Following International Women’s Day, we sat down with NIDA Acting Head of Costume, Annette Ribbons, to discuss what the day means to her and how she is helping our students find their artistic voice.
Hometown: I was brought up in Derbyshire in the UK but Sydney has been my hometown over the past 26 years.
Hobbies: I like to cycle, play tennis and do yoga regularly to maintain health and fitness. I also love to travel when I can and explore the history and culture in new places.
Favourite play or movie: Since I love history, textiles and learning about other cultures, The Last Emperor from many years ago about the last emperor of China, Puyi, ticks all the boxes for me. I was also able to go the Forbidden City in Beijing a few years after I saw the movie, which was fascinating.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
I see it firstly as a celebration of how far women have come in some parts of the world to control their own lives. When my mum was young, women’s roles in the workforce were largely limited to being a nurse, secretary or teacher and once married, you were expected to become a housewife.
Secondly, inequality still exists in ‘progressive’ societies such as Australia, and there are threats to the gains that women have fought so hard for. We must not be complacent and as a society, must continue to strive for equality in real terms for all.
Thirdly, International Women’s Day is a reminder that there are many women in the world who have experienced no improvement in their status. I think this is annual reminder to us all and hopefully raises awareness among young women, of the past struggles for women’s rights and the very long way we have to go before equality is reached around the world.
As an accomplished costume maker and supervisor, what advice do you have for the next generation of girls/women trying to get into a similar field? And what were some of the challenges you faced while breaking into the industry?
Since costuming is a very female-dominated area of the arts, I hope we will eventually have more men considering the art of the costumier as a viable career option, in order to break down the stereotype that a costumier role is for women. We need people, who have passion as much as talent, and are resilient and prepared for hard work. It is very interesting work, but not glamorous, full of opportunities, but offers limited financial reward.
I was very fortunate that my path into the industry was smooth. I realised when I was young that this was the right industry for me. I learned to sew fairly young and made things all my life in quite an experimental way; I loved to try my hand at all kinds of skills. I also had a love of social history, which is so tied up in how people dressed. Having trained and practiced in the UK, when I came to Sydney teaching opportunities such as the ones here at NIDA and elsewhere enabled me to share my knowledge and love of the work.
Who’s your most inspiring woman in the arts and why?
Emma Kate Wallace is a NIDA Costume graduate who is inspiring for her commitment and dedication to assisting other female artisans. She has taken her skills and is using them to empower refugee, migrant and displaced women from Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma), as well as engaging with the community here in Australia. She has co-founded a charity called WEFTshop (Women Education Freedom Textiles) who facilitate and collaborate with artisans to build livelihoods, develop the skills to preserve their traditional techniques and train others in the art of producing beautiful textiles.
Empowering some of the most vulnerable women in the world whilst also maintaining traditional skills is a powerful combination. I have spent time with some of the artisans and witnessed their wonderful skills at work, as well as seen how significant the work of WEFTshop is to them.
What do you think has been the biggest step forward for women in the arts, over the past 10 years?
Technology enables anyone to become a photographer, filmmaker, music producer or publisher and share their work with the world. These options have really broken down historical barriers of location, wealth and gender.
NIDA’s main goal is to help our students find their artistic voice. How do you think you help NIDA achieve this, in your role as Acting Head of Costume?
I encourage my students to hone their skills and produce high quality outcomes. We design projects that inspire inventiveness and creativity, combining traditional with modern techniques to challenge their knowledge and ingenuity. I also invite many high achieving artists from our industry to teach the costume students and inspire them to achieve similar levels of artistry in whatever they are doing.