Philbrook Museum, Downtown Open Exhibitions

NATIVE FASHION NOW: Philbrook Museum Executive Director Scott Stulen stands with Christina Burke, coordinating curator for Philbrook Museum’s Native Fashion Now exhibition, at the opening of the exhibition in October.

EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers

In October, Philbrook Museum of Art opened Native Fashion Now, a critically acclaimed exhibition from the Peabody Essex Museum () in Salem, Massachusetts.

The large-scale presentation of contemporary Native American fashion celebrates indigenous designers from across the United States and Canada from the 1950s up to present day and explores the exciting and complex realms where fashion meets art, cultural identity, politics and commerce.

Philbrook is the only Central United States venue for this traveling exhibition; other venues include Peabody Essex in Massachusetts, Portland Art Museum in Oregon, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York.

The exhibition runs through Jan. 8, 2017.

Through nearly 100 works, Native Fashion Now explores the vitality of Native fashion designers and artists – from pioneering Native style-makers to today’s maverick designers. Native Fashion Now immerses the visitor in all aspects of contemporary Native fashion – from haute couture to street wear. The first major exhibition to celebrate the impact of Native fashion designers in contemporary culture, this show presents the work of more than 70 contemporary fashion designers, including many with Oklahoma ties, in four sections: Pathbreakers, Revisitors, Activators, and Provocateurs.

“Native American art and culture are often perceived as a phenomena of the past, or just mere replicas,” says Karen Kramer, ’s curator of Native American Art and Culture. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Contemporary Native fashion designers are dismantling and upending familiar motifs, adopting new forms of expression and materials, and sharing their vision of Native culture and design with a global audience.”

The opening section “Pathbreakers” sets the stage for the rest of the show by highlighting pioneers and more recent pathbreakers, including Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo), whose designs were featured on recent episodes of the reality television series Project Runway, and Dorothy Grant (Haida) whose designs crossed the red carpet of the 2016 Academy Awards.

The “Revisitors” section reinforces and expands upon time-honored symbols and forms through work honoring the past with Native motifs and methods presented in contemporary ways. These creations reflect the designers’ experiences as Native people in the 21st century.

“Activators” shines a spotlight on how contemporary Native fashion is used to express identity and political ideas. Jared Yazzie (Diné [Navajo]) declares “Native Americans Discovered Columbus” on a T-shirt. In his work My Ancestors Tommy Joseph (Tlingit) updates traditional Northwest Coast imagery, commonly seen carved into masks and totem poles, by printing it onto a beautifully tailored man’s suit.

Some Native designers can be thought of as “Provocateurs,” who embrace the experimental. Their one-of-a-kind clothing and accessories demonstrate remarkable craftsmanship and at the same time hurl familiar materials and concepts into a new dimension.

Running Oct. 7-April 2, 2017 is the critically-acclaimed series The Alphabet of Lili and other works by Mike Glier presented by Philbrook Downtown, 116 E. M.B. Brady Street.

The exhibition features 36 original works, including The Alphabet of Lili and selections from Glier’s other forcefully rendered yet intimate series, The Forests of Antarctica, Garden Court, Satisfaction and Men at Home. The exhibition provides a sampling of the deeply personal and political themes recurring throughout Glier’s career.

The focal point of the exhibition, The Alphabet of Lili, is an installation of 26 large scale panels. The original inspiration for the works came from Glier’s nightly ritual of reading to his three-year-old daughter, Lili. Reminiscent of letter primers, each piece explores a different letter of the alphabet. For each, Glier made a list of objects that began with that letter. These separate and seemingly unrelated objects were inspired by his hopes and fears for his young daughter’s future in an increasingly complex world. The first piece in the series, “A” represents both “amaryllis” and “atomic bomb.” The paintings explore the intricacy of life that includes violence and death, as well as joy and beauty.

Twenty-five years after its creation, the work remains a powerful fusion of the personal and political. Other work in the exhibition, The Forests of Antarctica and the Garden Court, reflect this intersection as well. The Forests of Antarctica capture the abstract feeling of wind whipping across the blustery landscapes in a clearly fantastical future where the Antarctic is a warmer, forested land. The beauty of the composition belies the environmental disaster that would have to occur for this to happen, ruminating on the effects of the human touch in nature. The Garden Court also explores this interchange of violence and beauty by setting a flourishing garden amidst the backdrop of a concrete wall pockmarked with bullet holes.

“Contemporary Native art has always been a part of Philbrook, but this exhibition of fashion is a first for us,” says Christina Burke, coordinating curator. “We’re thrilled to serve as the only venue in the Central United States allowing us to present this exhibition of cutting-edge designs to visitors from near and far.”

Updated 10-24-2016

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