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Threads of innovation: Exhibit explores new approaches to fiber in Native art

SANTA FE, N.M. — Fiber conjures childhood memories of comfort and warmth. Removed from this nurturing context, it can create powerful statements about commercialization and the environment.

“Connective Tissue: New Approaches to Fiber in Contemporary Native Art” at IAIA’s Museum of Contemporary Native Arts explores that storytelling beginning Friday, July 7.

Brian Jungen, 27th Street, 2016 Nike Air Jordan insoles, laces. (Courtesy of The Artist And Casey Kaplan)

Curator Manuela Well-Off-Man conceived the show after noticing an abundance of traveling exhibitions focused on the use of fiber in Native American art, many of them in fashion. These artists are exploring environmental themes as well as personal and allegorical storytelling.

Weaver Velma Kee Craig (Navajo) created an American flag using traditional techniques and contemporary imagery. The stripes resemble a bar code, while the stars emerge from a computer QR symbol. Craig lives near Phoenix.

“She was inspired by a foreclosure in her neighborhood,” Well-Off-Man said. “She uses the QR code to say that many Native people are not part of local neighborhoods and the effects of the economic recession on Native people.”

Marie Watt “Canopy: Ledger,” 2007, salvaged yellow cedar, reclaimed wool blankets, satin binding, steel base.

Famous for creating Northwest Coast-style masks from Nike Air Jordans, Brian Jungen (Dunneza/Swiss-Canadian) took the Native tradition of using every part of his materials literally. He pieced and wove together a curtain from the sports shoes’ leftovers, including the laces and the soles.

“It’s back to the tradition of being mindful of your resources and also what is hidden,” Well-Off-Man said. “Most of his artwork is about the commercialization of Native American culture.”

Maria Watt (Seneca) adopted the Northwest Coast potlatch tradition of giving away blankets and turned it into 2007’s “Ledger.”

The former IAIA student created a stand from salvaged yellow cedar, then added a stack of reclaimed wool blankets with a satin binding.

One of the best-known contemporary Native American artists, Watts has long used blankets to access social connections, historic traditions and cross-cultural meanings. This simple household item offers comfort, protection and security across race, class, gender, occupation and age.

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