Have you ever thought about artworks as living things? In many Indigenous cultures, artworks are thought of as alive. These living artworks have important roles in everyday life. They also hold and pass on cultural knowledge.
Faye HeavyShield sees artworks as living beings. It upsets her to see Indigenous artworks stored in museum and gallery vaults away from the cultures they are part of. “I speak Blackfoot to them [Indigenous artworks in museums] so they can listen because they probably have not heard Blackfoot in a long time and are housed far away from their communities,” she says.
Faye created Red Dress as a response to seeing Indigenous artworks in storage at galleries and museums. It looks like an outfit that a Blackfoot woman might wear. However, it has a row of blank museum tags dangling across the collar of the dress where beads made of shell or elk teeth might normally be sewn.
This artwork uses symbols to speak with viewers. The blank museum tags symbolize all the living artworks that are being kept in museums and galleries. Many Indigenous artworks are kept in museums without a record of who the artist is, where the artwork is from, and what it’s meaning and purpose might be. Many of these stored artworks were created by women, whose work and knowledge are often treated as less important in colonial cultures. The red dress has also become a symbol for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people. Red Dress is inviting us to think about the artworks in museums as missing people.