‘First Nations: Walking in Two Worlds’ was liminal.
Suncorp Piazza was transformed as ‘First Nations: Walking in Two Worlds’ filled the arena with a mixed-medium eclectic artistic event, presented by Brisbane Festival and Screen Queensland in association with First Nations Fashion + Design. Tagged as the “runway event of the year”, it may well be the runway event of the decade, with an exuberant crowd of over a thousand, and well-respected First Nations talent from every arts sector.
While fashion and the designers were front and centre, ‘First Nations: Walking in Two Worlds’ also included striking videography, artisans, live song and dance, and an array of special guests. Each element of the event was intrinsically linked by the theme of liminality; the liminal nature of art, time and the lived experience of First Nations people.
Due to the nature of Brisbane Festival, and the range of events that take place in and across venues, the Suncorp Piazza ceiling was filled with coloured globe lights, centred by a six-foot-wide disco ball, and the arena was littered with colour LEDs that weren’t necessarily used for the event. The tech team instead incorporated the use of smoke, a spotlight, and relied expectedly on the large screen to present the film components by Wirrim Media.
The technical elements were juxtaposed by the use of raw materials. A team of dancers started the show by circling the arena carrying and laying bold blue sand, which contrasted the harsh concrete flooring. Simultaneously they spread smoke, reflective of ceremonial practices for some First Nations peoples. Bold blue sand, possibly symbolising sea and sky, created a circle runway, and highlighted the liminal space of performance. This circle encompassed the entire arena, enclosing the circle of spotlight used to focus the host and special guests whenever they entered the space.
Multicultural Australian artist, Grace Lillian Lee, faring from Far North Queensland, assembled a stellar team by every stretch of the imagination. From the host to the tech team, the designers to the models, professionalism and energy for life pulsated the piazza.
An acknowledgement of country, followed by a reflection on the meaning of visitor, set the atmosphere for the piece. Coming as guests, many of the First Nations people present fared from different country to the Turrbal and Yuggera, but were united by the lived experience of Aboriginality, a love for the arts and fashion, and connections in the community.
Special guest, Quaden Bayles, who made headlines last year as he called for an end to bullying, played a key role in the opening and closing ceremonies, passing symbols between the dancers. Audience members were clearly moved by his participation, and showed their appreciation for his ongoing activism with audible cheers and praise.
Following the introduction, the fashion show began with models circling the arena, while films featuring the pieces were shown on the screen in the background. At the end of each segment, the designers took to the circled spotlight in the arena to thank the crowds. Worthy of mention was Fiona Wirrer-George, who celebrated with the crowd through dance, and whose designs were as light and peaceful as the energy she exuded.
Wirrer-George’s set was crafted from chiffon and silk-like materials, and in the greens and earthly tones, it gave the appearance of feathers and leaves, which sat delicately on the models.
In contrast, Eleverina Johnson presented a series of outfits styled in an eclectic blend of urban class and elegance. The vibrant colours and bold chemical-like patterns of the clothing were met and enlivened by Meerooni & Ngugi hip hop artist, Kaylah Truth, who performed live as the models walked the runway.
Indii Swimwear presented a series of swimwear and activewear in strong feminine rose gold and black. Murri Qui Culture showcased high-end couture in the form of all-black formal attire, embracing frills, velvet and sheer. Just when one believes they’ve seen every black dress, Murri Qui Culture says think again. Paul MC Cann and Native Swim Australia’s set paid homage to the past, with Cann’s pieces utilising materials with an 80s-90s vibe and Native Swim’s activewear in a 70s inspired bold pink. Magpie Goose and Karen Rogers presented more gender-ambiguous options and pieces that were runway-to-walkway ready.
Fashion is extremely subjective, but without a doubt, the standout design of the event came from Jarawee. Strong greens, pinks, navys and purples were combined to create passion and power. A series of formal and business-formal attire gave an allusion to wealth, and in one outfit Jarawee paired a top in this style with clean white bottoms, creating a rich pairing.
‘First Nations: Walking in Two Worlds’ gave creatives from across the arts sector a chance to collaborate in a multidimensional, liminal presentation that gave audiences escapism, surrealism and a sense of belonging. Reflective of a changing understanding of fashion among Queenslanders, the large crowd was fully engaged, eager to participate and celebrate First Nations people and their work. Grace Lillian Lee and her entire team are to be congratulated on a deadly event.
‘First Nations: Walking in Two Worlds’ was presented twice on Sunday, 5 September 2021 at Suncorp Piazza, South Bank. For more information visit Brisbane Festival’s website.
Photos by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images