Masks with patterns based on pottery from Acoma Pueblo, designed by Loren Aragon, founder of ACONAV.
Face masks are now required in many public spaces around the country. “These are things we never thought would become a fashion necessity,” says Dorothy Grant (Haida), one of two recent SAR fellows who are uniquely positioned to help fulfill our new need for face coverings. Grant, the 2019–2020 Katrin H. Lamon fellow (and 2007 Eric and Barbara Dobkin Native artist fellow), is an artist and fashion designer who is working on her memoir while at SAR. “Fashion is a reflection of where we all are in society, in this world,” says Grant, “and now in this pandemic, the masks are a real indicator of where we are.”
We are now making masks for First Nations Health in Canada, and we are sending masks to my nation of Haida elders in Haida Gwaii. These face masks are going to be around us for a long time. To some, they have become personal style. When you think about it, masks are very intimate things, they are covering your face. They have to be practical, wearable, breathable, and comfortable and washable. And these are the things I think about. I also think about industry standards, such as fabric and the content and stating that these masks do not protect you from the virus, they protect others. And they are your sense of security. And now they are mandatory almost everywhere you go. But what also stands out for me is that this follows my philosophy of yaangudang, and yaangudang in Haida means that sense of pride and respect for one’s self and for all the people you encounter. And that is about protection, it’s about protecting yourself, protecting others, particularly your elders.
Dorothy Grant with examples of her face masks and other work.
Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo) is the Indian Arts Research Center 2017 Ronald and Susan Dubin Native artist fellow and founder of ACONAV, a fashion brand specializing in women’s couture evening wear. Now, however, Aragon is also making masks. “The choice to move into mask production came after we started to see more and more of a demand for it,” he says.
Another of Loren Aragon’s masks.
The health organizations made us all aware of the risks of being without any PPE, and as you would guess, many of us sprang into action and depleted what was available to the public. Further urging by health authorities requiring ANY type of facial protection made things worse, and we wanted to be able to contribute somehow. We started out by making a few samples for my immediate team to use, and when we saw that we had the capability to produce in greater numbers, we gathered resources and took action to start producing masks that we could make available to anyone who needed them. We are still amazed at the demand for PPE! Our continuing efforts have led to assistance from some local agencies and most especially our patrons in the New Mexico and Arizona areas, to allow us to produce masks for sale and for distribution to our Native communities hit the hardest by the pandemic. It is great to see the support of our business, which allows us to support other small businesses. It’s even better to see a unity among those wearing our masks, which promotes the concept of us working together to get through this challenging time.