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Beyond Buckskin and Beads

Philbrook presents Native Fashion Now celebrating contemporary Native American fashion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 27, 2016 (Tulsa, Okla.) – Philbrook opens Native Fashion Now, a critically acclaimed exhibition from the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Salem, Massachusetts, October 2, 2016. This large-scale presentation of contemporary Native American fashion celebrates indigenous designers from across the United States and Canada from the 1950s to today and explores the exciting and complex realms where fashion meets art, cultural identify, politics, and commerce. On view in Tulsa through January 8, 2017, Philbrook is the only Central United States venue for this traveling exhibition; other venues include Peabody Essex (Mass.), Portland Art Museum (Ore.), and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (N.Y.).  
 
 “Native American art and culture are often perceived as a phenomena of the past, or just mere replicas,” said Karen Kramer PEM’s Curator of Native American Art and Culture. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Contemporary Native fashion designers are dismantling and upending familiar motifs, adopting new forms of expression and materials, and sharing their vision of Native culture and design with a global audience.” 
 
Through nearly 100 works, Native Fashion Now explores the vitality of Native fashion designers and artists – from pioneering Native style-makers to today’s maverick designers. Native Fashion Now immerses the visitor in all aspects of contemporary Native fashion – from haute couture to street wear. The first major exhibition to celebrate the impact of Native fashion designers in contemporary culture, this show presents the work of more than 70 contemporary fashion designers in four sections: Pathbreakers, Revisitors, Activators, and Provocateurs.
 
The opening section “Pathbreakers” sets the stage for the rest of the show by highlighting pioneers like Cherokee artists Lloyd “Kiva” New and Frankie Welch whose innovative designs were sold through high-end retailers and worn to White House functions during the 1950s – 1970s. More recent pathbreakers include Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo), whose designs were featured on recent episodes of the reality television series Project Runway, and Dorothy Grant (Haida) whose designs crossed the red carpet of the 2016 Academy Awards. Drawing inspiration from their heritage while using modern materials including silks, stainless steel, or even Mylar and fur – as in Wendy Ponca’s (Osage) 2013 dress, these designers dismantle the common cliché that Native design is ultra-traditional and in doing so create opportunities for others to follow in their footsteps. 
 
The “Revisitors” section reinforces and expands upon time-honored symbols and forms through work honoring the past with Native motifs and methods presented in contemporary ways. These creations reflect the designers’ experiences as Native people in the 21st century. On Christian Louboutin stiletto boots, artist Jamie Okuma (Luiseno/Shosone-Bannock) uses meticulous beading techniques to showcase a graphic bird and floral motif.  While the unique kimono by Toni Williams (Northern Arapaho) features beaded appliqué of Plains pictographic figures often associated with paintings and drawings on hide, cloth, and the pages of ledger books. The kimono style illustrates the multi-cultural identity of many people today including those with Native, European, and Asian heritages. 
 
The section “Activators” shines a spotlight on how contemporary Native fashion is used to express identity and political ideas. Jared Yazzie (Diné [Navajo]) declares “Native Americans Discovered Columbus” on a T-shirt. In his work My Ancestors Tommy Joseph (Tlingit) updates traditional Northwest Coast imagery-- commonly seen carved into masks and totem poles—by printing it onto a beautifully tailored man’s suit. Whether an inexpensive T-shirt from Dustin Martin (Dine [Navajo]) communicating cross-culturally relevant messages about gun violence or a calfskin clutch from Maya Stewart (Chickasaw/Creek/Choctaw), these Activators blend tribal-specific patterns and colors with street-style sensibilities. They actively participate in social media to reach global audiences and find financial success. 
 
Some Native designers can be thought of as “Provocateurs” who embrace the experimental. Their one-of-a-kind clothing and accessories demonstrate remarkable craftsmanship and at the same time hurl familiar materials and concepts into an entirely new dimension. Jewelry designs from Kristen Dorsey (Chickasaw) resembles something a celestial warrior queen might wear for an intergalactic battle. While the collaborative work from Wendy Red Star (Apsaalooke [Crow]) and Terrance Houle (Blood) brings forward the very timely conversation on Native land rights and environmental stewardship. . Haida artist Lisa Telford created her PochaHaida dress (in homage to Pocahontas) by skillfully weaving red cedar bark using traditional techniques, but the asymmetry of the off-the-shoulder piece is strikingly contemporary. Rather than work with silver, as is expected of many Native jewelers, Pat Pruitt (Laguna Pueblo) uses his background in mechanical engineering and his unique aesthetic sense to fabricate a series of stainless steel “claws” imprisoning precious Tahitian pearls. The juxtaposition of these natural treasures with precision-machined metal creates a startling and striking work of art.
 
Under the leadership of coordinating curator Christina E. Burke, Philbrook designed a complex yet integrated layout of runways and elevated platforms to showcase the ensembles, accessories, and jewelry. Crisp white walls and clean lines create a modern backdrop, emphasizing the contemporary nature of the work while bright stripes of color allow visitors to easily identify and navigate the four sections of the exhibition. “Contemporary Native art has always been a part of Philbrook, but this exhibition of fashion is a first for us, said Burke. “We’re thrilled to serve as the only venue in the Central United States allowing us to present this exhibition of cutting-edge designs to visitors from near and far.” 
 
Throughout its 77 year history, Philbrook Museum of Art has highlighted contemporary Native American art, making Tulsa a perfect stop on this exhibition’s tour. Through a strong collection of twentieth and twenty-first century Native American art, Philbrook has consistently challenged visitors to explore the identities and inspirations of Native Artists as well as consider the question, “what is Native art?” Burke’s semi-permanent installation at Philbrook Downtown offers visitors a thematic exploration of the Native American art movement of the last 150 years using the extensive Philbrook collection of contemporary Native American art. For the run of this installation, Burke creates connections for visitors between work seen in Native Fashion Now and the objects on view from the Philbrook collection at both venues.
 
Native Fashion Now is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. The Coby Foundation Ltd. Provided generous support. 
 
This installation is part of the 2015-2017 Philbrook Exhibition Series made possible through funding from the following generous sponsors: 
SUPPORTING SPONSOR
The Mary K. Chapman Foundation
UNDERWRITING SPONSORS
Ralph & Frances McGill Foundation
Nancy and Peter Meinig
Sherman E. Smith Family
Charitable Foundation
CONTRIBUTING SPONSORS
The George & Wanda Brown Foundation
C. W. Titus Foundation
D&L Oil Tools, Pam and Lee Eslicker
Helmerich Trust
Barbara and Stephen Heyman
Herman G Kaiser Foundation
Matrix Service Company
Philbrook Contemporary Consortium
SPONSORS
Barbara and Hal Allen
Argonaut Private Equity
Barnett Family Foundation
Irene and Stan Burnstein
Fulton and Susie Collins Foundation
Margo and Kent Dunbar
Beth and Ben Latham
Holbrook Lawson and Rick Holder
Mabrey Bank
The Mervin Bovaird Foundation
Oklahoma Arts Council
Greg Ratliff and Cheryl Ulmer
Sam J. and Nona M. Rhoades Foundation
SemGroup
Jill and Robert Thomas
Susan and William Thomas
The Walton Family Foundation
Kathleen P. Westby Foundation
Mollie Williford
EXHIBITION SPONSOR
Osage Casino
 
About Philbrook
Rooted in the beauty and architecture of an historic home gifted by the Phillips family in 1938, Philbrook Museum of Art has grown to become one of the preeminent art museums across the central United States. Highlights of the Museum’s permanent collection include Renaissance and Baroque paintings from the Kress Foundation, one of the greatest surveys of Native American art anywhere, and growing modern and contemporary collections. The Philbrook main campus spans 25 acres of grounds and formal gardens, and features an historic home displaying the museum’s permanent collection, as well as a modern museum complex. The satellite location in downtown Tulsa showcases Philbrook’s modern and contemporary art collections, as well as the Eugene B. Adkins Collection and Study Center of Native American art.
 
Philbrook Museum of Art is open Tuesdays – Sundays, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Thursdays, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. CST.  Philbrook Downtown is open Wednesdays – Saturdays, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sundays, 12 – 5 p.m. Museum admission runs $9 for adults, $7 for seniors and university students; Philbrook Museum Members and youth 17 and younger are always free.  For additional information, visit www.philbrook.org.
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Image Download

Cape, dress, and headpiece from “Desert Heat” Collection, 2012 (detail)

1050 x 700 (513 kB)

Cape, dress, and headpiece from “Desert Heat” Collection, 2012 (detail)

Orlando Dugi (Diné [Navajo])
Cape, dress, and headpiece from “Desert Heat” Collection, 2012 (detail)
Silk, organza, feathers, beads, and 24k gold; feathers, beads, and silver;
porcupine quills and feathers
Courtesy of the artist
© 2015 Peabody Essex Museum
Photo: Thosh Collins
Model: Louisa Beli

Boots, 2013–14

1800 x 1296 (517 kB)

Boots, 2013–14

Jamie Okuma (Luiseño / Shoshone-Bannock)
Boots, 2013–14
Glass beads on boots designed by Christian Louboutin (French)
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, Museum
commission with support from Katrina Carye, John Curuby,
Karen Keane and Dan Elias, Cynthia Gardner, Merry Glosband,
and Steve and Ellen Hoffman, 2014.44.1AB
© 2015 Peabody Essex Museum
Photo: Walter Silver