Jack Latimore: Meet Robert Young, the Koori artist designing gear for PUMA
June 5, 2018
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Jack Latimore is a Birpai man living in Melbourne. He writes for The Guardian, Koori Mail and IndigenousX
International sports brand PUMA has teamed up with a Victorian Aboriginal artist to release a limited edition range of sportswear that celebrates the relentless spirit and diversity of First Nations cultures. Robert Young, a Gunnai/Gunditjmarra/Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri man who lives in Melbourne, is the first Aboriginal artist to have a design range released by the brand, which it is calling the Dreamtime “Borra Range”. The apparel has been released in the lead up to the Indigenous-round of the AFL.
Young’s design centres on a crown logo and other distinct markings, combined with the colour scheme of the Aboriginal flag, to convey that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders remain the sovereign custodians of their lands.
IndigenousX caught up with Young on the eve of his guernsey design taking centre stage in front of 90,000 football fans at the MCG’s Dreamtime fixture.
IndigenousX: Robert, what’s this crown logo design all about? And what do the other markings found on the shoes and the clothes mean?
Robert Young: The crown on the back of the shoe is part of my signature. It’s my initials RMY, inverted. I sign all of my work with it. It’s my brand. It also represents that Blackfellas are the sovereign people of this land, we are the ones that listen to it and hear it. The other markings on the shoe are the words “Borra Ground” which can be found on the inner-sole. That represents our sovereign status too. It’s important for the next generation of our kids to be aware of our sovereignty. So that’s the reason why I put those words inside the shoe. The markings in the heel of the shoe represent journey markings and they pair-up with the markings that are on the hoodie. The reason why I put them at the heel is because our Achilles is the thing that always binds us to our lands.
IndigenousX: And what about the spearhead design on the front of the hoodie and the t-shirt?
Robert Young: The jumper and the t-shirt, the markings are exactly the same. They come from the design I used for the Richmond Indigenous-round guernsey.It represents us as warriors, but it can also represent us breaking new ground. It also poses the question about how we can change and shift other people’s attitudes about us, and also about how we celebrate our culture as well. The markings in the design that are on the jumper and t-shirt are also reminiscent of initiation markings. Those types of traditional markings represent higher awareness and also the acknowledgement of new status by community.
IndigenousX: There’s also a few little touches around the collar and the cuffs.
Robert Young: The diamond shaped markings on the neckline tape are symbolic of our southern cultures. I wanted them in the most vulnerable spot on the body, which is the neck. Their placing at the neck represents how we’re always being protected by our culture. That’s the idea behind the design on the scarf as well. And the number 7 on the cuff, that’s just my favourite number. It’s just a nod to me, what this opportunity means to me. It’s representative of my personal story.
IndigenousX: Brother, how did you get the gig to design this stuff for a major brand like PUMA?
Robert Young: Well, I do art workshops and cultural workshops for young fellas at the Korin Gamadji Institute within the Richmond club. They like how I talk and what I stand for, so they asked me if I wanted to design the Indigenous jumper this year. PUMA is one of Richmond’s major sponsors, so the opportunity for the Borra Ground range came off the back of designing the Dreamtime guernsey. 2018 is also the 50th year of one of PUMA’s most popular shoe designs, the suede and it’s the 2nd year of their sponsorship of Richmond, who won the AFL flag last year. PUMA approached the club about doing a limited edition capsule for the Indigenous round to improve the representation of Blackfellas and the club put my name forward. The gesture is also a demonstration of the club’s strong family values and it’s strong advocacy for Victoria’s Indigenous artists as well.
IndigenousX: You mentioned that Richmond Tigers mob admire what you stand for and how you talk. What do you stand for?
Robert Young: I stand for empowering our young people and challenging non-indigenous mindsets, not only about how they look at us, but how they think they can involve our culture, community, art and people. The next step then is asking, how do we celebrate our culture and our unique, diverse identities and stories that are all across this country? And I think that’s one thing some non-indigenous people still don’t realise, they think we all have the one story, but nah, our stories are similar but each one is unique to our different nations.
IndigenousX: How do you see your “Borra Ground” range challenging those sorts of mindsets?
Robert Young: Well, whenever somebody is looking at one of us fellas wearing the gear, I want them to see that it’s deadly to be a Blackfella, and it’s also deadly to celebrate us and stand with us.