through rock painting and petroglyphs, rich iconographic forms were developed that are still currently used as a form of visual language, an aid to storytelling and narration. These iconic forms could act to disrupt our current western-focused understandings of visual communication and design. Secondly, maintaining the integrity of Aboriginal culture within design is vital. Design history needs to ensure that Indigenous people are no longer exploited or disadvantages by their representations or by western misappropriations. Where possible, original works should be included, to highlight the original cultural meaning and importance of the work. Equal respect and acknowledgement needs to be given to where influence was drawn from, and appropriate permissions need to be sought from Indigenous artists and communities. Through this reconstruction of history, it is hoped current non-Indigenous communication designers understand their professional and social responsibility to maintain ethical standards and principals within their work. As history has shown us, avoidance of these issues only results in a lack of visibility and misappropriation of materials. Thirdly, the contested nature of the development of an ‘Australian style’ currently lacks appropriate Indigenous voices and narratives. A historically authentic national identity needs to be highlighted through communication design, giving voice to Indigenous people and culture. Including Indigenous design examples throughout our communication design history presents an interesting challenge to national identity and the development of a national style, raising ideas of the continuation of post-colonialism and reconciliation. As Indigenous artists have colonized spaces once denied them, Indigenous communication design can also symbolize an act of decolonization. It appropriates western communication design practices and technologies and Indigenizes it—and the white Australian concept of the industry. Through a decolonizing historical paradigm, design history must be situated from a self-determined or visually sovereign perspective, that Aboriginal people should be in control of their own representation, not being subjected to racist, patronizing and uninformed representations by others. Moving forward, it is imperative that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People are involved in every aspect of approaching an alternative history of Australian design. Design history needs to think through, between and beyond what has historically been presented as the dominant narrative of Indigenous art and culture. Conclusion In seeking to move beyond a colonial understanding and assert the importance of Indigenous design culture and practice as central to Australian design history, it is necessary to acknowledge and discuss ways to address the challenges posed by our limited understanding of Indigenous design, questions of cultural ownership (which includes the social responsibilities of current designers), and the contested nature of developing a national identity through design. Until Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contributions are appropriately acknowledged, and design history successfully grapples with concepts around cultural ownership and the contested idea of a ‘national style’, we will continue only to perpetuate the misappropriation and discrimination of Indigenous people in Australia. It is time to decolonize, to open up to other perspectives and to move past the pre-dominant eurocentric status quo. Through the articulation and dissemination of more inclusive views of history we can both challenge current understanding of the industry and expand our understandings of communication design in Australia. If adopted more widely, this decolonizing approach could help facilitate a more accurate and respectful representation of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture within other commercial industries and community sectors. There exists a fundamental place for Indigenous culture in the Australia story, and a comprehensive retelling of this narrative is a crucial step towards achieving more inclusive and culturally appropriate design practices. Nicola St John is a PhD candidate at Swinburne University of Technology, School of Design. Her research explores the transfer and impact of innovative digital technologies on creative practices in remote Australia. Acknowledgements The arguments presented herein have benefited greatly from the suggestions of four anonymous reviewers and the editor Dr Fiona Fisher, for which I am grateful. It is also imperative to note my role as a Western researcher, and to understand my own cultural views, perceptions and beliefs that may impact on this retelling of Australian design history. As a non-Indigenous researcher, the privileged space I inhabit provides an opportunity to build (through self-education) a well-informed (predominantly non-Indigenous) design industry in Australia. Through this retelling, I hope to position myself as an active participant, or an effective ally in a decolonization movement for transformation within Australian design history and the communication design industry. If you have any comments to make in relation to this article, please go to the journal website on http://jdh.oxfordjournals.org and access this article. There is a facility on the site for sending e-mail responses to the editorial board and other readers. Notes 1 Daniel J. Huppatz, ‘Introduction: Reframing Australian Design History’, Journal of Design History 27, no. 2 (2014): 205–223. 2 Oxfam Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Protocols, 2007. https://www.oxfam.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2015-74-atsi-cultural-protocols-update_web.pdf, accessed 29 September 2017 3 Theodore S. Jojola, ‘A Case for Indigenous Design Education’, Design Intelligence 17, no. 6 (2011). 4 Margaret Woodward, ‘Special Issue Call for Papers’, visual:design:scholarship (2008). 5 Andrew Morrison et al. ‘Analytical Perspectives’ in Exploring Digital Design Multi-Disciplinary Design Practices, ed. Ina Wagner (London: Springer, 2010), 55–104. 6 Laura Fisher, Aboriginal Art and Australian Society: Hope and Disenchantment. London and New York: Anthem Press, 2016. 7 Some examples of these include Nicholas Thomas’s Possessions (1999), Bernard Smith’s Place, Taste and Tradition (1979) and On Writing Art History in Australia (2005), Andrew Sayers’ Oxford History of Art: Australian art (2001), Howard Morphy’s Aboriginal Art (1998) and Sasha Grishin’s, A New History of Australian Art: Dialectic between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Art (2008). 8 L. Fisher, Aboriginal Art and Australian Society: Hope and Disenchantment, London New York Anthem Press, 2016. Ibid., 19–20. 9 See Anita M. Heiss, Dhuuluu‐Yala: To Talk Straight (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2003), 43–46. For further literature on post-colonial tensions, see Fisher, L. (2012). The Art/Ethnography Binary: Post-Colonial Tensions within the Field of Australian Aboriginal Art. Cultural Sociology, 6(2), 251-270; Johnson, V. (2008) Especially good aboriginal art, Third Text, 15:56, 33-50 and Myers, F. Painting culture: the making of an Aboriginal high art, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 16:1, 11–12. 10 Nicholas Thomas, Possesstions, Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture (London: Thames & Hudson, 1999), 12. 11 Ibid. 12 Stephen Muecke, Textual Spaces: Aboriginality and Cultural Studies. Sydney: New South Wales University Press, 1992. 13 Linda T. Smith, ‘Research through Imperial Eyes’, in Decolonising Methodologies. London: Zed Books, 1999. 14 Muecke, op. cit. 15 Smith, op. cit. 16 Smith, op. cit. 17 Terri Janke, Pathways & Protocols A Filmmaker’s Guide to Working with Indigenous People, Culture and Concepts, 2009. https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/getmedia/e601f1b9-0394-4c83-9a62-c20939d9ab30/Indig_Protocols.pdf, accessed 28 September 2017. 18 Michelle Raheja, ‘Reading Nanook’s Smile: Visual Sovereignty, Indigenous Revisions of Ethnography, and “Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)”’, American Quarterly, 59, no. 4 (2007): 1159–1185 19 Stuart McKee, ‘How Print Culture Came to be Indigenous’, Visible Language, 44, no.2 (2010): 161–186. 20 Piers Carey, ‘From the Outside In: A Place for Indigenous Graphic Traditions in Contemporary South African Graphic Design’, Design Issues, 27, no.1 (2011): 55–62. 21 McKee, op. cit. 22 Nancy Munn, Walbiri Iconography: Graphic Representation and Cultural Symbolism in a Central Australian Society. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973. 23 Philip B. Meggs and Alston W. Purvis, Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, 6th edition. Hoboken, N.J: J. Wiley & Sons, 2016. 24 Ibid. 25 The Warlpiri are a group of Indigenous Australians, many of whom speak the Warlpiri language. The Warlpiri live mostly in Yuendemu and surrounding settlements scattered through their traditional land in Australia’s Northern Territory. 26 Munn, op. cit. 27 Meggs, op. cit. 28 Michael Bogle, Design in Australia, 1880–1970 (Sydney: Craftsman House: G+B Arts International, 1998), 13. 29 Tony Fry. Design History Australia: A Source Text in Methods and Resources (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1988), 85. 30 Tony Fry. ‘A Geography of Power: Design hHistory and Marginality’, Design Issues, 6, no.1 (198): 15–30. 31 The silencing of any Indigenous perspectives and practices within Australia design history is further evident in Simon Jackson’s ‘Sacred ObjectsAustralian Design and National Celebrations’, Journal of Design History, 19, no. 3 (2006): 249–255, and ‘The “Stump-jumpers:” National Identity and the Mythology of Australian Industrial Design in the Period 1930–1975’, Design Issues, 18, no, 4 (2002):14–23 where no reference to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander design work is made. 32 Roland Wakelin in Bogle, 1998, 13. op. cit. 33 Vivien Johnson, Copyrites: Aboriginal Art in the Age of Reproductive Technologies, Touring Exhibition Catalogue. [Sydney], National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Association and Macquarie University,1996. 34 Ibid. 35 Wandjuk Marika speaking in 1975, in Johnson, op. cit. 36 Margaret Preston, ‘Applications of Aboriginal Design’, Art in Australia, 3, no 31 (1930). 37 Ibid. 38 Michele Grossman, Blacklines: Contemporary Critical Writing by Indigenous Australians. Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2003. 39 Ibid., 97. 40 Isaacs, op. cit. 41 Mimmo Cozzolino and Fysh Rutherford, Symbols of Australia. Heidelberg: Penguin, 2000. 42 Geoffrey Caban, A Fine Line: a History of Australian Commercial Art. Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1983. 43 Ibid. 44 Ibid. 45 Johnson, op. cit. Vivien Johnson, Copyrites: Aboriginal Art in the Age ofReproductive Technologies, Touring Exhibition Catalogue.[Sydney], National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Associationand Macquarie University,1996. 46 Isaacs, op. cit, 68. 47 David Horton and Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, The Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History, Society and Culture. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies, 1994. 48 The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) 2007. www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf, accessed 19 June 2017. 49 Sylvia. Kleinert and Margo Neale, The Oxford Companion To Aboriginal Art And Culture. Melbourne, Vic: Oxford University Press, 2000. 50 Wandjuk Marika speaking at the Aboriginal Arts Board in 1975, quoted in Johnson, op.cit. 51 See, for example, Norman W. Sheehan ‘Indigenous knowledge and respectful design: an evidence-based approach’, Design Issues, 27, no. 4, (2011): 68–80; Australian Indigenous Design Charterhttps://www.design.org.au/documents/item/216, accessed 30 September 2017, and Nicola St John, Towards more culturally inclusive communication design practices: exploring creative participation between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people in Australia. Proceedings of DRS 2016: Future-Focused Thinking. Design Research Society, 2016. 52 Bogle’s omissions are perhaps a product of the wider social and political context of the time within Australia (which included government assimilationist policies and the lack of Aboriginal citizenship in their own country). Yet we can no longer deflect or excuse Bogle’s failure to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander examples within design history because of the broader climate of the time. 53 Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/aboriginal-flag, accessed 19 June 2017. 54 Patrick Dodson, ‘Aboriginal Flag a Symbol of Reconciliation’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July 1995, 13. 55 Roberta Sykes, ‘Urban Aboriginal Art’, in The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, ed. Kleinert and Neale, 280 56 Ibid. 57 Dodson, op. cit. 58 Lee-Anne Hall, ‘Indigenous political poster-making in the 1970s and 1980s’, in The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, ed. Kleinert and Neale. 59 Ibid. 60 Ibid. 61 Rick Poyner, ‘Look inward: graphic design in Australia’, Eye Magazine. Winter 2002. http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature/article/look-inward-graphic-design-in-australia, accessed 25 March 2018. 62 Nicola J. Bidwell and Heike Winschiers-Theophilus, At the Intersection of Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge and Technology Design (Santa Rosa, CA: Informing Science Press, 2015), 8. 63 Margaret Andersen, Why Can’t the U.S. Decolonize Its Design Education? https://eyeondesign.aiga.org/why-cant-the-u-s-decolonize-its-design-education/, accessed 19 June 2017 64 Bidwell and Winschiers-Theophilus, op. cit. © The Author(s) . Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Design History Society. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Design History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 20, 2018
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