Textile length, 'Mali cloth' unknown maker/ designer, Africa, 1983
Jenny Kee collection of clothing, textiles, artwork and archive, Australia/England/Japan/Africa/USA 1967-1995
Jenny Kee (born Sydney 1947) is one of Australia's most important designers, best known for designing and retailing a unique range of colourful clothing and knitwear. One major theme links all aspects of this collection, Jenny Kee's love of Australia's unique natural environment. Her garments are a canvas for her artwork featuring images of native flora and fauna, the opal gem stone and urban icons like the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
The Jenny Kee collection and archive was acquired by the museum in 1998 and 1999. They document the evolution of her clothing and textile designs, the creative process behind her designs, the development and management of her retail outlets Flamingo Park and Jenny Kee, the significant role she played in environmental activism in Australia and her public profile as a celebrity artist with-in the advertising industry.
The collection and archive document her life and work over twenty years and includes clothing and textiles by Jenny Kee as well as Kee's business partner Linda Jackson (b. 1950), original artwork for many of Kee's designs, business records, newspaper and magazine clippings, videos of parades, parade invitations, props and programmes, shop mannequins, shop signs, scrapbooks and posters.
The collection and archive not only records Jenny Kee's life and work, but also can be read as a document that charts important cultural changes in Australia. Kee was born in Bondi, to a Cantonese businessman father and Italian/British mother. An early newspaper clipping shows her modelling as the face of Canadian Airlines. In the 1960s, she, like many other young Australians, spent several years enjoying the creative atmosphere of 'Swinging London'. She returned to Australia in the early 1970s and attracted by the encouraging cultural climate of the new Whitlam led Labor government, decided to stay. Kee then opened her Flamingo Park' 'frock salon' in the Strand Arcade in Sydney selling her own designs as well as the work of other innovative designers like Linda Jackson, Peter Tully (1947-1992) and David McDiarmid (1952-1995). Many of the pieces sold through the shop are included in the collection as well as signage, programmes and videos of the lively parades she and Linda Jackson produced.
The collection preserves a unique record of this important designer's personal and professional career from the 1960s through to 1995.
This textile was made in Africa in 1983.
This Bogolanfini mud cloth is made from hand-spun cotton yarn woven in strips on a man's double-heddle loom. Once the strips are joined it is washed and sun-dried then dyed yellow using extracts from the leaves of two native African trees - the Anogeissus leiocarpus and Combretum glutinosum. The desired design is then applied on one side of the cloth from mud which has been collected a year earlier from a dried-up water bed, then fermented and this causes the yellow dye to turn dark brown/black. The process is repeated twice, but on the second application, the yellow is removed altogether. According to Picton and Mack in 'African Textiles' (London, 1989) p.161 "The yellow dye in the unpainted areas...is discharged with a caustic preparation returning the fabric in those areas more or less to its original natural colour". After this, the cloth is sun-dried for one week and washed again, leaving a white/neutral design on a dark background.
The dyeing process is caused by a chemical reaction between the mud and the tannin and not a stain as such. The mud is grey, not the resulting colour of the fabric (dark brown or black). It is also non toxic to the maker and does not stain their hands.
The motifs are important and traditionally reflect protective symbolism for the hunter who wears the fabric as a protective 'armour'. Family (dot within circle), camel footprint ( half diamond with central dot), crocodile (long line with horizontal branches), fence (zig zag with underline), fish bone, square flowers are depicted in these symbols.
Camel footprints denote a spiritual journey; crocodile prints denote friendship in the village - the crocodile knows where to find water and lives a long time; family symbol is very precious and good; fish bone gives support and strength; dots are stars; square flowers denote life.
Lindie Ward 14.3.2013