Thunder Bay

Material Kwe: Lac Des Milles Lacs artist brings powerful series to Indigenous fashion showcase

An artist and researcher from northwestern Ontario says she's thrilled to have been selected to take part in Indigenous Fashion Week 2020.

Celeste Pedri-Spade will take part in this fall's virtual Indigenous Fashion Week 2020

Celeste Pedri-Spade is a researcher, artist and national scholar of Indigenous studies at Queen's University, with roots in northwestern Ontario. (Celeste Pedri-Spade/supplied)

An artist and researcher from northwestern Ontario says she's thrilled to have been selected to take part in Indigenous Fashion Week 2020, and grateful that the event – which was postponed this spring due to COVID-19 – will be adapted to take place virtually this fall.

"It's really exciting to be part of such a diverse global group of designers, and being able to share a new project with not only my peers but everybody internationally," said Celeste Pedri-Spade, who is a member of Lac Des Milles Lacs First Nation.

Pedri-Spade will be featuring her wearable art series titled "Material Kwe."

"It's sort of a riff off of the famous Madonna song, Material Girl," she explained. 

"Kwe in Anishinabemowin is slang for woman. And Material Kwe presents five different wearable art ensembles that are meant to refashion or rematerialize more respectful relations in our communities, that really privilege the strength and resilience of Indigenous women."

But unlike the pop song, which dwells on the luxuries of capitalism, "Material Kwe is in fact doing the opposite," she added.

The series pushes back against colonialism, and draws attention to the often overlooked stories of Indigenous women, and their roles in "defending the land, their kin, and making important contributions to their community."

This design, titled Anti Pipeline Society Kwe, is a tribute to women who have protected land against industrial forces, said artist Celeste Pedri-Spade. (Linda Roy)

For example, one design, titled "Anti Pipeline Society Kwe," features a bright ribbon skirt, paired with a black top-garment and headpiece designed to resemble oil. 

"In many Indigenous nations we have societies that people become part of, and it's usually through some specific act or contribution to their community that is collectively recognized. So each society has what we call regalia, which are items worn that have both their own spiritual meaning and cultural meaning," Pedri-Spade explained.

"So with the Anti Pipeline Society Kwe, it's the regalia that I've created that would be worn by all the women who have spent time on the front lines protecting their homelands and waters from violent extractive industrial pursuits."

The time-consuming process of using cloth and other tactile materials to create intricate garments drawing on tradition, history and imagination, is the perfect way to slowly work through ideas and bring them to life, Pedri-Spade said, adding that she also draws on skills passed down by her own mother.

Each piece in the Material Kwe series tells a different story, but all highlight the strength and resilience of Indigenous women. (Linda Roy)

"My mother is ... I call her a master regalia maker and an amazing seamstress ... and she has taught me so much. And she's always taught me how powerful cloth is and how important it is in our culture to do that kind of work, and be a maker."

The 2020 Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto was originally scheduled to take place in May. It will now be a four-day virtual event in November. The event will include things like films featuring designers, an online exhibition and a virtual marketplace. 

Pedri-Spade said she's grateful that organizers were able to find a way to make the event happen, and is hopeful the virtual format will allow for an even broader audience to be introduced to work being done by Indigenous artists and designers.