Feature, Indigenous, News, Soapbox

Linking patients with Indigenous artists

Late last year I launched Jukurrpa Designs, a collection of frames inspired by Australian Aboriginal Artwork. The feedback I’ve received on the designs has been fantastic so far, but getting to this point was a very long journey.

Developing frames featuring Australian Aboriginal artwork has been at the back of my mind for some time now. I’ve always loved the artwork, even when I was younger and back in Ireland. I used to watch a lot of Australian programs, like the Bush Tucker man, and since arriving in Australia about 16 years ago I’ve seen the artwork on many products.

The concept behind Jukurrpa Designs became a little more solid after another project. My wife comes from a remote village in the middle of Indonesia where they have these batik designs that, like Australian Aboriginal artwork, have a lot of colours and intricate details.

I designed some sunglasses, named after my wife Suli, with this art on the temples and people love them.

Jukurrpa Designs as it is today started about three years ago. A lot of Aboriginal artwork is very protected, so it was very hard to start it due to all the companies and license agreements you need to deal with. A few companies that we contacted gave prices that were just way too much, and that was for just the samples, so it began to look impossible for us to do.

Fortunately, we were eventually able to directly sign a licensing agreement with a community named Warlukurlangu Aboriginal Artists in Yuendumu near Alice Springs.

We work directly with them and use any of their artwork under a long-term license agreement, whilst also giving back a royalty of 10% of all sales. That’s shared amongst both the artists and the community for various projects, like a dialysis machine and a swimming pool. It’s a good community, and they license a lot of the artwork out for other things like scarves, ties, mugs and teapots.

When I designed the frames, I wanted to link the artwork with the patient and the artist.

When the patient buys the frame they also receive a microfibre cloth that has the full original artwork on it, as well as a card that shows a picture of the artist who painted the work and a brief story behind it.

The frame, cloth and card fit neatly into a customised Jukurrpa Designs spectacle case.

I went through between 60 and 80 designs before settling on the eight we chose. You can’t just take a painting and put it on a temple if it doesn’t reflect the actual artwork as a whole. For the first eight designs I have tried to have a good mix, not just put the whole design on the front. For some people this is too much, so having the artwork on the temple softens the frame somewhat.

The next eight, which will hopefully be released in September will include some men’s designs as well. Further down the road we might release sunglasses and a kids range as well.

I also wanted to keep the frames affordable; they’re between $240 and $260 retail. We’re using the best materials to produce them including Mazzucchelli acetate from Italy, Japanese titanium, and joints and screws from a company in Germany called OBE, which is one of the best in the world.

I really just love everything that surrounds the designs. The Aboriginal people behind it, giving back and helping, and also the colours, designs and stories behind them.

I see a lot of similarities between Ireland and the Aboriginal history. In Ireland we also have a long history with mythical stories and great characters as well.

I have had great support from many optical stores throughout Australia and the public email me every day asking where they are stocked.

So, I’m hoping more stores will get on board and stock this beautiful range, not only from a business point of view, but to share with their patients these amazing artworks, stories and designs.

Name: Murray O’Keeffe

Qualifications: UK Dispensing Optician FBDO

Workplace: Jukurrpa Designs, eyesaBOve

Position: Founder, Managing Director, Designer

Location: Brisbane

Years in profession: 31