As a child I have always been interested in creating objects, images, painting, drawings or illustrations that is connected with something worldly, historical, spiritual or sacred. The connection to primal or spiritual artefacts is something I cannot quite explain but I think it might have something to do with the fact that I grew up without television, on the banks of Namibia’s Okavango River (Rundu), with little other than stones and crawling creatures to keep me company, which I am ever thankful for because I think it shaped the way I see the world: magical and full of mystery to explore.
Inanimate objects mean a great deal to me (in a non-material way) and wearing an Indian headdress or otherwise known as the war bonnet seems fitting to my historical context, specifically referring to the South African Border War in Rundu, that my parents where apart of. For this reason, when I was first introduced to the magical headdresses by the wonderfully talented Karin Kirsten-Collier (otherwise known as Rouge Pony) I was obsessed. She made me one that I love and have used in various of my personal projects. She has a shop on Etsy so please go check it out if you have the time. I made this illustrative logo for her; based on a self-portrait I took some time ago wearing the headpiece that she had made for me.
I have recently been making similar pieces with a different threading technique and I use different materials (mine are more ethnic, using a variety of different feathers and mostly ones I find when I am travelling). Each piece has a story, history and visual influence that makes them unique. The process of making them is strangely spiritual, to both me and hopefully to the one who wears it as Karin’s one was for me. I believe it protects the wearer and each of the meticulously crafted feather strands that are contained in the crown bears some kind of meaning to me.
The first one was made of Ostrich feather (above) when I was visiting family in the Western Cape. Ostrich meat and feathers are a ‘proudly South African’ export and the idea was to use material from the area that reminded me of the Aztecs (although not natively worn by them only referring to their use of color). The second one I made was made out of recycled materials (Dubai). I wore it to a festival in South Africa in August 2012 (Oppikoppi festival) where festivalgoers are encouraged to dress up. I wanted to create a headdress that was made out of recycled paper, foil and some random feathers and bring something to the festival from where I was at the time.
A friend of mine recently asked me to make her a headdress but after some thought said that wearing a headpiece in the Nevada desert (to Burning Man festival) would be somewhat sacrilegious so I decided to investigate a bit more. I am fascinated with cultures and artefacts from other cultures, so naturally I do not see anything wrong with wearing it, if it is something you wear with pride, celebrating the culture and understanding where it comes from. For this reason I respect her choice not to wear it to the festival, although I am not against people celebrating the Indian culture and wearing it.
On this website there are articles that gives information about the cultures of the Mayans, Pawnee, Choctaw, Apache, Comanche, Nez Perce, Wampanoag, and Chumash Indians. American Indians are often referred to as Native Americans as they the native inhabitants of the Americas. The Paleo Indian tribes date back as long ago as 40,000 years ago and many Indian tribes were known for their skillful fighting and brave warriors like those from the Apache and Comanche tribes are well-known. The Indians also contributed visually and culturally to the arts, crafts, fashion, and music and I think that was the initial draw for me as it has become somewhat of a commercial venture where shops sell various Indian craft, masks, headdresses, paintings and various other forms of art.
The war bonnet or headdress is well-known over the world but is actually only natively worn by only a couple of Indian tribes in the Great Plains region. The Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne and Plains Cree are to name but a few. Headdresses also differ from tribe to tribe, and are mainly worn for symbolical reasons. Some of the most well-known war bonnets are the trailer headdress (with a long single/double row of feathers that create a ‘trail’ all the way to the ground). The halo headdress is the one I make and they fan around the head and face in an oval shape (usually worn by the Crow tribe). The straight-up headdress is the third shape and this is usually worn by Blackfoot men and most of the above-mentioned headpieces were made out of eagle feathers. For these men earning each eagle tail feather was obtained by doing an act of bravery. The headpiece is a sign of masculinity and originally only worn by chiefs, warriors and most influential Indians. Wearing a feather of an eagle was also significant as it was believed that eagles where the messengers from their Creator and the men from the Plains never wore the ceremonial pieces for battle but they wore a replacement roach headdress instead, usually for practical reasons. On native-languages.org other headdresses are also referred to which where less well know, such as the buffalo headdress (containing buffalo horns) and the Seminole turban with its European influence.
During the 1800’s Native American men from other tribes also started wearing the headdresses because the American tourist industry expected Native American men to look a certain way. Tribes who were forced to live in other areas where also expected to wear it and adapt to the customs of other tribes. Unfortunately even then the headdresses have become somewhat of a tourist attraction and naturally the headdress worn by the original tribes had a different significance and meaning to the ones who were forced to wear them (Oklahoma region). In 1onewolf.com they talk a bit about the process of making the headdresses and share some beautiful illustrations that show the painstaking process.
I greatly respect the sacred artefacts and for me these headdresses bear a lot of significance in my life. It is a way of celebrating ancient culture and I use it spiritually, as an art piece and as a form of self-expression. They are made to encourage a free mind, bravery, pride and a fighting spirit that refers back to the original reason why they exist. On a recent trip to Amsterdam I had an Indian-headdress-wearing “Pow Wow” girl tattooed on my leg as a reminder of my fighting spirit and persistence we need for doing creative work.
Above images were taken with the help of my husband Nic who assisted me in the shoot. I am also currently working on collaborating with a designer and possibly another fine art photographer to make a series of photographic fine art prints exploring the Middle East that will be exhibited in a gallery. The pieces in the images above will also be used for a shoot for an upcoming audio-visual collaboration mentioned in a previous post.