Photo by: Nadya Kwandibens / Artist: Celeste Pedri-Spade & Evan Ducharme Studio

IFA Festival 2022 Curatorial Statement

Walking with Light

Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival 2022

The Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival has quickly become a critical platform illuminating Indigenous ways of knowing and doing that redress our perspectives of fashion and art.  The 2022 IFA Festival program presents a wide variety of fashion works that disrupt, shape and reimagine our worlds and existences.  As we rise from the exceptional global shifts of the last two years, this year’s theme, Walking with Light, urges reflection and action on collective and individual responsibility to oneself, others, and the space around us.  

Programmed designers’ collections and how we embody our community roles inspired the concept of Walking with Light.  Grandmother Pauline and Luanna Shirt, with their friends Joseph Sutherland and his mother, Mary Moose, shared stories of Skyworld to help inform the IFA curatorial theme further.  Their teachings come from the Anishinaabe clan system, a part of Indigenous cosmology, which tells stories from the stars and illustrates distinctive inter-communal roles in service to and with each other. 

Following teachings like those from Skyworld can help us nurture and recast our societies together.  Each Indigenous nation carries parallel but unique teachings and storytelling, which we can sartorially experience at this year’s festival.  Representing artists and designers of diverse Indigenous nations from Turtle Island and beyond, IFA looks to the relational undercurrents of the visionaries, stewards, knowledge keepers and connectors we value in our communities.  These four roles set the direction for this year’s festival.

We present four theatrical runway shows featuring 25 designers over four nights this year.  Our programming also features a marketplace with over 60 artists and designers, three hands-on workshops, the panel series of Indigenous thought called Fashioning Resurgence, and a robust digital and on-demand offering at indigenousfashionarts.com, including a 360-camera live stream of our runway shows.  The live stream will also include an exclusively online program of 25 short videos shot and directed by each designer on the Apple iPhone 13, with remote director-consultant Shane Belcourt, music composition by Cris Derksen and produced by IFA.

In Eternal Imaginaries, the opening night runway show, designers express visionary thoughts for a new world.  These designers transcend colonial impositions with their work and push through religious, gender, and body constructs.  Evan Ducharme’s DOMINION and Dene Futurisms Collection by Robyn McLeod confront colonization and European historical dress as a means of self-determination and fantasy world-building.  Amy Malbeuf’s kahkiyaw kikway (all of everything), a collection of home-tanned hides and intentionally absurd patternmaking, explores the practical in the fantastical.  At the same time, Curtis Oland’s costume collaboration for Drumming in the Hall of the Mountain is an exploration of folklore through extravagant patternmaking.  Indigenous artists also create new worlds out of necessity.  Anang Bangishin, A Star She Falls by two-spirit disabled artist Michel Dumont and Simulation by Indi City, who harness their neuro-divergence, find new worlds that work for them through practice, process, and unconventional use of materials in fashion. 

In dialogue with these ideological collections is a group of designers who illustrate experience-driven stewardship of our physical lands, medicines and relations for the Sovereign Matriarchs runway show.  A/Rose (Celeste Pedri-Spade), Sisaulik (qaulluq) and Third Culture Matriarch (Lesley Hampton) honour the legacy of their matriarchs’ labour and impact through memory, place and motif.  Comparably, the collections Mshikikiiwi (Be the Medicine) (Tracy Toulouse) and Roles and Responsibilities (Niio Perkins Designs) ask us to reflect on the collective stewardship of Indigenous teachings and medicine through Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe ways of doing.  On the flip side, and with minimalism and striking colours and patterns, Misshapen Chaos of Well Seeming Forms by EMME Studio explores healing and well-being in a constant state of chaos.

The act of holding and passing knowledge is innate to Indigenous fashion practices and is fundamental in the Time Weavers runway show.  Kitchitwaa Aki – Majestic Earth, Land is royal, Land is King/Queen (Janelle Wawia), and WICHILHENAY (MAWO) sustain traditional harvesting and processing practices of plants and animals for contemporary fashion.  Likewise, designers are exploring traditional methods through experimentation and innovation, like the weighted synthetic taonga traditionally woven by Maru Creations in MAU, the invention of machine-embroidered Dene floral patterns on home-tanned hide in Imbéh by D’arcy Moses and the adaptation of Mayan textile practices for an urban Toronto setting in JUN B’ATZ’(One Thread) (Ix Balam).  Still, tradition is at the heart of knowledge keeping, like Tɬ’ūw (Medicine) by Livia Manywounds and Kadusné by Kadusné, who sustain familial imagery, patterns and colours in complex weaving and appliqué practices passed down to them by their family members.  Both designers speak to these practices as vital sustenance and legacy.  Knowledge keepers carrying tradition from one family member’s hands to the next is a thread of resilience, agility and survival.  

The runway show A Letter from Home recognizes the connections our communities build and maintain for one another, regardless of where community members are.  Many designers primarily producing ready-to-wear or commercial fashion necessitate links to home through cultural coding.  Past to Present by Margaret Jacobs interprets large iron fish hooks, and vintage sportsman’s clothing–the clang of Jacobs’ earrings transports its wearer to the shores of 1940s Akwesasne.  Likewise, The Spring/Summer 2022 collection from Bibi Chemnitz and The Permafrost Collection by Arctic Luxe adapt and evolve Inuit and Inupiaq fashion using natural, synthetic and technical materials and employing print and design for and from their homes in the arctic.  REVIVE (Anne Mulaire), ᓃᑭᕁ (M.O.B.I.L.I.Z.E), and Pihtikwe (Section 35) look to trending style and streetwear using bold iconography and typography to broadcast language and culture.  In the Indigenous diaspora, mainstream fashion practices dominate dress, trends and manufacturing, demonstrating Indigenous participation in the larger global society and highlighting the importance of Indigenous designers in these spaces that assure our connections to home.

This year’s fashion, craft and textiles programming will take you on a journey from the stars and then back home.  We are thrilled to be back in person presenting live fashion, and I sincerely look forward to experiencing it with you.

– Sage Paul

Artistic & Executive Director
This year’s runway was programmed by Sage Paul, Wanda Nanibush and Melanie Egan.  Melanie and Sage also programmed the Marketplace with Xina Cowan.

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