On June 21, Saturday night, at the Gypsy Parlor in in Buffalo, New York, a fashion show called "Queen City Culture Clash" will put an eclectic mix of fashion and culture in the spotlight. The show is meant to reflect the variety of influences in a particular neighborhood of Buffalo, also known as the Queen City. Noel Terrance, Mohawk, writes on the event's Kickstarter page that the intent is to "shine a spotlight on the refugee/immigrant cultures of Buffalo's westside because we believe they should be celebrated." A portion of the ticket sales from the event will go to the West Side Bazaar, which Terrance describes as "a non-profit 'small business incubator' for New Americans who want to carry on their heritage and make a living." Terrance shared some of her thoughts on the event with ICTMN.
Cultural appropriation in fashion is a hot-button issue right now — non-Native people misusing Native culture, or companies trying to commercialize it in a disrespectful way. Do you feel you need to be careful with your use of Native style? Are there things from Native culture you won't incorporate?
I don't feel I need to be careful about my use of my Native American heritage for influence. It's who I am. I believe that no one has the right to tell any artist that they can't take influence from who they are. I'm extremely proud to be Mohawk and anything I designed that was influenced by my beloved culture couldn't be seen as disrespectful because it simply wouldn't be. That being said, there are definitely aspects from my culture I would never incorporate. For example, Haton:wí masks are sacred ceremonial masks and I would never disrespect that because the art I create celebrates its influence, it doesn't dishonor it. And as a side note — my inspiration doesn't solely derive from my heritage and isn't always present in my designs.
At the same time, your materials for the show use the language of inclusivity and terms such as "mashup" — do you think that Natives run the risk of being too militant in their defense of cultural imagery and style? Do you feel the need to push back against that orthodoxy?
As a people, we have suffered insurmountable losses and with that comes incredible psychological effects so it's only natural for people to ferociously protect what precious little bits they have left. And that is what I see with the strong reactions by the Native American community when someone appropriates or objectifies the heritage. Can we prevent it from ever happening? No. The only thing we can do is change how we react to it and I'm not saying reacting in a defensive way is wrong by any means. You can't tell people how they feel is wrong. But I do think its important to understand if someone's heart is in the right place and clearly thinks the Native imagery they're using expresses the only kind of beauty and strength that they desire to express — this is somewhat flattering. I believe someone like Pharrell Williams posing on the cover of a magazine in a headdress was just trying to celebrate this beauty and strength. But good hearted people can make mistakes and at the end of the day, its important to get back to basics. Celebration is good. Objectification is bad. We must know the difference.
What is your particular fashion or art aesthetic? What are you influenced by?
My aesthetic tends to mirror my personality a bit — strong, bold, and feminine with rebellious undertones. I've always enjoyed dramatic contrasts and anything that portrays women in a warrior-like light without compromising their beauty. And of course I like when rules are broken or design has that aspect of cleverness that sets it apart. I believe it is very hard to make a splash in the fashion world today and to do so, one must incorporate a level of cleverness into their designs otherwise we're all just completely bored.
I'm influenced by so many things. Paint has been something I can't seem to get over for a while now. I love the way paint strokes look, the way it smudges and blends is so fascinating to me and it's so pleasing to the eye. Artists like Damien Hirst and Quentin Jones are very innovative and bold. I love them. They are just so cool!
And most of all, I am influenced by the strong women in my family. They hold our community together without a doubt. And they make it look effortless when it is in face the exact opposite. They are the epitome of beauty to me.
Is there a message behind this show? What ideas or insight do you hope people will take away?
There are hopefully several messages behind the show that people will take home! One is that we should never "write off" a place or its inhabitants because its considered "too far gone" or "beyond repair"… that is simply preposterous! There is beauty everywhere! I hope people see the show, enjoy themselves and then in the future they second guess themselves when they are about to be judgmental and instead choose to have an open mind.