Australian artist and designer Grace Lillian Lee’s work is inspired by ‘prawn-weaving’, a craft technique central to her Torres Strait Islander heritage.

Born in Cairns and trained in Fashion Design at RMIT University, Melbourne, Grace Lillian Lee is a young and emerging designer whose work explores the aesthetic possibilities of traditional craft techniques within a contemporary fashion and art context.

The six pieces of body adornment that make up her Body Sculpture* collection reference ritual performance and traditional crafts, drawing upon and deepening Grace’s ongoing explorations into palm-leaf weaving techniques—affectionately referred to in the Torres Strait as “prawn-weaving”.

The practice is common in the Torres Strait, used for practical basketry, and more decoratively for hanging ornaments and children’s play objects—such as toy prawns (hence its nickname, prawn-weaving).

“I think prawn-weaving as a technique travelled down from Papua New Guinea due to the pearling industry. Torres Strait is a very multicultural place because of this industry.

“I was actually taught the techniques by renowned artist, Uncle Ken Thaiday from Darnley Island, whom I met in a gallery whilst living in Cairns. We used to visit each other’s studios to share stories and swap different making techniques. I’ve been extremely lucky to have someone of his calibre as a mentor, he is very inspiring.”

Her sculptural work has grown organically from a passion for millinery as ritual headdress, and performance, both of which have formed part of her trajectory since graduating from RMIT in 2010. Grace initially set up a millinery business before an invitation from the Cairns International Art Fair in 2013 led her into curating and presenting fashion performances.

She has since curated and directed three parades designed to showcase emerging indigenous craft and textile talent, watching the shows grow from small and intimate events into a highly anticipated, large-scale annual production.

Grace speaks of the thrill of providing an outlet for Torres Strait Island and indigenous youth to tell their stories, and explore their creativity and cultural artistry in a contemporary setting.

“It’s so rewarding seeing indigenous youth experimenting in a space they wouldn’t normally have access to in their traditional communities. It frees up their creativity in new ways and provides a gateway and the inspiration to travel outside of their communities, bringing their craft and philosophies into contemporary culture.”

Michelle Boyde

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