On Sept 12-16th, 2017 I had an unexpected opportunity to explore weaving in a completely different context as a part of Western Canada Fashion Week in Edmonton, Alberta. Amy Malbeuf and Becca Taylor of Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective received funding to bring three indigenous artists whose work involves the body. As an organization run by indigenous women, Ociciwan advocates for innovative and experimental creative practices and research in contemporary art. It was an honour to be asked to participate in their vision.
“Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective in partnership with Western Canada Fashion Week (WCFW) is proud to present three Indigenous contemporary artists and designers at the Fall 2017 WCFW. The artist designers explore fashion and the body, using traditional material or traditional garment making techniques to inspire and inform contemporary fashions. Jeneen Frei Njootli, Meghann O’Brien, and Sage Paul work across and in-between various artistic disciplines merging the lines between fashion, performance, and visual art.
Each artist has created a fashion line that narrates histories and innovations of Indigenous people; creating a surface of insights on cultural complexity and diversity, that can be worn for special occasions or in daily life. Highlighting their cultural identity, these artists are creating works that are not confined to ideals or appropriation but are diverse, transformable, and changing the conceptions of Indigenous identity in fashion.”
This event was such a special opportunity present work outside of an anthropological context, or even an indigenous specific fashion event. It was a major shift and statement for the artists to be shown alongside fashion from across all of Canada. Ocicwan provided extensive support to execute our unique visions: models, hair dressers, lighting, sound, and makeup artists. Due to the fact that most of my work is accessory-size and labour intensive to create, I borrowed a number of works back which were either on exhibit, loan, or in private collections. In a way it was kind of a like a retrospective of the past ten years. Some of the pieces date back to my very first year of weaving!
On the day of the event, we had an opportunity to share our story on the local news. Jeneen was kind enough to let Sage and myself join Becca as there were only the three seats.
We arrived at the venue with four hours to prepare prior to show time. I would have had no idea how to prepare for this. The next four hours were some of the most fast paced, intensive, and decisive that I’ve ever experienced! I had each outfit laid out in the suitcase with the accompanying accessories and shoes, yet it was still a total chaos of fitting each piece to a model. I didn’t’t expect it to be as difficult as it was but was happy to have each model suited to an outfit that seemed to work!
I love that even though I didn’t have time to share with everyone in the audience or on the runway what each piece was and meant, that after the fact I am able write about it and use this as a platform to communicate with those who may not have necessarily been interested in visiting an anthropology museum or art gallery. So much time has been dedicated to each work and much can be read about the individual pieces on my blog.
To complete each outfit, I made some of the dresses by hand stitching them out of linen and canvas (I don’t have a sewing machine), and others were designer consignment or vintage thrift store finds. Sometimes these garments merely referenced parts of plants, by way of color, or ideas of what clothing is, as in I designed it to be functional for certain activities. For example the dresses had to be able to let me squat down for harvesting, and lift my legs for bike riding. And for example, the Wolford polk dot tights represent the Haida clan I belong to, Kowaas, which means “sea eggs” or row. Following is a more detailed overview of what was included in each outfit.
The aftermath of the show was as chaotic as the preparation of it. It was absolutely amazing to me that we had the chance to participate in this, and yet none of the designers got to see each others show because we were all so busy in making sure the models were all ready to go.
For the multitude of ideas and excitement around exploring fashion as a possible place for Northwest Coast weaving, the reality of it left me with even more questions. Is by including culturally significant works in the oftentimes frivolous and fast world of fashion leading it down a path that will result in diminished meaning? Does showing it on a runway cheapen our culture? Can these things be worn by people who don’t know or understand the societies of the Northwest Coast? Is by going down this road allowing this art to be absorbed into the massive world of fashion, become a trend that there by can become disposable?
Or will it be able to plant seeds in that world that could hold the potential for large scale societal change in the way we form relationships with clothing?