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Buckskin to Bikinis

Haudenosaunee Wearable Art

On View: 04.02.2015 — 11.30.2015

“It’s clear the fashion industry sees us. This is an incredible time to act …This does not mean we stop, shut down, and hide because we are scared they will continue to take from us.  Let’s elevate and rise to the occasion. Keep creating, keep being inspired, keep moving our people forward.” 

-Bethany Yellowtail

(Crow/Northern Cheyenne)

Exhibit Overview

Ill-considered and exoticized elements of Native art have become a staple of haute couture and ready to wear fashion houses from New York to Milan. Conspicuously absent from this global dialogue is a voice anchored in authenticity – that of the First Nation’s designer.

While handcrafted outfits and regalia remain central to Haudenosaunee ceremonial and social life, Buckskin to Bikinis turns its spotlight on those who actively lead the traditions of form, function, and fabric in original and unexpected directions.

From the urban tagging street style of Peter Loran to the sumptuous elegance of Bruno Henry, we invite you to explore the physical and figurative pliancy of apparel as a vehicle for celebration, communication, expression, and self-definition.  

Tradition Doesn’t Mean Your Granny’s Old Dress!

Haudenosaunee designers employ a vast vocabulary of materials, styles, and inspiration in a single work.  Centuries-old beadwork, wampum, pottery patterns, references to Creation, and other stories are reinterpreted in the vibrant and colorful language of bangles, beads, and bling. 

Leather, fur, and feathers are rested from the trivialization of stereotype and artfully reclaimed to be donned as ancient and rightful connection to heritage. In the unlikeliest and most unexpected of forms, old ways and principles are honored, upheld, and moved forward.

“Aboriginal people generally know the meanings of these symbols – the properties of animals and their spiritual significance. Once non-Natives learn the meaning of the symbols on my clothes, they understand the approach and the fact that these garments hold a strong and significant message.”

Kim Picard (Montagnais/Algonquin/Mohawk)

"For some reason, people think that our designs and patterns are in the ‘free bin’ and anyone can use them. Yes, you can be inspired, but inspiration requires some creativity and skill of your own.” 

Jessica Metcalfe

The Material Witness

From trade blankets to treaty cloth, textiles have long been steeped with symbolic meaning and narrative in Haudenosaunee culture.  Carrying such memories, clothing can be deftly reinterpreted as sculptural canvas, functioning not as body covering, but rather as position statement and contemporary commentary. 

Highly tactile and human scale, works by Ken Williams, Carla Hemlock, Kathryn Hopkins, Frank Buffalo Hyde, and others become intentionally personal—their politically or philosophically charged subjects precisely calculated to evoke action, reaction, and reflection. 


A Panoptic Palette


The artistic journey from conception to completion is often solo. Haudenosaunee designers may re-purpose elements from the powwow circuit or popular culture, style with a '40s silhouette, or a hip-hop vibe. Antique store treasures, materials from a global marketplace, and an intense love of color sustain infinite possibilities.

Texture, weight, line, accommodating the curvature and mobility of the human body, accountability to the ancestral source—each represents creative decisions grounded in intuitive authority. Trumping all is the passion to birth new work that conveys beauty, power and purpose. 

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