Image: All photographs credit Dominic Brown
What if when colonial settlers arriving in North America privileged the knowledge and experience of the people who were already living there rather than enforcing their own familiar ways of living? Indigenous artists, writers, and makers use indigenous futurism to try to imagine this and the resulting alternate past, present, and futures.
On display at the American Museum & Gardens is Dress to Redress, an exhibition of the work of contemporary Anishinabe artist Celeste Pedri-Spade. Featuring a series of spectacular wearable-art pieces, personal artefacts and photography, alongside historical items from the Museum’s collection, the exhibition demonstrates the continuing legacy and profound importance of Native American visual and material culture.
Image: Anti-pipeline society, C Pedir-Spade, 2019.
Indigenous North Americans face a constant battle against centuries of stereotyping and misrepresentation. Depictions of the ‘noble savage’, of ‘cowboys and indians’ in popular culture, and museum displays of historic indigenous artifacts all work together to place Indigenous people in the past. This perpetuates the misconception that Indigenous People are of the past, that they fail to embrace modern technology, and have no place in the present.
By envisioning alternative pasts and futures, the colonial experience is no longer central to the narrative. It is replaced with deep connection to the teachings and values of Indigenous communities. This in turn helps to acknowledge and address the violence connected to settler colonialism and the ongoing issues that result from it.
Dress to Redress focuses on the role of strong women in community, using fashion to explore how stories and experiences of Indigenous and European women both connect and disconnect. Inspired by various designs and materials Pedri-Spade uses her work to remedy the past, revising male-dominated historical narratives, that fail to recognise the powerful role that women have played in their respective communities.
Five fashion art pieces from Pedri-Spade’s Material Kwe series, launched at Toronto Indigenous Fashion Week in 2020, form a centerpiece for the exhibition, with photography and personal objects from her collection. A selection of items from the American Museum & Gardens permanent collections provide historical context and will showcase the breadth and beauty of Native American culture and heritage, alongside interactive components encouraging visitor participation.
Image: Anti-pipeline society and Biboon na kwe, C Pedir-Spade, 2019. Photo credit Linda Roy.
Within her body of work Celeste seeks not to erase the history of settler colonialism, but instead to position it within the history of the Anishinabeg as something that was survived and persists as a part of our shared histories. She positions her work at the intersection of colonial power structures and Anishinabeg living culture.
Many Anishinabeg understand how early settler-Indigenous relations in Canada were informed by exploitive ways of understanding land, that is, land was simply an object that settlers were entitled to extract resources from. Celeste takes this history and integrates it into Material Kwe by combining traditional Anishinabe designs and materials with colonial-era women’s fashion. This collaboration of materials and processes allows us to imagine a more respectful relationship between present and future settler women and the Anishinabeg community.
Celeste uses her fashion making to actively craft an Indigenous future that supports decolonisation. She offers a visual language through which both Anishinabeg and settler women can see themselves in relation to each other. While not an invitation to appropriate Anishinabe fashion or culture, it is instead a call to see the Anishinabeg women as they truly are - stewards of their people and their land. By understanding this we come closer to the Indigenous future that Celeste illustrates for us, a future that sees Indigenous women in the role that they claim for themselves.
Dress to Redress: Exploring Native American Material Culture will be on show at the American Museum and Gardens, Bath until 3 July 2022. Find out more here: americanmuseum.org