Workplace wellness is nothing new. But the expression of it is becoming more pronounced and sprouting new collaborations.
Once such partnership is between Australian furniture, design and lifestyle brand Koskela and major bank Westpac. On the community hub floor of Westpac’s recently refurbished Kent Street headquarters in Sydney is a unique Indigenous art installation that took many hands and minds to bring together.
Enter the Kent Street Sydney branch and you won’t be able to miss three immense woven structures known as Reflection Pods – the largest spanning more than three metres. Each is suspended over an alcove, creating quiet sanctuaries within a bustling workplace.
The concept and design of the Reflection Pods were developed by Lucy Simpson, a proud Yuwaalaraay woman and the Director of Gaawaa Miyay Designs. They are based on the local Sydney language word Dyalgala, which means to hold or embrace.
Inspired by convergence, continuity and referenced the strong women and saltwater story of matriarchal Sydney, they represent the importance of community, making and knowledge transfer. But with the concept and design ready to go – it was time to work out how to make them. As Nicole Howard, Major Property Projects at Westpac, explains:
“When Koskela’s name was thrown into the mix, it made sense as they had the relationships with weaving communities already in place and were developing similar objects (though in smaller scale). That Koskela also has a strong philosophy of supporting the communities and investing in them, was a clincher.”
Koskela started working with the Yolngu weavers from Elcho Island Arts in 2009 to develop a series of pendants lights known as Yuta Badayala. The success of this collaboration cemented Koskela’s commitment to working with Australian Indigenous communities and has led to several more collaborations with Indigenous owned and run art centres throughout Australia. Koskela even allocate 1 percent of profits towards developing these social enterprise projects, and part of this fund was put towards the Reflection Pods.
The project brought together 21 artists from Elcho Island Arts and Milingimbi Art and Culture, who worked together over three months. This project brought together many people for the first time, as artists Helen Ganalmirriwuy, Susan Balbunga, Helen Milminydjarrk, Zelda Wuigir, Elizabeth Rukarriwuy and Abigail Mundjala describe:
Some of us are family and some Yolngu (people) we didn’t know, some of us have been weaving for a long time and a few are just starting to learn, we are from different clans and live in different camps but all of us are working together.
The weaving itself is very time consuming, but the raw materials must also be harvested and treated. As Rosita Holmes, Coordinator at Milingimbi Art and Culture, explains, “The collection, preparation and weaving together are all labour intensive processes that set the rhythm of the artist and their community’s life.”
It is incredibly hard to keep a continual rhythm unless there are many hands helping to harvest the plants, to drive the boat, to make the fire, to strip the leaves, to dig up and peel the roots, to add the colour, to soak the leaves, to stir the pot, to dry the fibres and repeat.
Along with the social and economic benefits to the Indigenous culture and community, large scale projects like this galvanise the artists and pique the interest of younger generations. It’s clear that this project doesn’t just provide an escape for the workers at Westpac, but wider benefits to the wellbeing of Indigenous communities too. Take a look…