As far back as history shows us, the manner of decorating oneself has served a greater purpose. The style a person chooses, like the adage says about images, paints a thousand words.
In Arizona, Native Americans of distinct tribal groups have provided a rich tapestry of art and culture in fashion, which enriches and embellishes the state’s history.
At Arizona State University, Native American fashion is giving rise to a new brand of historical and contemporary art intended to break preconceived stereotypes about Native people.
On April 19, the American Indian Graduate Student Association (AIGSA), which has been around since the early 1990s, will be presenting their second fashion show featuring Native American student designers and models, taking place on Hayden Lawn on ASU’s Tempe campus.
This year’s theme is “Our Past, Our Present Woven Together: Honoring Our Native Women in Fashion,” and its purpose is to showcase how Native women derive their strength from tribal culture, values and traditions.
“These artists are not creating their designs to appeal to the mass, tourist market. They are trying to appeal to an unknowledgeable public who might still view Native Americans in a stereotypical perspective,” says Gerard Begay — an ASU alum, current member of AIGSA at ASU and head of the Fashion Committee within AIGSA — when asked about the difference between tourist art and their art via email.
The show is one of AIGSA’s signature events and is open to both women and men alike. There will be special appearances by Miss Indian ASU Mykhal Mendoza and Miss Navajo Nation Crystalyne Curley along with Miss Phoenix and Miss Indian Arizona.
“This is a celebration of culture,” says Laura Gonzales-Macias, an AIGSA advisor, while sitting in her office in the American Indian Student Support Services, which contains various Native art paintings that she has painted herself and others that she has bought. “There’s diversity in the Native community. We represent many tribes here at ASU. We want to celebrate that, [and] this is a way that the student organization does this: in a very visual, colorful and elegant way.”
Last year, 200 people came out to support the show produced by rising and professional designers and models from Arizona, Utah and Nevada.
Gonzales-Macias explains that the Fashion Show is a way to highlight amateur and premiere designers. There are people who are simply interested in design and others who are establishing a name for themselves.
“They’re representing their tribes and their tribal backgrounds,” Gonzales-Macias says.
The Fashion Show emphasizes a cultural pride and a celebration of heritage. It helps the community be aware of the diversity among the Native American population.
Begay says the Fashion Show is imperative in order “to add to the rich diversity of ASU by dispelling certain stereotypes and reaffirming our Native heritage in as many media as possible. Through wearable art, we are proclaiming sovereign identities and visually displaying our Native heritage [and] proving that our culture is still alive and relevant, rather than a relic of the past.”
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