I first heard the term “Indian Giver” in primary school. A little girl blurted it out when I tried to grab my toy to go home. “You’re an Indian Giver!” she hissed. I remembered feeling confused. “Indian Giver” is a perjorative term – but a new exhibition is putting it out there for us to examine.
INDIAN GIVER – An Exhibition of Fashion, Textiles & Wearable Art aims to strengthen the Indigenous response to cultural appropriation (from Urban Outfitters’ illegal use of Navajo nation cultural trademarks to headdresses worn as accessories at Coachella) – by reclaiming it.
“Re-appropriation is important for challenging cultural appropriation. By taking back the term Indian Giver, and other appropriations and racisms, we are shifting an oppressive power dynamic that moves the control into our hands for how and by who our words and imagery are represented…the resilient work in this exhibition acknowledges the hard realities of cultural theft and genocide, activates philosophies for protection and preservation, and celebrates a collaboration of Indigenous artistic vision, integrity and leadership.”
We interviewed Sage Paul, one of the artists collaborating on the project.
SDTC: How did this show come together?
SP: The Indian Giver project has been in gestation for a couple years, from development for our Collective Creation Project. We started to solicit artists during our first year Research and Development Workshop Series. The workshop series took place across Toronto and included workshops like Hide Tanning, Moose Hair Tufting, Silk Screening and Pattern Drafting. We did a call for submissions and had some community members – arts, Indigenous and crafts – come together as a selection committee and establish the group of artists who would work together on this project.
Can you explain a little of what that looks like?
Really, to me, what it looks like is Indigenous leadership, Indigenous narrative and Indigenous celebration.
Do you want non-Indigenous people wearing your art?
My clothing is for everyone. As is my art. I’d like the stories that accompany my work to be an important part for whoever consumes it. My work is rooted in culture and I’d like for it to start discussion that is deeper than the superficiality of fashion. I do have some clothing available sometimes, but I think there is more opportunity for my work to be truly appreciated in a gallery setting.
What do you want people to take away from this show?
I’d like people to leave feeling like they want to contribute to a positive cultural shift. There is a lot to acknowledge and absorb from understanding Indigenous history and culture, which is sometimes not comfortable to do, so to be able to trigger collaboration, understanding and inclusion that is Indigenous led amongst diverse cultures, sub-cultures and scenes, that would be really exciting and revolutionary.
INDIAN GIVER – An Exhibition of Fashion, Textiles & Wearable Art will be at Gallery 1313 (1313 Queen St. W) from June 8-19.