Native American culture is experiencing a moment of popularity and mainstream representation the likes of which it never has before. But moments are fleeting. Movements are lasting. The movement for Native American arts and culture which has allowed for the current moment celebrated its 100th anniversary August 20 and 21, 2022, when the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts hosted Indian Market in Santa Fe.
No singular event has been more responsible for ensuring the survival of Indigenous creativity in America.
Indian Market in Santa Fe has outlasted boarding schools and nuclear weapons testing. It has outlasted religious persecution and assimilation. “The Lone Ranger” and “Pocahontas.” A derogatory slur as nickname for an NFL team. It will outlast oil pipelines.
The annual gathering of over 1,000 artists from across Indian Country does more than simply promote Indigenous artwork. It does more than provide a living for creatives from recognized tribes and nations. It does more than fill the coffers of restaurants, hotels and galleries in Santa Fe.
SWAIA Indian Market in Santa Fe provides the spotlight in which Indigenous artistry of all varieties, from painting to pottery, film and fashion, can shine. Maria Martinez through Preston Singletary. San Ildefonso Pueblo to Tlingit Nation. Traditional and contemporary.
It is here where Indigenous creativity has always been celebrated. Has always been encouraged. Has always been seen as a way to make a life, a living, a difference.
The Future is Indigenous
For an event boasting 100 years of tradition, Indian Market has a decidedly forward-looking gaze. No better example exists than the fashion genre. Not the regalia which has and always will be central to Indigenous culture, but haute couture. A curiosity five years ago, the SWAIA fashion show now highlights Market weekend. The hottest ticket. The most buzz on social media.
The weekend’s biggest exhibition opening was “Art of Indigenous Fashion.” Runway shows not affiliated with SWAIA have popped up around town. All are well attended.
Where has this come from?
“With fashion, they say trend starts first on the body,” Jason Baerg (Métis), who has work included in the “Art of Indigenous Fashion” exhibition at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, told Forbes.com. “Before we see it in art, before we see it in car design, before we see it in architecture… it’s because it’s our beings. It echoes from here. It’s the relationship to everything else.”
Not surprisingly, Baerg reminds that fashion has always been influenced by Indigenous culture. What’s new is a broad recognition of that and how Indigenous designers are stepping to the forefront to “own” their culture instead of letting others appropriate it.
“Indigenous fashion has always been foundational to American fashion. I think people like Ralph Lauren or even Isaac Mizrahi have sampled some of the amazing things that echo from these lands and these practices,” Baerg explained. “Isaac Mizrahi had an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York and there was a totem pole. There was a dress, this beautiful column, that was a totem pole. When I think about Ralph Lauren, that whole Southwestern look with the denim and the hats, there’s many references there to Indigenous aesthetics. He built a brand and a label off Americana and (Indigenous cultures) would have been a part of that.”
Perhaps the most obvious example comes in jewelry design. Native American jewelry from turquoise to concho belts has long paced American fashion. These items are so thoroughly ingrained in the broader American fashion consciousness they aren’t even considered Indigenous anymore. They should be.
Taking Indigenous fashion into spectacular new realms is Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo). Ortiz could rightly be considered a founder of the Indigenous futurism aesthetic which has become widely prominent across Native American cultural production.
His Indigenous futurism figures “welcome” visitors to “Art of Indigenous Fashion.” Ortiz’ vision has extended into groundbreaking pottery and photography as well. Examples of these can be seen at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe where Ortiz is being honored as the 2022 Living Treasure artist.
A compelling record of how Ortiz developed and evolved the Indigenous futurism genre can be found in the recently released monograph, “Virgil Ortiz: Revolution.”
Ortiz, Baerg and all of the artists at Indian Market combat the fading, but still prominent, notion of Indigenous people as past. Time capsuled in tintype photographs. The most important understanding anyone can take away from Indian Market, from watching “Prey” or “Reservation Dogs,” from reading Joy Harjo’s poetry, is that Indigenous people exist. Indigenous people are contemporary. They have withstood long-lasting and determined efforts to eradicate them. Their cultures are strong.
The future is Indigenous.