It all started with a few boxes of donated clothing – evening dresses, two-piece suits, tiaras and jewelry.
In the remote desert communities of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands, straddling the borders of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia, young people dress up, pose and show their power in a new magazine .
Rikina, the Pitjanjatjara word for “cool, stylish”, was produced by the NPY Women’s Council (NPYWC), with young workers becoming fashion photographers in the desert response to Vogue.
And they say it gave the young Anangu a boost of confidence.
The fashion show comes alive in print
“We had big plans for the [NPYWC’s 40th anniversary] AGA last year to do a fashion show, and we were really excited about it,” said board boarding school education manager Tamika McMasters.
“But we couldn’t continue because of COVID.”
However, the boxes of clothes, donated by social enterprise Thread Together, were not about to go to waste.
Photo shoots took place in communities such as Kaltukatjara (Docker River) and Mutitjulu in NT, Papulankutja (Blackstone), Mantamaru (Jameson) and Irrunyntju (Wingellina) in WA, and Putkatja in SA.
“They were very happy to wear the older dresses, to dress up and laugh with all their friends, they really enjoyed it.”
With slogans like “Desert Diamonds – strong and beautiful”, “Wiyantja wiya – never give up”, “Desert Kings and Queens” and “Kungkas [Pitjanjatjara for girls/women] on country,” the magazine shows teenagers at home, backed by sprawling mountain ranges and posing with rusty wrecked cars that match the red dirt.
Some adopted fierce expressions and sassy poses, some thoughtful, others beaming or about to laugh alongside their friends.
“Nervous, shy, proud”
Three friends from Docker River, Anne-Marie, Cynthia and Delicia, were thrilled to see themselves and their friends and relatives in print with the release of the first issue of Rikina.
Anne-Marie, who started working with young people in her community, said she helped persuade the other two to join the photoshoot.
Delicia said she felt “nervous and shy” at first, but all three agreed the experience made them “proud”.
Tamika McMasters said the project instilled confidence in the young Anangu.
Indigenous youth are often at a severe disadvantage in terms of health, housing, services and employment opportunities in remote communities, compared to their non-Indigenous and urban peers.
So part of Ms. McMasters’ work with the NPYWC is to help them learn skills to help them find work and inspire them into possible careers.
Citing a “powerful” portrayal of one of Rikina’s models, Ms McMasters explained that prior to the shoot, a young girl “never came to the youth shelter” in her community because of the bullying and teasing.
“But one of the educators told her they were doing a photo shoot and they had been given clothes, and she was at the photo shoot that day. They were taking these photos,” Ms McMasters said.
“After that photo shoot, she now goes to the recreation shed every day.
“You can see she’s very confident in this picture. She [now] feels more comfortable being at the youth shelter because she could have been with all the kids and enjoyed taking pictures.”
Ms McMasters said the June 2022 issue of Rikina was being distributed across Central Australia and the photos were already popular on social media, with the NPY Women’s Council hoping to publish another edition of the magazine in 2023.
The NPYWC was established in 1980 as an advocacy organization for indigenous women and children. Today, it remains governed and run by Indigenous women, providing a range of social, artistic and health services throughout the region.
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