October 16, 2010

“Our Existence is our Resistance": Conference on Streetwear

I just sent out a paper proposal to Yale for their upcoming conference on streetwear.

The conference, titled "The Urban Catwalk: Fashion and Street Culture," aims to investigate and discuss the relationships between street style and identity.

So I submitted an abstract on Native streetwear.

Over the course of a single day in April, The Urban Catwalk will partner 20 minute academic presentations from a range of disciplines. Selected papers may be considered for an edited volume - and I hope I get picked because I think the work being done by Native street style designers would add greatly to understanding the connection between fashion and identity. Fingers will be crossed.

Here's my proposal:

Native American traditional art forms have been reincarnated by young Native artists and activists and placed on human bodies in the form of streetwear. This presentation explores the world of Native street fashion, and investigates how the makers and wearers use these garments to not only proudly communicate their tribal identities, but also to promote cultural survivance (survival/resistance), and reclaim Indianness in popular culture. Several grassroots Native fashion companies have emerged in the past decade, fueling a movement of Native youth who proudly wear their identity ‘on their sleeves’ – not only in their reservation communities, but also in urban environments like Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Winnipeg.

Through creative acts of subversion, these designers inscribe the all-American t-shirt with images of historical Native American heroes, contemporary political critiques, old tribal design motifs, and positive and insightful messages written in Native languages. In vibrant hues and bold graphics, their streetwear designs are undoubtedly contemporary, yet the messages they convey draw on age-old traditions and cultural practices and are infused with a keen awareness of the social, political and economic trends that affect Native peoples today. These artists are pro-Indian and tribally-centric in their production and reproduction of knowledge. They share with us the vitality and diversity of Native cultures, and ensure that tribal concepts of identity and attire persist, albeit in new forms. Some makers and wearers see these garments as clothing of resistance – they deconstruct and discredit stereotypes, offer alternative forms of performing gender and expressing beauty, and promote resistance in the form of active presence. This type of presence is important because most Americans attribute Native ‘authenticity’ to stereotypes they themselves have created, leaving no space for the existence of contemporary Native identities. These designers seek to regain this space through everyday clothing in which we all can engage, and as one streetwear artist explained, “Our existence is our resistance.”

To read a previous post on Native streetwear, click here, T-Shirts are our Battlefield