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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

National Museum of the American Indian - Identity in Costume

native american beading
native american costume
indian silver jewelry
Can you say the story of your identity is told in your wardrobe?  I visited the National Museum of theAmerican Indian in Washington D.C.  I, of course, went straight for the costume and fashion related exhibits.

The museum itself was beautifully conceived.  I loved how individual tribes curated their own sections of the museum to tell their own stories.  The museum doesn’t shy away from the often ugly history or painful experience of native people in the United States.

The major goal of the museum is conservancy.  There are culturally sensitive collections such as ceremonial items and human remains.  What I found most fascinating was that so much of each tribe’s identity was represented in what they wore.  Motifs etched or embroidered into jewelry and clothing could be a narrative of family history.  Materials like shells, fur, teeth could tell you exactly where someone came from.  Accessories, armor, jewelry could define who that person was within the community, like a chief or healer.

The museum also focuses on contemporary artists and designers that are inspired by Native American culture.  There were galleries of fashion and accessories that featured traditional patterns in modern silhouettes.  Sleek high heels in traditional beading, carved jewelry, and woven textile coats were perfectly chic with a rich history behind the design.

Like many of the best museums in Washington D.C., the National Museum of the American Indian is free to visit.  If you are not able to explore the museum in person, their online archives are extensive.  Go see the country’s roots.

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