November 2, 2021

Activism Through Fashion

Last month, my dear friends at the Institute of American Indian Arts asked me to record a guest lecture on the topic of Activism Through Fashion. I had a great time putting the video presentation together - falling down a BUNCH of rabbit holes and refreshing my thoughts on the power of fashion to communicate. 

It was for the course, "ARTH 306: Controversy in Native Arts," which explores the various issues facing contemporary Native American artists. The main focus is on identity, aesthetics, the marketplace, legal issues, and the role of the artist in light of social and tribal issues.

Before my lecture, students heard from other weekly guest speakers, who shared their thoughts, knowledge, and experience on topics like Bringing the Children Home, The Politics of Race in Art, The Aesthetics of Love, Murdered & Missing Indigenous Women, Water & Land Rights, Indigenous Gender Identity, and more.

So, leading up to my presentation, students already had an amazing and diverse knowledge base to build from. In my video, you’ll see quick references to this.

The general outline for the presentation was to first set up the relevance, then get into examples, and ask a lot of thought-provoking questions, like, Considering the history of boarding schools and forced assimilation, what does it mean when Native people today create, wear, or share garments based on their cultural backgrounds?

Throughout history, organizers and change-makers have used clothing and adornment to give visual currency to different sociopolitical movements throughout the world.

Fashion at rallies and marches has seen many evolutions, but the messaging has always been a clear way to state who you stand with and what you stand for.



I delve into the many ways artists, designers, participants, and activists use clothing to communicate various thoughts and ideas. I especially like my 'concluding thoughts' - haha. I think it is important to take what you learn in class and apply it to real life (see below).

And of course, with that cue, I simply must plug the artists I work with. We are coming up on Rock Your Mocs season (which is another cool video/story I'll share soon), and the handmade moccasins by Jamie Gentry are simply amazing. Shoes and footwear are a super weird story of assimilation - the US Government pushed these damn bulky, clunky, stiff uncomfortable shoes on kids (PS back then, there wasn't even a left or a right shoe - COULD YOU IMAGINE), and now, Native people FINALLY get credit for creating some of the most COMFORTABLE footwear EVER, perfectly tailored for walking on this land and in this environment, through centuries of knowledge building and refining. I COULD CONTINUE THIS RANT - but I'll wait 2 weeks lol.


I also love the empowering TOGETHER WE RISE message by Jared Yazzie. Jared's messaging is always ON IT. He explains, "We hope this design serves as an encouragement to center yourself in community and feel the prayers of your ancestors surrounding you. It is in this way that we can rise up and make moves together. Never above you, never below you, always beside you." I love it. It's inspiring, powerful, and inclusive. <3

Anyhoo, it was super fun to put the Activism Through Fashion lecture together, and you can watch my full video at this private link. Also of note - because of COVID, IAIA has expanded their online course offerings, and people from throughout the world can enroll in classes. You can learn more by poking around at this link - they are doing some pretty cool stuff!