April 20, 2015

Buckskin to Bikinis: Interview with the Curator

I was just in New York for an opening of a brand new exhibit, Buckskin to Bikinis, which explores Haudenosaunee wearable art through pieces that range from feathered hats to beaded boots.

I had the opportunity to sit down with the curator, Colette Lemmon, and talk about some of the behind-the-scenes action for this show. An innovative new exhibit, I wanted to know where the idea for this show came from and how it developed. Scroll down to read our interview now.

BB: Colette! Congratulations on an excellent show! Can you tell us more about where the idea for this exhibit came from, and how the idea grew into an awesome of-the-moment exhibit?

CL: Actually Jessica, the idea originated with a presentation you did on contemporary Native fashion at a conference in Toronto a couple of years ago. It started me thinking--this sort of work MUST be being done in Iroquois Country. How come I don't know about more than one or two individuals? And I wasn't the only one. There's been a lot happening out there. It's just less acknowledged maybe than traditional regalia or art forms like sculpture, painting, photography, etc. (at least here in the Northeast and definitely in gallery settings).

And, while we always figured that cultural appropriation in the industry would be part of our storyline--as we worked on the exhibit there were just more and more incidents, each more glaringly insensitive or ill-informed than the next, so that became a more central part of our message. The Museum is designated as a Site of Conscience, so I figured we had a responsibility to bring this issue out and put it in some kind of context for our visitors and with this exhibit we had the perfect opportunity. As a small museum we had the flexibility to do that even though we were just a couple months out from opening, which rocks!

BB: All of the pieces in the show are so great; they demonstrate the diversity that exists in contemporary Iroquois fashion and I think they all play an important role in expressing that. If someone told you that you could have one piece in the show to take home and have as your own, which piece would you pick?

CL: Take home? Oh gosh. The sky's the limit right? No question! Bruno Henry's strapless black deerskin dress with the corset-laced back! In another life, I would give my eye teeth to wear that dress well. Unfortunately, I could never hold it up without copious amounts duck tape!

BB: I had so much fun at the opening exploring all the pieces in the show. What are some of your favorite memories working on this exhibit?

CL: The planning stage for sure. When almost anything's possible and the realities of cost, limitations of space and staffing haven't yet put a damper on the generation of ideas. And the chance to create something collaboratively with a great group of individuals who bring respect for each other to the table. Super! And of course, the experience of trying to dress uncooperative (despite what they say in the advertising!) mannequins. Oh goodness! Picture Roberto Benigni in Il Mostro X 2!

You can check out the exhibit now at the Iroquois Indian Museum in New York, and click here for more information. Images are from the Buckskin to Bikinis exhibition catalog, which can be purchased online at this link.