Diaspora: textiles as paradox

PhD Thesis

Kinnear, Jill. 2008. Diaspora: textiles as paradox. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

Diaspora: textiles as paradox

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorKinnear, Jill
SupervisorStewart, Robyn
McDonald, Janet
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy


Diaspora: textiles as paradox is about the experience of migrant dislocation. The exegesis and accompanying exhibition draw on my personal experience of migration from Scotland to Australia and how the myths and memories of migratory experience and the journey between these geographical extremes become an analogy for the Third Space. The transitory (and transient) character of the journey becomes the homeland, the place between the points of departure and arrival, a place of hybrid cross-cultural response, compromise and innovation, which has been referred to by various theorists such as Homi Bhabha. The Third Space that I occupy as a Scottish and Australian textile designer provides me with crucial opportunities to communicate the experience of migration and journey through the production of new and innovative textile work.

As a printed textile designer I am particularly interested in the role of textiles as a cultural signifier of history, place and identity. As an emigrant Scot, I am interested in the role that traditional Scottish textiles, paisleys, and in particular, tartans, have played in the construction of a Scottish identity and mythology, and how tartan imagery has migrated along with its mythologies to every corner of the world. Like maps, the designs of tartan are linked to land, though not necessarily ancestral land. Their warps and wefts point east, west, north and south, and their construction is entirely dictated by the overlays of colour from two opposing locations; a textile for the Third Space.

Air travel is often the mode of transport for migrants in their transition from east to west or north to south. At the point of embarkation in this journey of exodus, our intimate possessions and clothing, encased and encapsulated in baggage, are x-rayed. Beyond the exterior of the tough vinyl case, the personal effects, cultures and histories of our lives are briefly revealed, examined and discarded.

The textiles in Diaspora: textiles as paradox originate from constructions of steel and other metal elements. These units were transported to the departure lounge at Brisbane International Airport and passed through the baggage x-ray machine. I retain the unique colour and characteristics of these x-ray images and reconfigure them as a vibrant collection of digitally printed tartans and paisleys in silk and wool. Reminiscent of my own Scottish textile heritage but physically transformed by the process of present day travel, the x-ray designs are traces of transition; fragile maps of a place between two points. The theme of paradox is further strengthened by the inclusion of textiles structured from photographs of the original metal structures. As textile designs and as garments, the works are layered with references to the paradoxes within Scottish national identity, social history, mythology and 19th century emigration. Meaning is found not only within the textile designs, but also in the dialogue created by the contradiction of the garments. Through this contradiction, I present a Third Space within the gallery environment as an analogy for the experience of migratory dislocation and diaspora.

The historiographical elements of this study therefore are crucial to its processes and outcomes, as are the autoethnographical elements, informed by my own experience, my cultural background and the knowledge I have of my discipline. The design process in which I trained as a textile designer is central to my methodology for this study.

This study acts as a contemporary acknowledgement of the history of Australian Celtic migration as expressed in the form of printed textiles and also of the innovative possibilities generated by the migrant experience of dislocation. Diaspora: textiles as paradox ties Australia and Scotland together as interdependent components of a journey; in doing so I hope to provide an essential and imaginative contribution and extension to the cultures of both countries.

Keywordstextiles; contemporary textiles; digital textiles; migration in art; diaspora; emigration
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020360699. Visual arts not elsewhere classified
Byline AffiliationsDepartment of Visual Arts
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