The George Gustav Heye Center at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (located at One Bowling Green) will host “Native Fashion Now,” the first large-scale traveling exhibition of contemporary Native American fashion opening today, Friday February 17
The show celebrates 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, Massachusetts, explores the exciting and complex realms where fashion, art, cultural identity, politics, history, and commerce converge.
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 (a member of the Hopi Pueblo tribe) to maverick designers of today such as Wendy Red Star (who traces her roots to the Apsálooke, or Crow people). 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 show focuses on four categories of designers: Pathbreakers, Revisitors, Activators, and Provocateurs. The first are indigenous designers who have been blazing trails in daring and distinctive ways, overturning the simplistic notion that all Native design tends to look the same and marry the worldview and aesthetics of their communities with modern materials and silhouettes.
Revisitors are those who specialize in bringing new materials and ideas into their work, using contemporary and innovative approaches to strengthen and carry forward ancient understandings of the world that sustain their tribal communities. Activators are those who focus on self-representation, and use fashion to express identity and political ideas. And Provocateurs embrace the experimental, erasing boundaries between art and fashion.
“New York City is a fashion capital of the world and the works shown in this exhibition belong on this stage,” says Kevin Gover (a member of the Pawnee Nation), who is the director of the National Museum of the American Indian. “Native voice is powerful and Native couture is a megaphone. These designers’ works demonstrate to visitors the contemporary strength of Native American iconographies and sensibilities.”
“Native Fashion Now” opens today Friday, February 17, in the museum’s East Gallery and runs through September 4. The exhibition is free.