June 16, 2017

Makers + Mentors: Hands-on with leaders of Native fashion

Makers + Mentors
Native artists sharing experiences and their thoughts on design and inspiration. From left: Fashion and textile historian Regan Loggans, fashion designer Patricia Michaels, fashion designer Niio Perkins, fashion designer and multimedia artist Loren Aragon, artist and apparel designer Jared Yazzie, fashion model Jade Willoughby, and editorial hair stylist Amy Farid.

As an intern at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York this summer, I had the pleasure of attending last week’s Makers + Mentors event, a series of workshops and conversations with Native designers, artists, and business owners who make their mark on the world of fashion. The day-long program, inspired by the exhibition Native Fashion Now, on view in New York through September 4, centered around providing guidance and support to young—ages 14 through 24—aspiring designers and artists interested in careers in fashion or design.

At the museum’s welcome and introduction of some of the makers and mentors, I spoke with a few of the young people taking part in the event, asking them what they were most excited to do that day and what inspired them as artists. Two high school students, who told me they are inspired the most by the show Project Runway and the street-wear they see on the sidewalks of the Bronx, are both planning to go to medical school. They emphasized, however, that they want to keep designing, either through a minor in fashion or by dedicating free time to art, even as they pursue careers in medicine. One college student who dreams of one day designing costumes for movies like Beauty and the Beast said that she is constantly assessing the historical accuracy of clothing she sees in films, and that historical fashion is one of her biggest inspirations. I even had a chance to speak quickly with one of the mentors, fashion model Jade Willoughby (Ojibwe). Gesturing to the two younger girls sitting with her at the table, she told me that she is inspired by “the passion of other people in this industry—the passion that drives designers’ dreams into reality.”

Courtney Leonard  Makers + Mentors
Courtney M. Leonard speaking during her Place + Identity materials lab.

Next, I attended Place + Identity, a materials lab led by Courtney M. Leonard (Shinnecock). The lab was located in the Coat Room, or “Camel Room,” of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs house, and the room's ornate air (its ceiling is painted with camels) provided a dynamic contrast to Courtney’s down-to-earth approach to success.

Courtney, a multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker, gave us a peek into her creative process, showing us photos of the subway, skyscrapers, and sea creatures—all inspirations to her. I admire her apparent ability to find patterns and structures in nearly anything, and I wish I could be as creatively unafraid as she is with her work. She showed us how she used landscape and location to begin creating a piece of clothing or jewelry, saying that “the landscape that is around us is the culture, the being, and the essence.” She also spoke about her attachment to Long Island’s Shinnecock Nation, and how she used images like the thunderbird from Algonquin mythology to find fresh, unique patterns for her work.

We all then began designing and creating mock-ups of structural jewelry. Courtney encouraged us to start with simple shapes we see around us and find a pattern from there. Here is the set of earrings I created, inspired by the pointed toes of the businesswomen’s shoes I see on the subway every morning, as well as by ballet shoes, and suggesting the shape of a fish. 

Earrings design project
Designing from the shapes around us: A pair of earrings based, in part, on the shoes New York businesswomen wear.

During the lunch break, I spoke with a few girls who are students at a fashion high school in New York. Their style inspirations range from their parents to the clothes of the ‘70s, Ariana Grande, and flower gardens. When asked why she is passionate about design, one student replied that “from a piece of fabric you can create anything—it’s extremely expressive.” Another gave me her perspective on the importance of supporting Native artists, saying that non-Native designers can study Native cultures, but they do not have the same first-hand experience with those cultures that gives Native designers such a unique and powerful artistic perspective, and the authority and knowledge to use aspects of their cultures in a way that does not take advantage of Native communities.

At my next lab, textile designer and performance artist Maria Hupfield (Wasauksing First Nation) taught our group how to sketch and carve out our own rubber stamps, which could be transferred onto fabric to create an ink pattern. I was amazed by the creativity of the people around me—no one in the group had made stamps before, yet most of the students seemed right at home, experimenting with blank space and different materials to stamp on. Maria had a very calm approach to her work and spent most of her time visiting people who seemed to be struggling and reminding them that perfection was not the goal.

I think the lab was so exciting because we were able to create something completely our own that we could transfer onto almost any surface. One girl carved out her name in the rubber and begged her friends to let her stamp it onto their backs. Here’s the moon-shaped stamp I created, and a few patterns I did on leather. I tried to create the effect of a shadow over part of the moon, but I didn’t really achieve this. (Maria very kindly told me it was great.)

Stamps
My stamps, including the moon. Perfection, Maria reminded us, was not the goal.
Patricia Michaels
Patricia Michaels conducting a tour of the exhibition Native Fashion Now.

I was lucky to attend the tour of Native Fashion Now guided by fashion designer Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo). It’s hard to write briefly about the fascinating collection of pieces she spoke about, but I will say that I was amazed that she knew more than half of the featured designers personally. Patricia stressed that the Native design community is a tight one, and that many of the artists are in constant communication, creating a vital web of support and collaboration that drives their success.

To wrap up the day, fashion and textile historian Regan Loggans moderated a conversational panel discussion. Patricia Michaels, Niio Perkins (Haudenosaunee), Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo), Jared Yazzie (Diné [Navajo]), Jade Willoughby (Whitesand First Nation), and editorial hair stylist Amy Farid (Osage) shared their thoughts on Native design, inspiration, and personal responses to struggle. I know it’s a cliché to say that their stories were inspiring, but they truly were. As an English student who sees fashion simply as a side hobby, I found myself considering what impact I might be able to make on the fashion world in the future, and how I could help support the compelling work of Native designers and artists. The panelists especially emphasized that they had to fight to find a place for themselves in an industry that is not kind to newcomers, or outsiders. I wrote down a few of my favorite quotes, and I’ll share them here to wind up this post:

“I think my authentic self is still trying to figure out where I sit in the world.” —Jared Yazzie (Diné [Navajo]), on his personal relationship with the struggle to self-define his work

“Don’t tell me how to be Native. I am Native American. That’s what makes it Native.” —Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo), in response to people who say that her designs are not truly Native

“Everything is at our fingertips. We have no excuses that we shouldn’t be where we want to be.” —Patricia Michaels, on the responsibility and empowerment that modern technology gives to contemporary artists

“There’s a story behind what we present. There’s meaning behind what we have in our work.” —Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo), on the authenticity of Native design

“I have to stand my ground most days, but this is the work I want to do.” —Jared Yazzie, explaining how he deals with constant criticism

“We’re all human beings. At the end of the day, we fit in everywhere.” —Amy Farid (Osage), in response to the question, Where do Native designers belong in the world of fashion?

“No matter how far you go in life, you will always come back to your people. In this life or the next.” —Jade Willoughby (Whitesand First Nation), on the importance of remembering the place you came from

Thanks for reading! I strongly recommend you check out these designers. Exploring their work really gave me a new perspective on the ever-expanding and changing role of Native fashion in the chaos of today.

—Althea Meer

Althea Meer is an intern with the Office of Public Affairs at the museum in New York. In the fall she'll begin her junior year at New York University, where she's studying English, Spanish, and web programming.

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May 23, 2017

Native Fashion Now: Designer Sho Sho Esquiro

Through September 4, 2017, the National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York celebrates indigenous designers from across the United States and Canada, from the 1950s to today. Native Fashion Now—a traveling exhibition organized by the Peabody Essex Museum and now making its final stop—explores the exciting and complex realms where fashion meets art, cultural identity, politics, and commerce. In a series of interviews, writer and cultural specialist Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa, Santee Dakota, and San Juan Pueblo tribes) speaks with the artists taking part in the exhibitionhere, designer Sho Sho Esquiro.—Dennis Zotigh

 

Sho Sho Esquiro by Matika Wilbur
Sho Sho Esquiro. Photo by Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip)

Please introduce yourself.

Hello! My name is Sho Sho Esquiro. I am Kaska Dene from the Yukon Territory Canada and also Cree.

Can you give us your Native name and its English translation?

My Indian name is Belelige, meaning Butterfly. I use my name Sho Sho for most things and use my Indian name when introducing myself to my people or at a ceremony.

Where did you grow up and where do you call home now?

I am proud to say I grew up in the Yukon, where it snows eight months out of the year. Being able to cross country ski to school and eat what my dad shot was a luxury. I now reside in Vancouver, British Columbia.

How old were you when you became interested in your art form?

I have always been interested in sewing and learning our traditional ways. From as far back as I can remember I watched my mama, aunties and grandma sew, bead, and work with furs. I think my first sewing project was when I was five.

Sho Sho Esquiro %22Moma yeh%22 jacket Matika Wilbur
Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dene and Cree, b. 1980), Moma yeh estsu yeh Giyets'edih (Remembering Our Mothers and Grandmothers) jacket, 2016. Sealskin, silk, lynx fur, beads, gold. The jacket is dedicated to Sho Sho's late grandmother Grace McCallum and modeled by her aunt Louise Profeit-LeBlanc (Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation). Photo by Matika Wilbur

Who are the individuals who inspired you?

I am inspired by the women in my family. Hearing stories of my grandma going out and shooting her own moose, cutting it up, and tanning her own hides—those are the type of things that inspire me. In the harsh conditions in the north, 50 below zero was not uncommon. So my aunties were always sewing up hides and furs to make mitts, gloves, jackets, and hats.

Have you competed and won any awards for your work

I have had the honor of winning various awards from museums. At Santa Fe Indian Market (SWAIA), in 2016, I received Best of Show Contemporary Fashion, Best of Division, and First Place. At the Heard Museum in 2016, Judges' Choice and Conrad House Award. At the Heard in 2015, First Place and Honorable Mention. At Santa Fe Indian Market (SWAIA) in 2015, Honorable Mention. At the Autry Museum in 2015, First Place. At Cherokee Art Market in 2014, Second Place. At the Elteljorg Museum, Best of Division and First Place two times. At Santa Fe Indian Market (SWAIA) in 2013, Best of Show Contemporary Clothing, First Place Clothing. At the Autry in 2013, Second Place.

What does the title Native Fashion Now mean to you?

I love the title Native Fashion Now. I had to chuckle once when a lady told me she was the first Native fashion designer. There has always been Native fashion, so to me this title is very suiting. It is the current work of some of our time's visionaries.

Where do you envision the future of Native fashion to be headed on the world’s stage?

I love that we as artists are getting a platform and attracting more of a general interest. I was very proud two years ago I was the first Native to take part in the world's first-ever fashion show presented on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Experiences and opportunities like these are what inspires me to keep pushing the boundaries.

How do you describe the relationship between your work and traditional Native art forms?

My work coincides with traditional Native art forms because I am a Native woman doing my art form. Our art form is not stagnant, it grows and develops while we honor the ways. There aren't a lot of historical photos or even old pieces from my tribe's history. Does that make what I do less authentic? I think not, because I am a Kaska woman doing my art. There isn't anyone who can tell me I'm doing it right or wrong because it's from my heart, and thus my spirit.

Sho Sho Esquiro  Wile WIle Wile by Thosh Collins
Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dene and Cree, b. 1980), Wile Wile Wile (the sound of wings in flight), Day of the Dead Collection, 2013. Dress: seal fur, beaver tail, carp, beads, silk, and rooster feathers; fascinator: tulle and skull by Dominique Hanke for Sho Sho Esquiro. Peabody Essex Museum Museum 2016.41.1-.2. Photo by Thosh Collins (Salt River Pima Maricopa)

When you are asked by the media to explain your work, how do you answer?

I would explain my work as contemporary art using traditional techniques.

On average, how much time does it take you to complete one of your creations?

One of my pieces can take months, my longest piece took four months. While I was preparing to show in Paris, I worked about four months, 18 hours a day. I don't usually like to keep track. It's a labor of love.

What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced in creating your art form?

I wouldn't say I've had too many challenges so far in my career. My grandpa always taught me challenges are the times to rise and learn. But I would say any time I've tried to get a grant, I always get declined because they view my work more as fashion and less textile. It's a double-edged sword when you want to be relevant in the fashion sense, but still get the respect and attention of museums and serious collectors.

What do you do to get inspired to be creative?

I love to go home and be on the land. I find that inspiring. But I get inspired by all sorts of things. Elders, family, life, death, hip hop, the environment. When you are an artist you see life a little differently, and so through those eyes many things can inspire.

Are there any unique signature styles that you are known for?

I would like to think I have defined a style in my art forms. I love bright colors and bold patterns, textures and hides and furs. I never like to get too comfortable in what I'm doing, so you will often see me switch it up to challenge my abilities and continue to learn new techniques.

How do your earlier art forms differ from what you produce today?

In my earlier work I used a lot of Pendleton. I don't so much use it anymore.

In your opinion, is it significant that this exhibition opened in New York during Fashion Week?

I love that the exhibition opening coincided with Fashion Week. I think it is significant because in the past couple of years we've seen a lot of non-Native designers being inspired by our culture. I think this exhibition will make people think and will helpfully leave with a better insight into Native Fashion Now.

In the exhibition, are you presented as a Pathbreaker, Revisitor, Activator, or Provocateur?

My work is billed as Provocateur. Let me add that I love Karen Kramer and her vision. Before this show she supported my work. She even came to my first big fashion show during New York Couture Fashion Week 2013. I would like to think my work surprises people when they find out what it is made of. My gown in this exhibit is made of sealskin, beaver tail, carp skin, beads, and rooster feathers.

Where can people go to learn more about you and your art?

You can reach me at shoshoesquirocouture@gmail.com

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I would just like to add it has actually been a life goal to have a piece showing at the Smithsonian. I thank you for this opportunity.

Thank you for doing this interview, and congratulations on having your work chosen for Native Fashion Now.

Native Fashion Now is on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York through September 4, 2017. Sho Sho Esquiro's work is represented in the exhibition by her Wile Wile Wile dress.

Native Fashion Now is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. The Coby Foundation Ltd. provided generous support. The New York presentation of this exhibition and related programming is made possible through the generous support of Ameriprise Financial and the members of the New York Board of Directors of the National Museum of the American Indian. Additional funding provided by Macy’s.

Photographs are © the photographers and are used courtesy of Sho Sho Esquiro. 

#NativeFashionNow 

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February 17, 2017

Native Fashion Now: Mixed Media Artist Barry Ace

Through September 4, 2017, the National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York celebrates indigenous designers from across the United States and Canada, from the 1950s to today. Native Fashion Now—a traveling exhibition organized by the Peabody Essex Museum and now making its final stop—explores the exciting and complex realms where fashion meets art, cultural identity, politics, and commerce. In a series of interviews, writer and cultural specialist Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa, Santee Dakota, and San Juan Pueblo tribes) speaks with artists and designers taking part in the exhibition, beginning with Barry Ace.

 

Parallel Tasking 1500
Barry Ace (M'Chigeeng First Nation), Parallel Tasking (front and back), 2000. Mixed media.

 

Congratulations on having your work chosen for Native Fashion Now, and thank you for doing this interview. Please introduce yourself.

Thank you. My name is Barry Ace, and I am a practicing visual artist drawing inspiration from multiple facets of my Anishinaabeg culture. My work can be found in numerous public and private collections in Canada and abroad. I am an enrolled member of M’Chigeeng First Nation, Manitoulin Island, Ontario. 

BarryAcebyRosalieFavell
Barry Ace (M'Chigeeng First Nation). Photo by Rosalie Favell (Métis)

Can you give us your Native name and its English translation?

It’s Ace, pronounced Es. The Ojibwe word for clam is es. A small clam is esiins or esens, depending on the dialect.

Where did you grow up and where do you call home now?

I grew up on Manitoulin Island and in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Home now is Ottawa, Ontario.

How old were you when you became interested in your art form?

Perhaps when I was seven or eight years old. I helped gather material and made Anishinaabe splint-ash baskets with my great-aunt Annie Owl-McGregor. 

Who are the individuals who inspired you?

My grandmother Mary McGregor-Ace and great-aunt Annie Owl-McGregor, both of whom were traditional Anishinaabe art-makers—beadwork, quillwork, basketry.

Have you competed and won any awards for your work?

My work won the K. M Hunter Visual Arts Award in 2015.

05_barry-ace_reaction Nigik Makizinan (Otter  Moccasins)2

Shoe2Detail
Barry Ace (M'Chigeeng First Nation), mixed media. From top to bottom: Reaction, 2005. Nigik Makizinan (Otter Moccasins), 2014. Efface, 2017.

What does the title Native Fashion Now mean to you?

To me, it means contemporary Native American fashion by contemporary Native American designers and artists.

Where do you envision the future of Native fashion to be headed on the world’s stage?

With so many talented Native American designers and artists on the scene now creating new works, I envision an exciting future on the international stage. The work designed and made by Native American designers and artists is exciting, innovative, and diverse. 

How do you describe the relationship between your work and traditional Native art forms?

Drawing inspiration from multiple facets of traditional Anishinaabeg culture, I create objects and imagery that utilize many traditional forms and motifs. I then disrupt the reading of these works with the introduction of other elements and technology, endeavouring to create a convergence of the historical and the contemporary. 

When you are asked by the media to explain your work, how do you answer?

I usually give an answer similar to the description of my work above. 

On average, how much time does it take you to complete one of your creations? 

Several weeks to several months. I work in my studio, five days a week, eight hours per day.

What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced in creating your art form?

Too many ideas and not enough time.

What do you do to get inspired to be creative?

Go to my studio, to powwows in the summer. Visit family, friends, and artist peers. 

Are there any unique signature styles that you are known for? 

My work uses electronic components—capacitors, resistors, light-emitting diodes—to replicate Great Lakes–style floral beadwork.

How do your earlier art forms differ from what you produce today?

Perhaps my work today has become more complex and diverse in design and materiality.

In your opinion, is it significant to have this exhibition open in New York during Fashion Week?

It is significant, because the exhibition showcases the diversity and creativity of our Native American fashion designer and artistic communities in both the United States and Canada.

“It is worn across the shoulder” -Detailx2
Barry Ace (M'Chigeeng First Nation), Aazhooningwa'igan “It is worn across the shoulder" (detail), 2015. Mixed media.

In the exhibition, are you presented as a Pathbreaker, Revisitor, Activator, or Provocateur? 

I am a Provocateur. I don’t consider myself a fashion designer, but instead a visual artist. I work in textile and draw from my Anishinaabeg material culture as a confluence between the historical and contemporary. My work is more often than not something that you wouldn’t necessarily wear, but I think that it pushes the boundaries through materiality and new aesthetics in contemporary Anishinaabe art.

Where can people go to learn more about you and your art?

My website, Barry Ace Arts. There is also a short video online produced by K. M. Hunter Foundation. 

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I would like to thank the Peabody Essex Museum and curator Karen Kramer, for her vision, tenacity, and insight in bringing together this timely and innovative exhibition. I would also like to thank the amazing Native American designers and artists from the United States and Canada in the exhibition. It is truly and honor to exhibit alongside so many talented individuals.

 

Native Fashion Now is on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York through September 4, 2017. Barry Ace's work is represented in the exhibition by Reaction.

Native Fashion Now is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. The Coby Foundation Ltd. provided generous support. The New York presentation of this exhibition and related programming is made possible through the generous support of Ameriprise Financial and the members of the New York Board of Directors of the National Museum of the American Indian. Additional funding provided by Macy’s.

Unless otherwise stated, photographs are ©2017 Barry Ace, all rights reserved.

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