Dana Claxton: Made To Be Ready

On January 14th, 2016 I had the privilege of witnessing Dana Claxton’s Made To Be Ready Exhibit opened at SFU’s Audain Gallery. When going through this exhibit I tried to keep in mind what I had just read in the exhibition statement but also what Karyn Recollet discusses in her piece For Sisters regarding layering, and the ways Indigenous peoples and their art have been categorized in “overly simplistic ways.” For my reflection, I will be specifically speaking to the two pieces in Made to be Ready, called Cultural Belongings and Headdress.

As a beader myself, I always feel like I have an extra appreciation and understanding of the time and precision it takes to finish a piece. Often however, I feel like beadwork specifically is incredibly tokenized as simplistic Indigenous garb. Also, mainstream representations of Aboriginal fashion are often grotesque cultural appropriations that do little to represent any actual representations of Indigeneity and lack the recognition of these ‘inspired’ designs.

In Headdress, Claxton is able to move away from this cultural presumption and display beadwork as more than garb, in the form of a headdress. Typically when you see a headdress, one commonly imagines a full eagle feather warbonnet complete with, beaded bands and ribbon, and more often than not, placed on top of a male chief. I am not of Lakota decent and I cannot speak to protocol or teachings around the headdress but when I see this photo, I noticed that it’s quite feminine. Also again, I cannot speak to Lakota headdress teachings, but this headdress hangs in the face of the woman rather than down the back of her hair.

You also see the woman wearing the headdress in Claxtons relating piece, Cultural Belongings. One of the first things I thought about while looking at this piece was the juxtaposition between the contemporary aesthetics along with the representations of Indigenous culture and arts. My eye first drawn to the woman’s dress, her shoes, her buckskin shawl, and I wonder how long it took to make that hide, and where I can find a pair of shoes like that. The woman, mid-step, is lead or guided by a horse staff and following her, on the ends of her shawl are belongings and teachings she physically trailing behind her. Of these items I noticed the beaded barrets, purses, pouches, and what I think might be an arrow quiver. What I hadn’t noticed at first is there seems to be a separate piece of buckskin that show symbols of pictographs, representing a connection to ancestors that claimed space by painting stories, and events on rocks structures.

Immediate news coverage responded to this exhibit were positive in that many of the writers were using interviews with Claxton to promote a narrative that challenges dominate discourses that have sought to dehumanize Indigenous women.

Today Dana Claxton claims the spaces of these gallery walls by placing works of beautiful beading across that space that reclaim Indigenous expressions of past, present and future while centering the image of strong Indigenous women. She displays these items as pieces of identity rather than items created for the purpose of resale as commodities. She centers these pieces as everyday items of contemporary Indigeneity expression rather than relics of an Indigenous past.

2 thoughts on “Dana Claxton: Made To Be Ready”

  1. Reba, nice job in analyzing Dana Claxton’s work both from a fellow beader’s perspective (with your attention to detail) and from an overall observational standpoint, focusing on the strength of the women pictured that challenges the colonial gaze. It is nice how you combine these two elements of analysis to zoom in on the cultural belongings adorning Dana Claxton’s buckskin shawl in “Cultural Belongings”; I wonder especially about the symbolism of the ancient pictographs!

  2. I enjoy your comments towards the appropriation of Indigenous regalia and clothing in contemporary culture. Everywhere I go now, I see fringe on bags, shirts, boots, etc – and it makes me cringe to think that the majority of people sporting such a style has no idea of the deep cultural roots and meanings that “fringe” contains.

    As a beader myself, I enjoy your comment: ” I feel like beadwork specifically is incredibly tokenized as simplistic Indigenous garb” and I also agree – I had originally learnt to bead as part of the Aboriginal re-education system in Vancouver, where pan-Indigenous arts and crafts were learnt as many of the students participating were from different Nations and communities. I understand that beading has a strange history – beads were made traditionally from natural materials and, later, beads from Europe and Asia were brought over for trade… and the result is the highly stylized and complex systems of beading today.

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