I joined a nice crowd of local SAQA members this week for a docent-led tour of Portland Art Museum’s new exhibit Native Fashion Now. Organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., this is the first large-scale traveling exhibition of contemporary Native American fashion celebrating indigenous designers from the United States and Canada, from the 1950s to today.
Here are just a few of the extraordinary pieces I saw, beginning with (click on image for a larger view)
a small group of the many umbrellas that hung from the ceiling of the first room of the exhibit.
This dress is on loan from the designer Sho Sho Esquiro (b. 1980), Kaska Dene and Cree, working in Vancouver, British Columbia, from her Day of the Dead Collection, 2013.
The dress is constructed of seal fur, beaver tail, carp, beads, silk, rooster feathers, tulle and skull.
The dresses’ title, Wile Wile Wile, means “the sound of wings in flight” in the Kaska Dene language. The dress honors Esquiro’s departed loved ones — she designed it for them to wear at an imagined joyful reunion.
Frankie Welch, Cherokee (b. 1924), worked in Alexandria, VA, designed this dress for Betty Ford in 1974.
The First Lady wore this silk brocade dress to the White House Christmas party that year.
Laura Shepperd (b. 1957) works in Santa Fe, NM, designed this corset and skirt in 2010.
The corset is silk, cotton and steel.
The skirt is silk shantung.
The look is a knock out!
Cody Sanderson (b. 1964), Diné (Navajo), Hopi, Tohono O’odham and Nambe Pueblo, works in Santa Fe, NM. He created this stunning bracelet in 2013.
He calls this sterling silver creation Polished Wet Spider.
Bethany Yellowtail (b. 1988), Apsáalooke/Northern Cheyenne, works in Los Angeles, CA. Yellowtail shift was created in 2013-14 for Project 562.
The dress is constructed with polyester, satin and polyester mesh printed with a photograph by Matika Wilbur (b. 1984, Swinomish and Tulalip). The cut of the fabric positions the horizon of one of Wilbur’s photographs along the hems of the skirt and the sleeves. The filmy black band at the bottom edge evokes the flutter of wings and the spirit of birds in flight.
Jamie Okuma, Luiseno/Shoshone-Bannock, works in Santa Fe and created these dramatically beaded Christin Lauboutin boots.
The boots are constructed from mylar, vinyl and stainless steel, hand beaded by the artist who specializes is one of a kind art pieces.
Dustin Martin (b. 1989), Diné (Navajo), works in Albuquerque, NM, designed this cotton T-shirt using the same gun model that George A. Custer and his troops used at The Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876.
The words under the gun are “Ceci n’est pas un concilrateur” Translation: This is not a peacemaker
Jared Yazzie (b. 1989), Diné (Navajo), works in Chandler, AZ, designed this cotton T-shirt for OxDx in 2012. It needs no explanation.
Again, what I’ve shared here is just a small sample of the exhibit. Each and every piece is noteworthy. I’ll be returning to this exhibit for another viewing of the fashions and a closer look at the interactive displays which present the ideas and issues around Native and Native-inspired fashion. This exhibit will be on view through September 4, 2016. Portland is one of only four museums to house this exhibit and the only west-coast venue. If you are in Portland, this is a must-see experience.