My first Santa Fe Indian Market (title a little archaic) since taking up full-time residence in this city. Some beautiful work alongside an enormous amount of tourist art of questionable value. Given the challenges and conflicts facing First Nation peoples of late, I had to wonder, where is the political commentary here? “It doesn’t sell very well” I was told, again and again. A glaring exception was the Market’s Blue Ribbon winner in the Contemporary Dress category (VI, Division D).
First Nation fashion designer from Vancouver, Canada, Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dena and Cree) presented her work, “No Apology Necessary,” a black leather jacket with openwork, lattice sleeves. A photo of the Pope appears upside-down, emblazoned on the back of the jacket alongside a handwritten “letter to Pope Francis,” a story told first-hand about the “residential schools” run by the Catholic Church in Canada from 1930 through the 1990s. Children were forced from their communities to attend the schools–essentially they were kidnapped–under a policy known as “aggressive assimilation.” The designer’s father was a residential school survivor. The children were isolated from their parents and frequently abused. By 2007 the government apologized and even compensated some of the former students. Most churches that ran schools also apologized. But the Catholic Church, which ran most of the schools, did not. Esquiro’s “No Apology Necessary” makes the point that those affected by the legacy of residential schools know they will never hear an apology and First Nation people should not waste their time expecting one. The traumatized heal themselves.
Sho Sho Esquiro has shown at New York Fashion Week, Jessica Mihn Anhs Fashion Phenomenon in Paris, and at venues throughout Canada and the U.S. She uses materials native to northern Canada like skins, furs, shells, and bead work. In “No Apology Necessary, the Pope holds a real strand of 14K gold beads (Esquiro is also from the Yukon), referencing the riches of the Papacy.
It was interesting to see such strong social comment in the “Dress” division, a tiny part of Indian Market, while authentic commentary is so rare and vague among the traditional arts and crafts, or even the paintings or sculpture.