Journal

Bobbie Ruben 

Textile Designer & Printmaker, running workshops on community and assisting artists in creating designs for screen printed textiles

 

Bobbie Ruben Textiles Designer

Having worked within the printmaking and textile design industry for a long time, can you give us a brief outline of what you have achieved and some highlights of your career?
Since finding this work in the early 2000s I have worked with mostly remote community Indigenous artists in the development of over 250 large-format repeat textile designs along with numerous editions of fine art prints on paper.
A highlight has been my involvement in many of the growing number of exhibitions and events featuring the textiles, especially where they have been hung in vast 8M lengths on both the inside and exteriors of public buildings and art galleries. Who could forget the excitement of seeing Merrepen textiles winning Melbourne cup ‘Fashion on the field’ in 2013, or Merrepen textiles being personally gifted to Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge in 2014 and later that year entering and winning the youth section of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. Seeing the many instances of these beautiful and dynamic textiles incorporated in high-end furnishings has also been a great opportunity.
Another significant highlight has been my involvement in Indigenous fashion performances that have celebrated and promoted the textiles. In these exciting and much anticipated events Indigenous culture is emphasized more so than expressing a desire to enter into the fashion industry. 
This work draws on a cultural exchange in the design, production and usage of the textiles. It is affirming to see the nurturing of these exchanges and promotion of intercultural collaborative relationships integral to the future success of this movement.
Presently you are known to work closely with artists on community by assisting them in creating repeat print designs with their artwork. What does this entail?
The process begins by exploring with the artist their particular interests, the kind of imagery they usually create and what of these ideas would best translate to textile media. The artist then begins a series of sketches, which are redrawn onto a large sheet of paper corresponding with screen size. We usually work with a design area of around 1500mm x 800mm. Composition, balance, scale and working out how to repeat and join the image for textile design must all be considered. Once the drawing and design are finalized the artist then paints up this design onto separated film layers depending on how many colours will be printed. Problem solving, adjustments and reconfiguring of artwork continue in order to satisfy the constraints of the design process and reach the point where both the artist and myself are satisfied that it is going to be a beautiful and commercially successful textile design. 
Photographing and preparing artwork for offsite printing, or exposing artwork onto screens for printing on community then follows. We often use Photoshop to explore colour options to enable the best possible combinations. Digital technology plays an increasing role in developing designs however it is only used as a tool rather than an end in itself, and at all stages the mark of the artists hand and the rawness and directness of the screen printing technique are retained.
Along with assisting in design work, my role can sometimes be as an intermediary between artists living in remote settings and the requirements of urban contemporary art and design markets.
How rewarding is it for the artists to be able to translate their work into a new medium? 
As these textiles continue to gain national and international momentum and recognition, artists are able to gain a higher profile and recognition for their artwork and culture. Not only this but I see the joy and pride, determination to complete designs, and the sense of achievement in the finished work. Furthermore the artists can have a continuing relationship with their work once it has left the community, whether it is seeing their textiles worn in the street, in fashion performances, in interior design settings or in galleries and public spaces. The artists can also see the textiles in numerous print and electronic media. For artists happy to work within the design constraints and collaborative nature of textiles, the potential rewards are unlimited.
What initially drew you to where you are now and compelled the want to share your skills and knowledge in remote communities?
I love this work and feel lucky to be able to travel to incredible places and work closely with inspirational artists that I have had the pleasure of forming long term working relationships with.
 While I bring skills and knowledge to workshops, in each workshop I also gain skills and knowledge through working with artists and colleagues. We learn from each other and all build skills and professional know-how together.
 For me this work has organically gained momentum to the extent that I now wish to explore and understand the phenomenon of these incredible textiles via my research as a PhD candidate at James Cook University.
I find the work in textiles creates much excitement and draws a lot of different people to work together, from artists and designers, to arts workers and commercial enterprise. I like the fact that there is unlimited potential in this work that has as yet been barely uncovered. I also like that we will always need textiles and always need to create new and more beautiful designs.
In a dream scenario, where or in what form would you love to see the hand screen printed textiles exhibited?
My dream would be to see Australian Indigenous textiles treated as iconic Australian design and revered as Marimekko is to Finland. I would also like to see the textiles function as highly successful enterprises enabling full employment, travel and other opportunities for remote area Indigenous artists and arts workers.
What do you love most about visiting the Northern Territory?
Darwin had been my home for 22 years and I still feel I am coming home every time I return.
I love the edginess and otherness of Darwin culture and the rawness and wildness of the climate.
There is a freshness created by the revolving door of talent and enthusiasm that washes up on territory shores. Darwin as a community has a strong sense of itself and has evolved to suit its own local residents rather than as an attempt to attract visitors. The visitors come anyway because they like what we like.

 

Interview by Monica Segovic 

 

Design workshop, Susan Marawarr, Babbarra Designs 2015. Photo: B. Ruben.

 

Design workshop, Aaron McTaggart, Merrepen Arts, Naiuyu Community 2016. Photo: B. Ruben.

  

Hand-screen printing at Merrepen Arts Centre, Daly River. Photos by John Tsialos.

 

 Hand-screen printing at Merrepen Arts Centre, Daly River. Photos by John Tsialos.
 

‘NgangiWetembi Dememarrgu’, textile exhibition, Merrepen Arts, Naiuyu Community 2014. Photos by John Tsialos. 

 

‘NgangiWetembi Dememarrgu’, textile exhibition, Merrepen Arts, Naiuyu Community 2014. Photos by John Tsialos. 
 
 Maxine Charlie, Croc skin, Nagula Jarndu designs 2016.
Maminydjarma Maymuru, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair fashion performance 2016.

 

 Babbarra Designs textiles, Maningrida 2016. Photo: B. Ruben.