At a glance, they’re just a pair of heels. Platforms, actually, neatly decorated with some sort of native-themed embroidery.
By Julie Beun
But ask Julia Pine, BA/02, PhD/09, left, about them, and she can’t help herself. “Oh, they’re wonderful,” she says, giggling. “They’re by Kent Monkman. Do you know his alter ego?” She pauses to recover. “Hmm. A very flamboyant drag queen—channels Cher in her Indian princess phase. She’s called—,” Pine hiccups out a guffaw, “Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. It’s completely over the top.”
No more so than the company Monkman’s work keeps in Fashionality: Dress and Identity in Contemporary Canadian Art, a diverse and fascinating exhibit that Pine is curating this summer at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg, north of Toronto. Spanning four distinct themes and involving 23 Canadian artists—including KC Adams, Janet Morton, and Camille Turner—the exhibit tackles the intersection between fashion, nationality, and personality—or “fashionality.”
It’s a big idea to cover, but Pine says she was astonished by the scope of activity by artists responding to apparel not only as fashion but as cultural affinity, statement, hybridity, and activism. As such, hundreds of tiny sweaters knit by Michele Karch-Ackerman to commemorate First World War soldiers sit well with Nicole Dextras’ astonishing frozen gowns that nod to equally harsh Canadian realities. Performance artists like Mary Sui Yee Wong pointedly unravel stereotypes by creating clothes from kitschy ’70s fabrics featuring Indian chiefs. So, too, does Lori Blondeau, whose Cosmosquaw image is at once mocking, self-referential, and defiant.
“Clothes are employed in diverse ways,” explains Pine, “as sculptural or aesthetic objects, as markers of culture, history, pride, or oppression, but also as a means of re-visioning or ‘re-dressing’ these things.”
In the end, she adds, where fashion and art meet is “really a storytelling medium. It’s about identity—particularly Canadian identity.”