Justine Woods uses fashion as a vehicle for decolonization. This, said the Ontario-based Métis artist, is front and centre to her practice. She does so by “defacing” western garments, adorning them with beadwork.
“I’m talking about using fashion to amplify Indigenous voices, to touch on topics surrounding the way that Indigenous people are perceived within contemporary society, also to celebrate Indigenous culture, she said. “For me, it’s really important to freely celebrate my culture, and I’ve really honed in on using clothing adornment practices, both contemporary and traditional as a way to communicate these ideas through beadwork.
“I’ve been really focusing on reinterpreting western styles and kind of defacing them with Indigenous beadwork, kind of flipping that narrative of power and colonialism, things like that.”
The 23-year-old recently secured a Haines Junction residency. The three-month, Junction Artist-in-Residence program, which starts in July, will introduce Woods to a slew of artists from that community, providing her with an opportunity to become both teacher and student.
“(I want) to be able to give back to the community through my work,” said Woods, who’s from the Georgian Bay Métis Community, near Midland-Penetanguishene, Ontario
It went like this for Woods: She studied fashion and design at Ryerson University, where she specialized in custom bespoke tailoring. Wanting to integrate her culture in some way, she took it a step further, sewing beads into custom fitted clothes that are testaments to her culture.
Her work includes blazers and peacoats bedecked with intricate, floral motifs on or near lapels. The splashes of beadwork draw the eye, but they’re balanced, likely to showcase the clothes themselves.
The designs hinge on what clients’ want. Woods gets to the know them. Her beadwork reflects their personality, where they come from, regardless of whether they’re Indigenous or settlers. She said having both participate in her work is “powerful” because it acts as a bridge between cultures.
Asked about this dynamic, how she feels about settlers wearing what can be considered traditional designs, she said, “I feel it’s important for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to support Indigenous designers and artists through wearing their work, especially within the fashion industry.
“I mean, there is a fine line when it comes to appreciation and appropriation and I think that comes down to understanding and taking the time to respectfully understand the meaning behind the piece that you’re wearing, the artist who made, their background, why they made it, the significance behind, say, the beadwork. I think the education there is really important when it comes to settlers wanting to purchase Indigenous designs.”
The Indian Act barred Indigenous people from being active participants in their cultures, outlawing certain ceremonies, she said.
But now there’s a legion of artists, like Woods, who are reclaiming that culture and exhibiting it to the masses. That’s why, she said, fashion is such an effective tool, and why it’s important for everyone, all Canadians, to be involved, provided it helps roll back some historical wrongdoings.
“I feel like most commonly within the industry fashion is associated aesthetically, but I feel that it’s such an amazing tool to communicate, and, with me, I’ve always had a passion for fashion. Being able to combine the two in my practice has been really important for me.”
Contact Julien Gignac at email@example.com