Fashion can be provocative. Fashion constantly screams I don’t give a flying beeeeeeeeep. Fashion is like contemporary art – it’s interesting with deep psychological concepts and abstractions that are statements about the human condition. But sometimes fashion, like art and politicians, take one step too far and upset the apple cart.
Case in point, fur. Case in point, smoking cigarettes. Case in point, fueling stereotypes such as a biff that F as is Frank Vintage Clothing and Apparel has thrown a match and kerosene to with their new window display portraying Native Aboriginal people as the Hollywood Red Skin American Indian cliché.
The situation was as follows: F as in Frank decided to put up a window display with mannequins dressed as the tourist interpretation of what an American Indian looks like as shown in the photo intending it to keep it for the duration of Olympics.
This upset local contemporary artist Sonny Assu of Kwakwaka'wakw heritage and resulted in the formation of the following letter:
I am writing you today because I have a problem with your current window display. It insults and offends me as an Aboriginal person.
I urge you to remove your window display immediately out of respect for the First People. We are not a commodity, we are not a stereotype. We did not survive this long to be portrayed in a culturally insensitive window display that uses the HBC blanket adorned on stereotypical representations of Native people.
The representation of Native people you have created is the stereotypical understanding that EVERYONE has towards the First People in North America: That all Indians are the same. We are not! We come from many unique and distinct cultures from across North America. If you want to pay respect to the First People on the coast, I suggest you talk to local west coast first people or artist, such as myself to find an appropriate way. Moreover, to pay respect to people who's territory this is, you need to honor and respect the Coast Salish people. If you want to have a display that speaks to the Olympics, there are better opportunities and messages you can convey.
However, the use of the HBC blankets does not convey respect to the people nor to the dark history that is behind those blankets. They were used to carry out the largest and only genocide in Canadian and American history. These blankets were infected with small-pox and tuberculosis to kill off the First People to gain access to land and resources. The use of genocide through the HBC blankets paved way to the Indian act, a banning of cultural practices that lasted 67 years, a lack of a vote, racism and hate, poor education, living conditions and a lack of sustainable health care. There is no pride behind those blankets and it's a dark history that people choose to ignore because it disrupts the utopic bliss we as Canadians have towards our notion of self.
I spoke with your manager the other day, and she informed me she doesn't see anything wrong with the display and that it will remain up, regardless if there is demand for it to come down, until after the Olympics. This is completely unacceptable. It needs to be removed now. If you want to capitalize of the Olympic frenzy, I would urge you to create a display that is free from cultural insensitivity.
Out of kindness and compassion, will you remove the display?
Sonny then posted this letter and image on facebook and twitter, making its way into my inbox. It created a fair bit of noise with friends and associates of Mr. Assu who also contacted F as in Frank requesting the removal of the display.
When I contacted F as in Frank this morning at 11.00am, a woman named Amanda picked up the phone and said in regards to the matter “Yes we’ve taken it down. We took it down last night. We didn’t even realize we’d done anything offensive.”
Looking at this from an unbiased perspective the staff of F as in Frank did not recognise what the public reaction to their window display would be.
They have since rectified the problem and contacted Mr. Assu to apologize.
Even though fashion does break through bureaucratic PC stigmas it would have been highly unwise for the retailer to keep the display with such a public dislike, especially during an Olympics – an event designed to support nationality, race identity and pride in the human spirit.
Maybe it would have been a better idea to keep the Christmas display up:
Sonny Assu is a contemporary artist at the Equinox Gallery who says his work "combines social, economical, and environmental issues with subtle humour to speak to the notion of conformity by not conforming to the commonly perceived "Indian" Identity."
F as in Frank Clothing has 2 store locations:
106-4369 Main Street, Whistler, BC, Canada and 2425 Main St. Vancouver, BC Canada (t): 604.568.5130.
You can send them a message via their facebook page.