Thursday, July 7, 2016

Native Fashion Now at the Portland Art Museum through September 4, 2016


The Portland Art Museum has an experience waiting for you that will challenge your stereotypes and your senses. As Deana Dartt, Curator, says, “it’s not all beads, buckskin and feathers… it’s the continuation of a living culture.”

A show highlighting the work of 70 Native American fashion designers is going on now. These designers tread solidly down a path of world-class couture design while having the unique ability to draw from nature and their culture during their artistic journey of discovery. It is adventurous journey that has brought the designers of Native Fashion Now to the Portland Art Museum.

Native Fashion Now is not what you would expect to see in a Native American art exhibit. It’s edgy, challenging and fun. There are five sections to explore in the exhibit, originally organized by the Peabody Essex Museum of Salem, Massachusetts. The sections examine four themes, Pathbreakers, Revisitors, Activators and Provocateurs. And Portland has added a sixth section featuring Northwest connections to Native fashion through a collaboration with Nike, N7, and Eighth Generation, founded by northwest artist Louie Gong.

Patricia Michaels
When you get there, you’ll be greeted by Taos Pueblo’s Patricia Michaels’ fanciful hand made fabric parasols falling from the sky. Each parasol, says Michaels, brings with it good wishes and prayers just as they did when she surprised us all at Santa Fe Indian Market with a parade of parasol-carrying models wearing her designs. This “guerilla show” added an element of contemporary creativity the market lacked at the time. As the models in white wigs and beautiful designs paraded through the streets, smiles lighted the faces of market-goers. You’ll see a video playing of the event. It’s enchanting. You’ll also see Michaels’ Cityscape design from Project Runway.

Continue to explore that first room and you’ll encounter Orlando Dugi’s (Navajo) gown. You’ll recognize it right away. It is the amazing gown flowing across the building-high poster on the front of the museum. But check out the details. Dugi said the headpiece is made of African porcupine quills and the feathers are from exotic birds. Dugi combs the booths at Native American Pow Wows for some of his finds and then works his beading and design magic on the piece.

As you continue from section to section you’ll be drawn to, or perhaps shocked by, the activist street designs. I enjoyed chatting with Jared Yazzie (Navajo) who hits controversy head-on with strong t-shirt designs. Check out his “MIS-REP” shirt. You’ll know exactly what the sentiment is! And, didn’t you know that NATIVE AMERICANS DISCOVERED COLUMBUS? That t-shirt is available in the museum gift shop. Jared tells it like it is. Many of his other designs can be found on Jessica Metcalfe’s Beyond Buckskin website.

You’ll be wowed by the dramatically beaded Christian Louboutin boots by Jamie Okuma (Luiseno/Shoshone-Bannock) and the edgy metal jewelry of Pat Pruitt (Laguna Pueblo). Each room is full so plan to spend some time at the event.

Each piece tells a story of innovation. Each piece draws from the designer’s history and culture as they move forward on their journeys of contemporary design excellence.

Watch for special events and lectures during the show. You may even encounter a skateboard park right at the museum in August. Native Fashion Now runs through September 4, 2016.

More Information
Native Fashion Now
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR 97205
503-226-2811

Additional Photographs