Telling immigrants’ stories with fashion

Native Immigrant IV weaves the fabric of immigrants’ lives

Native Immigrant IV is more than just a sartorial-themed art exhibit; it’s a collective project that invites immigrants to come and weave their personal stories into a dress that will make up a representation of our multicultural society. The project’s curator, Carolina Echeverria, who emigrated from Chile 30 years ago, constructs dresses that tell the stories of immigrants.

“All immigrants have things from their culture that they want to retain and sometimes this can be difficult, but they all have one thing in common which is that they are all different,” said Echeverria. With the creation of her dresses she is offering immigrants an opportunity to tell stories of their respective cultures that are unique and personal.

Her fourth dress will pay homage to her friend, Myriam, who succumbed to leukemia this summer. The families of Myriam and her husband are immigrants, from Jewish and Arab religious backgrounds, respectively. Their union created much tension within their families during their three short years together.

Echeverria has completed the skeletal frame for Myriam’s dress.  It will be planted in a large pot of indigenous soil. The storytelling for this dress has started: Myriam’s husband and other family members have draped its frame with items that are meaningful to them. Donated items that tell stories about immigration, migration or identity will craft the rest of the dress. These could be made of fabric, paper or metal.

“[I hope] that the dress will be 10 metres long,” she said.

Over the next week, Echeverria invites the public to come to her studio and incorporate their own stories into the dress.

Echeverria will be on hand to weave the flow of the dress, but not to influence its structure.  In addition, five other artists will collaborate with the public to assist in the storytelling aspect of this artform and to maximize the impact of the objects on the dress. These will include two musicians, a musical composer from Chile, a writer, a dancer, and a choreographer.

As a fibre and textile artist, Echeverria said that her work focuses on social themes within a political context. Her art aims “to bridge immigrants to First Nations because they know the land and are about colour,” she said.

Echeverria said she drew inspiration for this project from Norval Morrisseau, an Aboriginal Canadian artist.

“His art makes me feel happy,” she said. Speaking about First Nations, Echeverria added, “You find all the vibrancy of colour in their imagery, in the paintings of Morrisseau, in their clothing, in everything.”

She said that Morrisseau realized that the First Nations lacked a visual representation of themselves, which was needed for them to feel a sense of empowerment. She draws a similar parallel with immigrants here.

Echeverria said that her art provides a visual update on how immigrants relate to the dominant culture.

“[I’m] committed to offering immigrants a visual interpretation of themselves,” she said, so that they, too, can feel a sense of empowerment, and not feel like an isolated minority. She accomplishes this with the dresses she constructs.

Participatory dressmaking workshops will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. from Oct. 22 to 25 at Escheverria’s studio at 4710 Ste. Ambroise, Studio 336, Montreal.

If you would like to contribute something to the dress, but cannot attend a workshop please use the contact information that appears on Echeverria’s website,

The finished dress will be displayed at Café l’Artère, at 7000 Parc Ave. as of Dec. 4.

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