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14 May 21

The intricate designs of Lisa Waup


From intricately woven baskets and figures to her bold patterns and designs used to create wearable art in collaboration with fashion designer Ingrid Verner, each unique work shares a different story from a stage in Lisa Waup’s life.

Lisa Waup is a thoughtful and spirited artist who creates elaborate and sophisticated work that eloquently illustrates her life’s journey of discovery and connection. Her work highlights the importance of ancestral relationships, weaving stories of her past into contemporary sculptural forms.

I first met Waup in 2012. In my role at the time as curator at the Koorie Heritage Trust, we worked together to present her first major solo exhibition Journey’s Edge. This was a significant exhibition in Lisa’s career and marked the beginning of a nuanced and loving articulation of her diverse cultural and familial influences. Journey’s Edge comprised a series of works on paper. Drawing on her background as a printmaker, each piece was tenderly adorned with handstitched details. Key works from the series incorporated documentation outlining her complex history of removal and her later adoption into her Calabrian family, as well as her maternal connections to the Gunditjmara people of south-west Victoria, and the Torres Strait Islands.

Soon after Journey’s Edge, Waup began working with Baluk Arts, an Aboriginal arts centre based in Mornington, Victoria. Baluk supports artists to reconnect and express their cultural histories through strong artistic practice. Waup also turned her hands to weaving at this time. For many Aboriginal people, dispossession and loss are heavy burdens that echo throughout families, and creative practice continues to be one of the most important tools we have for reconnecting with our culture. For Waup, her involvement with Baluk Arts offered her a safe space to artistically explore and grow, and to connect with her Aboriginal culture, which continues to strengthen and inform her artistic practice.

Weaving quickly became an important part of Waup’s artistic repertoire. In 2013 she was invited to exhibit in Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria, an ambitious survey of contemporary art, architecture, design, performance and cultural practice. This led to the NGV’s first acquisition of Waup’s work, Cultural nesting, 2013, a group of five intricately woven baskets made primarily of emu feathers peppered with additional colourful feathers from parrots and other native birds. This marked the start of an ongoing affinity with weaving, which draws on both Indigenous and Papua New Guinean textile practices.

Waup’s work incorporates processes and aesthetics picked up from her time living and working in Port Moresby and Lae in Papua New Guinea, the homeland of her children’s father Naup Waup. She taught photography and printmaking at the University of Papua New Guinea and it is here that she started working with tapa cloth. Tapa is a soft bark cloth made in many communities across the Pacific by a process of soaking and beating bark from the paper mulberry tree. Tapa is of strong cultural importance and is used to make ceremonial objects and garments, and to document important designs. For the artist, tapa represents a connection between Waup and her children, and plays a key role in her woven work.

Feathers and found objects feature heavily in Waup’s weaving. Her studio space is filled with beads, seeds, paints, pens and an array of feathers that have recognisably been incorporated into her work. By incorporating found objects sourced from fortuitous discoveries and unfortunate roadkill, as well as kelp and shells collected from beaches, Waup breathes new life into these organic materials, guided by their unique shapes and textures as she makes her own work.

In 2016 Waup created her first woven figure, for the exhibition Hero Worship, co-curated by myself and Adelaide-based artist, curator and writer Debbie Pryor for Craft Victoria. Chosen before birth, 2016, was an emotionally rich piece that represented Waup’s biological and adopted mothers, seen in the form of two unique faces, both cradling her as a baby. Using a specialised weaving technique, she would build up the form with found materials, stitching in feathers and tapa. The work conveyed strength and protection and was a generous and beautiful depiction of her love and respect for both her mothers.

Waup has always been inspired by the concept of wearable art and, in 2013 her weaving practice swiftly moved into the realm of body adornment. Her love of jewellery is unmistakeable – all who know her are greeted by her warm smile and a spectacular necklace. She has been known to wear bilums – a strong bag made by hand in Papua New Guinea – and other string bags as necklaces, but her favourite piece to wear is a soft sculpture made by Yarrenyty Arltere artists from Alice Springs, who share her love of recycled and handmade materials.

It was a natural progression into fashion for Waup who, as a child, created the fashion label LSD (Lisa Scarcella Design). By using her maiden name, the fourteen-year-old played on the cheeky innuendo her initials denote. The pieces she created then were primarily for her own use. In 2017 she was introduced to Melbourne-based fashion designer Ingrid Verner as part of a program supported by Creative Victoria – initiated by Elizabeth Liddle, manager of the Victorian Aboriginal Business Strategy Implementation – to engage Aboriginal artists with local fashion designers. The project started off with the assistance of Sarah Weston from Craft Victoria, an early supporter and retailer of the Verner collaboration.

Upon meeting Verner, Waup shared a sketchbook she had been working on for many years. It was filled with intricate and bold designs that Waup refers to loosely as shield designs. Each page was covered in graphic line work representing protection: protection of family, history and culture. Together, Waup and Verner chose four main designs, titled Homeward Boundaries, Land Mapping, Family Circles and Protection, from which they created their first collaborative fashion line, Lisa Waup x Verner.

Their first collection was launched to glowing reviews at the 2017 Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival as part of the Global Indigenous Runway. Most recently Lisa Waup x Verner was showcased at the Hong Kong Business of Design Week, along with a selection of First Nations fashion from around the world. They also showed at Melbourne Fashion Week and at the Darwin Aboriginal Arts Fair as part of the From Country to Couture event this year.

Verner is well known for her ‘slow fashion’ approach and for creating special pieces that are ethically made with a focus on wearability. Working with Waup’s 2D designs, Verner was conscious of the need to respect the patterns in their translation to 3D, avoiding the need to splice or repeat the designs. Their ongoing collaboration has resulted in a stunning interpretation of Waup’s own work that honours and amplifies their meaning, creating powerful pieces that channel her original concepts of protection and strength.

The Lisa Waup x Verner collaboration was hand screen-printed with Stewart Russell at Spacecraft in Melbourne. Each ensemble comes with its own range of handmade jewellery, which further unites her weaving practice with her fashion line and illustrates the significant role fashion has played in her artistic career, as well as the role the collaboration is playing in the wider Indigenous fashion scene.

This piece was originally commissioned for and published in NGV Magazine Issue 19 Nov–Dec 2019.