Today is the National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People, also known as #RedDressDay.
The red dresses you see in this post are two pieces that form a conversation between art and memory.
The first is a Blackfeet dress from the 1900s, made by an unknown maker from the Amsskaapipikani, located in Browning, Montana from bright red woolen trade cloth with extensive beadwork and decoration. When it was exhibited in Glenbow in 2008, Piikani Nation Elder and ceremonialist Allan Pard described how his great-grandmother might wear the dress: “[It] would be like putting on your best jewelry. It was the state of the art, with the big beads; it was an elaborate dress. The cloth and the beads were from when they started to trade.”
The second dress is a contemporary piece by Kainaiwa (Blood) artist Faye Heavyshield. While it looks like the kind of dress a Blackfoot woman might wear, the decorative elements that would traditionally be beads or bone are instead a series of blank museum label tags. red dress was a response to those Indigenous belongings sequestered in museums and galleries around the world, often kept from their origin culture, often without record of their original artists.
If we think of an artwork as an extension of its maker’s consciousness or spirit, we can start to perceive that artwork as a living object itself.
These two pieces have appeared together before. In 2008, the Amsskaapipikani dress was featured in the Glenbow exhibition Honouring Tradition: Reframing Native Art. Simultaneously, Heavyshield’s red dress appeared as part of Tracing History: Presenting the Unpresentable, the complementary Glenbow exhibition of contemporary Indigenous art. Today red dress is part of the collection of Alberta Foundation for the Arts; the Amsskaapipikani dress is part of Glenbow’s collections.
Both of these pieces predate the Red Dress movement, but sadly neither predate the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.