“Ribbon Skirts and Baskets: Indigenous Femininity in Canadian Centennial Exhibitions”
Lisa Binkley · Assistant Professor, Department of History, Dalhousie University
When Dr. Margaret ‘Granny’ Johnson (d. 2010) of Eskasoni First Nations displayed her hand-stitched ribbon skirt and handmade baskets at international and national venues in celebration of Canada’s centennial anniversary (1967), she participated both inside and outside the sphere of Western modernity. While her ribbon skirt embodied the traditional matriarchal teachings associated to women’s biological and reproductive roles, and women’s position within Indigenous society, her baskets served as a way for her to earn additional income to contribute to the home economy. Exploration of Johnson’s hand-stitched ceremonial dress and handcrafted baskets as material culture and through a lens of Native Feminist Theories identifies the need to expand ideas of Indigenous feminisms, reaching outside the parameters of Indigeneity and mainstream feminism, and toward a reclamation of Indigenous sovereignty.
10:00a – 12:00p EST
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“West African Artisanal Tailoring as Clothing- and Identity-Making”
Elizabeth Ann Fretwell · Assistant Professor of African History, Old Dominion University
This talk traces the history of Beninois artisanal tailors and seamstresses, and their work designing, cutting, sewing, and marketing clothing in twentieth century west Africa. Scholars have documented the key role of (mostly women’s) clothing consumption and fashion in negotiating political and social identities in colonial and postcolonial Africa. Yet these accounts elide that much of this clothing was tailor-made for clients and that consumption of bespoke clothing was shaped by makers as well as users. In centering the tailor, my research fills a significant lacuna in an otherwise robust literature on dress and fashion in Africa and shifts attention to how craftspeople created the forms and styles available to ordinary people and to how the exchanges between tailors and their clients helped embed clothing with its political and social meanings. By focusing on the objects, craft knowledge, and practices of tailoring from the pre-colonial Kingdom of Dahomey to the recent past, I argue that as tailors made clothes, they also crafted ideas and experiences of self, city, and nation. Drawing on evidence from archival, oral, visual and material sources, and an apprenticeship with a master tailor, I am attentive to the technologies and material qualities of the craft. I trace changes within the uses and meanings of sewing machines and other tools, clothing and sartorial embellishments, diplomas and membership cards, and workshop spaces. I also focus on sites of learning and production to show how state workshops and schools, open-air markets, private homes, and independent workshops shaped the content and quality of craft knowledge. With its focus on the material and how men and women gave it form, my talk reveals how craftspeople helped mediate modernity, urbanization, and political transformations in twentieth century west Africa.