Jared Yazzie is this week’s Artist Spotlight because of his commanding role as an Activator in Native Fashion Now and within the fashion industry. An Activator is an artist that uses their medium of fashion to respond to cultural events, trends, and influences by providing a more accessible way for people to wear their pieces as what we know as streetwear.
We were lucky to get to interview Jared Yazzie to better understand his insights into fashion, culture, and his mission as an artist.
Why did you pick clothing as your medium?
Yazzie: I started college with plans to become an engineer but quickly realized I had an urge to create. I especially felt the need to express myself through what I was wearing. To me, there weren’t many choices that reflected my personality, style, and culture. I had strong interest in streetwear and street art culture, that interest lead me to start creating designs on tees with stencils and fabric paint. There’s something special with creating reactions through t-shirt graphics or “wowing” people with colorful/traditional patterns, those reactions had me hooked to keep creating.
In your opinion, what is the difference between inspiration and appropriation, especially in regards to the fashion world?
Yazzie: To me, there is no excuse to create “Native-Inspired”. The Native Fashion Now exhibition is a prime example that Native people are busy and creating amazing works today and will continue to do so. The only appropriate way to honor Native people through creative works is not to use traditional designs but to collaborate with Native artists and designers. We have grown and studied our own cultures and know what is correct and appropriate to incorporate in our designs.
What is the message you want people to understand and think more about from your art?
Yazzie: I want people to see the beauty in Native culture. I am Navajo, we have a saying about how we are supposed to live and that translates to “Walk in Beauty.” Sometimes it is best to step back and observe life and what is important. Our ancestors have taught us this way and it’s up to us to find a way to pass it on to other generations.
Have you experienced any backlash or negativity surrounding your work?
Yazzie: Yes. Always. When you come with honesty and from a place with passion you are bound to receive negativeness [sic]. I am not a stranger to social media comments, shared posts rallying people against certain works, or those in-person/finger shaking/entitled talks from elders, peers, and non-Natives. I used to be very disheartened from these experiences but after being in the business for a few years I am proud that my work creates reactions. In the end, that is the purpose of art—so that makes me an artist. An artist is something I will always strive to be.
What is your greatest inspiration?
Yazzie: My inspiration comes from my family. I am so proud to be my father and mother’s son and to be a little brother to my two older brothers. My parents have survived a hard life and have created a great environment for me and my brothers. My brothers have taken my parent’s teachings and have become so successful and inspiring. I want nothing but to be like my family.