The exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian explores the exciting and complex realms where fashion meets art, cultural identity, politics and commerce.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, George Gustav Heye Center in New York will host the final showing of the first large-scale traveling exhibition of contemporary Native American fashion, celebrating indigenous designers from across the United States and Canada, from the 1950s to today.
“Native Fashion Now,” originally organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massacchussets, explores the exciting and complex realms where fashion meets art, cultural identity, politics and commerce. Through nearly 70 works, “Native Fashion Now” explores the vitality 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.
Among the dozens of notable designers included in “Native Fashion Now” are Lloyd “Kiva” New (Cherokee), the first Native designer to create a successful high-fashion brand; Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo), who in 2003 worked with fashion icon Donna Karan to create a bold collaborative couture collection, and went on to launch his own fashion line, VO; Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo), who is known for her role on the popular show Project Runway and for her fashion line, PM Waterlily; and Jared Yazzie (Diné – Navajo), an activist designer who uses streetwear to encourage people to think about the truths of history.