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Article: The Future of Cultural and Creative Leadership

The Future of Cultural and Creative Leadership

The Future of Cultural and Creative Leadership

By Eliana Gamboa


Over the last two years, while pursuing my Masters degree in Curating and Cultural Leadership, I began to work in close collaboration with Fabrics of Multicultural Australia (FoMA) as it offers the ideal platform to showcase fashion as a vehicle that reflects and transports culture within Australia’s fashion landscape.

I conducted a cultural exhibition, panel discussions along with a runway show. The experience and audience response was invaluable. FoMA’s ethos of bringing together and sharing unique cultural perspectives stemming from the visual arts and textile design leverages Australia’s unique diverse identity to the globe.

Through this medium, creatives like myself are seeing a significant shift in the normative Western narrative of fashion as a global phenomenon that crosses borders; broadening the geographical and cultural scope of the industry.

Using programs like FoMA as a model, I will make a case that true transformational leadership in the fashion industry will result from deconstructing the coloniality of knowledge that constitutes the norm of fashion today.


In western normative fashion, the term ‘exotic’ is used to refer to elements of new fashion codified as profoundly different from previous or contemporary fashion techniques. ‘The ethnocentric underpinnings of western fashion ensure that differences between codes of exoticism and mundanity are played up’ [1] to create meaning, but can inadvertently lead us into narratives that foster unequal relations of power and value. 

As creative cultural leaders from a variety of disciplines, be it fashion, textile design or contemporary curating, it is important to interrogate and reflect on these practices. Recent shifts in the balance of cultural power have compelled many cultural institutions to critically reflect, interpret and display non-western collections [2] while advancing decolonial practices. Yet it is important to take a more nuanced exploration of these attempts; identifying the blind spots and controversial gaps that slip in between the good intentions. Over the years I have come to understand  that this is key in order to maintain its critical possibilities, before we all end up reinforcing and reproducing the very power structures we set out to critique. 

‘Stemming from Australia’s diverse landscape are a myriad of unique stories, perspectives, customs and social identities, all of which coexist harmoniously as one of Australia’s greatest strengths’.[3] Australian based initiatives like FoMA leverage this unique strength to showcase art and fashion as a vehicle to transmit culture and evoke cultural reflexivity among receiving audiences.

Within this context, the importance for fashion designers  and wearable applied arts to look to these platforms for collaboration and inspiration can not be overstated. They offer opportunities  to reshape the received understanding of fashion as a form of cultural expression, and explore our nation’s unique fashion landscape in a rapidly evolving global context.

Eurocentric fashion discourse

Fashion has been historically located all around the world, but it is the Eurocentric representations of hegemonic fashion that have generally emphasised that European fashion is at the origin of all other fashion systems, ‘while other nations/cultures/spaces have been depicted as static and exotic; as fixed in earlier times.’ [4]

As an Australian of Latin American origin, I am excited about disseminating the Latin American fashion movement, which has imposed itself aesthetically by fusing tradition with modern aesthetics. Nonetheless, Western media and film still define it by interpreting and documenting it from their perspective in support of a narrative or stereotype. [5] Through my involvement with FoMA, I am counteracting this paradigm by considering Latin American designer voices as equal on the global stage.

By leveraging this vehicle, I am attesting to the concept of traditional dress as a construct rather than a given that is increasingly being redefined and reinvented. As a practitioner I intend to document and present the development of an evolving Latin American aesthetic from its own perspective and on its own terms; while amplifying the voices of Indigenous communities and artisans' art as a source of knowledge and cultural production that engages with years of history.

As Jansen explains: 'Fashion as a noun has come to refer to a temporality of contemporaneity, a system of power and a capitalist industry that was conceived in Europe and exported to the rest of the world through European imperialism and globalisation.’ Within this global world order, fashion has come to be considered an objective term, a clear manifestation of Euro-centrism proclaiming itself as universal [6] [7]From a curatorial perspective, I wonder if we will ever move beyond the colonial notion of one universal fashion and one definition of luxury?  Could we step away from the codes of exoticism exposed above? Will we ever rise above the usual western vs non-western, true fashion vs folk fashion, tradition vs modernity dichotomies? It is evident that a recalibration of discursive juxtapositions that decolonise canonical ways of seeing and displaying fashion is necessary if we are to reverse the cultural hierarchy that exists, and create genuine representation and value.

One example that unveils this reality is the value of Peruvian textiles. While many Indigenous communities have been the guardians of these artforms for centuries, it is only after leading Western luxury brands such as Dior and Vivianne Westwood who during Paris Fashion Week showcased collections inspired by Peruvian tribes, that suddenly these become valuable on the international fashion market. [8] This not only opens questions about the line that demarcates cultural exchange from appropriation, but it also sheds light on the persistent hierarchy of cultures that are well-engraved today.

After years of observing luxury fashion I noticed a persistent tendency to misconstrue cultural appropriation as representation and inclusion. As Jansen argues, ‘fashion globalisation and its inclusion of fashion systems outside Europe and North America is not contributing to a just nor inclusive fashion discourse, as long as its colonial framework persists.’ [9] Transformational leadership in this field will not be attained unless the politics of inclusion are understood, particularly when it comes to acknowledging who is benefiting from this so-called inclusion – Is it those at the top of the capitalist chain or the invisible sitting at the periphery?

A more inclusive leadership approach by emerging designers would be that championed by Mary Parker Follet, who writes:

“Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders” [10]

If the industry is to work in partnership with the original leaders – the creators and safeguards of their artforms – the plurality of the fashion system must be recognised, not according to the Western gaze but as an artform in its own right and space. Only then we can achieve shared leadership based on genuine collaboration.

Understanding Colonial Foundations

In order to understand coloniality, I turn to Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano who describes it as the production of a new mental category to codify relations between conquering and conquered populations…the hierarchical differences between the dominant and the dominated,  those relations of domination have come to be considered as natural. [11] [12] This framework is not meant to explain just the external differences, but also the mental and cultural differences, which are also codified as superior and inferior by definition. As exposed above, these oppressive hierarchies also pervade the realm of culture and design.

A close analysis of this reality could be seen in an exhibition I visited in June 2019 titled “Weavers of the Clouds: Textile Arts of Peru” presented at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. Curated by British artist and curator Hilary Simon, the exhibition was the first of its kind in the UK and it included 150 textiles, garments, accessories, art pieces and photographs organised in eleven sections.

With Peruvian materials, styles, and articles of dress constituting an on-going source of inspiration for Western fashion, this exhibition presented itself as an opportunity to examine the history, present and future of Peruvian artistic savoir-faire, and to use the language of fashion to challenge traditional divisions of form and function, cast a critical eye on the construction of tradition and reinterpret cultural knowledge. Surprisingly, however, the curator opted for a narrative that emphasised non-Western dichotomies of Peruvian culture as the essence of the country. [13]

The female weavers as the Other were presented in a cursory way without any clear criteria of selection and no cross-cultural analysis. By the same token, the wall texts failed to acknowledge the subtleties of their craft that has in fact adapted to modernity over time [14] – a key element that left a gap in the knowledge about how ethnic groups have transformed their dress style in ways that have allowed them to vary their socio-ethnic identities to become urban indigenous people.

Furthermore, the independent design identity of emerging Peruvian designers was interpreted in Western homogenous perceptions of the country echoed in the styling of the mannequins through multicoloured patterns that eluded the viewer from any meaningful perceptual and cognitive engagement. While well-intentioned, this strategy solidified Peruvian identity into a singular entity lost behind a fictional opposition between tradition and modernity.

This exhibition made me question how adequately cultural institutions are positioned to restructure knowledge and power as they continue to reproduce the same power dynamics we set out to challenge. The legacies of the ‘colonianisation of knowledge’ [15] that characterise today’s world order extends to the fashion system itself, which tends to see the Other as backwards and static.

The question remains – as cultural leaders – how can we shift existing ways of classifying, studying or analysing fashion and its history? How can we move away from presenting non-western fashion from an ethnographic lens or as folkloric fashion that is fixed in earlier times?  

While the play of clothes and diversity play a key part in today’s fashion ecosystem, my reflective experience has demonstrated that it’s important to question the basis on which this inclusion is taking place. It is therefore crucial to analyse the power structures and use visuality as a system of representation and not as a system of difference when curating exhibitions; otherwise it becomes nothing more than another form of cultural assimilation into a eurocentric fashion system.

Leadership in fashion curating

As Enoch (2014) advocates, ‘leadership in the cultural sphere is about creating a space for the opposing voices, about imagining a future, exploring the repercussions of our values and promulgating public debate through the work we make..’ [16] When I look at cultural leadership within the fashion ecosystem – an industry built on overproduction, violation of human rights and arbitrary forms of discrimination – I see it as being  part of a larger colonial grounding of society as a whole. One of the most challenging questions I ask myself is how can my curatorial practice disrupt existing knowledge and perceptions of what we understand by design, fashion, and cultural knowledge, while contending with the social structures in which they are structurally embedded?

I quote Enoch - “if you are not deconstructing the status quo you are constructing it” [17] So my personal response to the current colonial norm of fashion is to deconstruct it and challenge it in a transformative and meaningful way. Current discussions in the academic field revolve around the need to decolonise fashion, looking beyond a Eurocentric bias.  While that is a great way to decolonise the mind, I would rather focus on deconstructing fashion by considering non-western designer voices as equal in the overall fashion ecosystem, and by building bridges between Western and non-western; breaking down the hierarchical and visual canon of textiles and fashions.

Curators today are creators and active players in the production, mediation and dissemination of artistic value. To go deeper into the significance of the curator’s role, I turn to Donald Shön’s The Reflective Practitioner as it provides useful insights into the importance of reflection to professional learning and development beyond technical expertise:

“What is the professional's stance towards his own knowledge? Does he claim only to ‘know’, or is he interested in, rather than threatened by, alternative ways of seeing? [18]

As leaders in their profession, curators need to navigate the humanness that their practice brings with compassion and eyes wide open to appreciate alternative ways of seeing the world. In this context, curating fashion is also about posing critical questions about culture, offering new ways of seeing, learning and thinking.

As Wesley Enoch puts it, leadership is about ‘articulating a truth that others recognise’; a way of thinking which engages them on some level because ‘it has changed the way they see the world’.[19] As an active participant for Fabrics of Multicultural Australia (FoMA), I am proposing to alter and disrupt  the audience's perceptions of what we understand by design, fashion and cultural knowledge and to make a statement that art and fashion interconnect.

It is not only about consuming but also about posing critical questions about culture, hierarchical structures and our place in it. Through researching canonical norms of fashion I propose to interpret and explore our multiple identities woven in textiles and offer inspiration and thought about our history and re-imagined future.

Fabrics of Multicultural Australia (FoMA)

FoMA is one of the few platforms that leverages the influence of our creative sectors across a variety of mediums including art, fashion and design — showcasing to a global audience the interweaving threads that collectively form the unique identity of contemporary Australia — from an economic and cultural perspective.

By being actively engaged with FoMA, I am able to express my desire to use fashion as a vehicle to showcase culture while breaking stereotypes, changing the narrative, and communicating stories that cross borders. As a participant I hope to build bridges between cultural heritage, tradition and contemporary design where use of noble materials, respect for artisan communities and artistic knowledge passed down from generations are a central source of innovative practice.

As part of this network, I engaged in dialogue with Government agencies in roundtable meetings about how our cultural identities shape our art and creativity. I came to see reflective curatorial practice as an opportunity to learn, grow and truly understand my purpose as a strive to work with fashion as a vehicle that reflects and transports culture. I see my role as facilitator, mediator and disseminator as I give space to various identities to speak through their collections, while I embed them into Australia’s unique fashion landscape.     

As Muller (2011) posits, ‘contemporary curating is a social and collaborative practice, based on brokering the relationship between an artist’s process of making and an audience’s process of experiencing’.[20] This calls for reflexivity about the curator’s role as a medium. On this point, I’d like to refer to Nick Waterlow’s last testament to justify my commitment as a mediator who is responsible for ‘altering the audience experience ‘ in ways that stimulate, inspire and question’ [21] the narratives associated with non-western fashion forms. Through this process of personal interrogation, the plural nature of the fashion system is being recognised, not as an ‘alternative form to western normative fashion, but as fashion on its own space and terms.


This reflection has focused on exposing various components of coloniality within fashion rooted in Western colonisation of knowledge as argued by scholars like Mignolo and Quijano. As leaders, the silencing of other ways of expression and fashioning the body needs to be recognised, as a prerequisite if we are to progress and move away from the persistent binaries (modern/traditional and ethnic fashion/true fashion) that define the understanding of fashion today.

The challenge for achieving transformational leadership in this field lies in asking ourselves the question: on what terms and on whose terms is representation taking place? How are we deconstructing the colonial status quo that has defined fashion for centuries till now? Programs like FoMA that challenge current power dynamics, and explore our nation’s unique fashion landscape in a rapidly evolving global context are useful models for achieving transformational leadership in the creative sector as they support social cohesion and a more representative future.


[1]J. Craik, The face of Fashion. Cultural Studies in Fashion, Routledge, London & New York 1998, p. 17.

[2] Gilchrist, Stephen. Indigenising Curatorial Practice in The world is not a foreign land / curated by Quentin Sprague, Ian Potter Museum of Art University of Melbourne 2014.

[3] Fabrics of Multicultural Australia,

[4] A. Jansen and J. Craik, Modern Fashion Traditions Negotiating Tradition and Modernity through Fashion. (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), p. 3.

[5] Alba F. Aragón, ‘Film and Fashion,’ in Latin America and the Caribbean, ed. Schevikk, Berg Fashion Library  (Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2005), 12-19.

[6] A. Jansen,.’ Fashion and the Phantasmagoria of Modernity: An Introduction to Decolonial Fashion Discourse’. Fashion Theory, vol 24, no. 6, 2020, p. 817. 

[7] M. Elhichou, ‘A New Luxury: Deconstructing Fashion’s Colonial Episteme’. Luxury History, Culture, Consumption, vol 8, no. 2, 2022, p.214.

[8]  Elhichou 2022, presents an African perspective on the value of their textiles in the international market. M. Elhichou, ‘A New Luxury: Deconstructing Fashion’s Colonial Episteme’. Luxury History, Culture, Consumption, vol 8, no. 2, 2022, p.221.

[9] A. Jansen, ‘Fashion and the Phantasmagoria of Modernity: An Introduction to Decolonial Fashion Discourse”, Fashion Theory, vol  24, no..6 2020, p. 824.

[10] C. Tams, ‘Bye-Bye, Heroic Leadership. Here Comes Shared Leadership’. Forbes, 9 March 2018.

[11] A. Quijano, ‘Coloniality of Power and Eurocentrism in Latin America’,  International Sociology, vol 15, no. 2, 2000, p.  216.

[12] A. Quijano., ‘Colonialidad del poder, cultura y conocimiento en América Latina’, Anuario Mariateguiano, vol 9, no.9, 1997.

[13]  E.Gamboa.,’Critical Review of Weavers of the Clouds Exhibition, Fashion and Textile Museum, London’. Art Writing and Publishing. UNSW Art and Design 2000.

[14] Elayne Zorn, Cloth of the Sakaka of Bolivia in Latin America and the Caribbean, (Bloomsbury Academic, 2005), 395-402.

[15] Walter Mignolo, DELINKING, The rhetoric of modernity, the logic of coloniality and the grammar of decoloniality, Cultural Studies 21, n0. 2-3 2007, 493-494.

[16] W, Enoch., ‘Take Me To Your Leader: The dilemma of cultural leadership", Platform Papers No. 40, Currency House Press, Sydney, 2014, p.10.

[17] W, Enoch., ‘Take Me To Your Leader, p.10.

[18] D. A. Schön, The Reflective Practitioner : How Professionals Think in Action. London, England ; New York, New York : Routledge, 2016 p. 301

[19]  W, Enoch., ‘Take Me To Your Leader: The dilemma of cultural leadership", Platform Papers No. 40, Currency House Press, Sydney, 2014, p.16.

[20]  L. Muller,  INTERACTING: Art, Research and the Creative Practitioner, 2011 p. 97.

[21]  N. Waterlow,  “A Curator’s Last Will and Testament’, original in the UNSW Galleries.