Editor’s note: as of 20 September, amendments have been made to the facts in the original article.
Gilimbaa (‘today’ in Wakka Wakka language) is an Indigenous creative agency from Brisbane that focuses on using creativity to connect and celebrate Aboriginal culture and stories across the world.
Wakka Wakka man, David Williams is the agency’s executive director. He speaks to Marketing Mag about its future and how it focuses on sharing Aboriginal culture by collaborating with brands and organisations looking for social change.
Gilimbaa allows people to engage with Indigenous art and uses advertising as an instrument to showcase the importance of understanding Indigenous culture. “I am very lucky to bring my culture to work every day [and I] live, work and breathe as an Aboriginal man,” says Williams.
Gilimbaa is one of eight agencies taking part in the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV’s) Rigg Design Prize 2022. The ninth edition of this triennial event will be the NGV’s first ever major exhibition of advertising and communication design. Each agency will develop a suite of campaign assets – including billboards, street posters and moving images – celebrating how creativity can shape who we are and the world of which we are a part.
Williams offers a glimpse of what Gilimbaa anticipates will be showcased in the exhibition. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 26 January reminds them of a painful day marking the start of colonisation. He says the recent death of the Queen raises some big questions for Indigenous people, who have been calling for a mourning date since the 1930s. With such a recent event receiving a public holiday on 22 September (within a month of her death), he notes what this means for Australia and how priorities are decided by those in power. Social issues like this will be highlighted in the exhibition, he says, by an agency that focuses on elevating the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, using their knowledge and expertise through their designs.
He says the design process meets the industry standard, as a four-stage creative process to understand the creative brief and channel this into the work. Gilimbaa’s speciality is showcasing its craft by having “culture front and centre for an Indigenous creative agency,” says Williams, while emphasising the importance of storytelling.
Williams reflects on the time that Gilimbaa was engaged to create a logo for the 2014 G20 Brisbane Summit. The logo was designed wholly inhouse by the creative team at Gilimbaa during that time. For the project, it was important to make a mark, as the entire world was looking at Australia during the summit as the host nation.
On its website, Gilimbaa adds, “This award-winning logo now proudly places Australia’s narrative beside others in this unique global collection of national identities.”
The constraints in diversity
Williams outlines the importance of diversity when representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which he acknowledges is “quite a challenge from a creative point of view”. To address this, Gilimbaa focuses on creating work with which Indigenous people can connect. “We want that level of ownership where our communities and we are able to be more proud of saying, ‘that represents us’,” he says.
Additionally, Gilimbaa focuses on relaying this message to non-Indigenous people, who are able to learn from its designs. “It is a very thorough and inclusive process,” says Williams, “but we have the right people around us in order to have that voice included.”
Through its craft, Gilimbaa’s work connects cultures throughout Australia, he believes. “Having that celebrated as the voice and representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the nation,” he says.
What inspired Gilimbaa?
“As an Aboriginal kid growing up in Rockhampton, I witnessed a lot of racism in the schoolyard and people’s perceptions of what Aboriginal people are,” says Williams. “And I was quite fortunate to have some strong uncles and aunties when I was growing up to help guide me. It was those experiences that I was to draw on later. But I always found creativity as a way to connect with audiences and people.”
He explains that, as a young didgeridoo player, he was performing in China and in the US and felt he was treated like a rockstar. “I came back to Australia, and something was really missing here.”
He found a gap when it came to people learning about Aboriginal culture from their parents or from the media. Part of the reason for the creation of Gilimbaa was to address First Nations cultures and to connect with them.
As for the future of advertising? He indicates the importance of social media. “The next generation of artists and designers [are] using Instagram as a platform where people can raise their voice and connect with an audience by communicating our culture on our terms.”
This puts them in the driver’s seat, he says, able to control and communicate his culture. “In my grandmother’s time, she wasn’t allowed to speak her language and practise her culture. So, we are reviving that we are culturally dynamic people, and to be able to project that to an audience in the 21st century [is] something to be really celebrated. From a Rigg Design Prize point of view, this is really acknowledging that celebration, in terms of how far we have come. We [still] have a long way to go,” says Williams.