Native Fashion Now exhibition opening in New York
“Native Fashion Now,” the first large-scale traveling exhibition of contemporary Native American fashion, opens at the New Museum of the American Indian in Manhattan on Friday February 17. The show of nearly 70 works celebrates indigenous designers from across the United States and Canada, exploring the exciting and complex realms where fashion meets art, cultural identity, politics and commerce. Runway footage, artist interviews and fashion photography communicate its immediacy throughout the exhibition.
“Native American art and culture are often perceived as phenomena of the past—or just mere replicas,” said Karen Kramer, Peabody Essex Museum curator of Native American and Oceanic art and culture. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Contemporary Native fashion designers are dismantling and upending familiar motifs, adopting new forms of expression and materials, and sharing their vision of Native culture and design with a global audience.”
The show features the works of Native fashion designers and artists—from pioneering Native style-makers of the mid-20th century like Charles Loloma (Hopi Pueblo) to maverick designers of today such as Wendy Red Star (Apsálooke [Crow]). The exhibition immerses visitors in all aspects of contemporary Native fashion—its concerns, modes of expression and efforts to create meaning through fashion. “Native Fashion Now” is the first show to emphasize the long-standing, evolving and increasingly prominent relationship between fashion and creativity in Native culture.
The exhibition's four themes—Pathbreakers, Revisitors, Activators and Provocateurs—reflect how designers respond to ideas and trends in the world of Native fashion.
Pathbreakers are groundbreaking designers like Dorothy Grant (Haida) and Frankie Welch (Cherokee descent), while Revisitors refresh, renew and expand on tradition, like D.Y. Begay (Diné [Navajo]) and Bethany Yellowtail (Apsáalooke/Northern Cheyenne). Activators embrace an everyday, personal style that engages with today’s trends and politics, like the work of Marcus Amerman (Choctaw) that considers the overlap between mainstream and Native culture in America, while Provocateurs, like Margaret Roach Wheeler (Chickasaw) and Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dene/Cree), depart from conventional fashion to make works that are conceptually driven and experimental.
Dresses, jewelry, and streetwear all play a part in the conversation -- ranging from a sleek silver breastplate necklace made with stingray leather to an edgy black floral lace dress with elk teeth detail along the bodice and sleeves. A stand out piece is a pair of Christian Louboutin boots, which were embellished with antique beads by the Native American artist Jamie Okuma. A dress by Isaac Mizrahi featuring totem pole iconography is intended to spark conversations about cultural borrowing and appropriation in fashion.
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