waawaahsinaakwahki ‘It Shimmers’

peepankišaapiikahkia eehkwaatamenki ‘Myaamia ribbonwork’ is an artform in which an artist layers, cuts, folds, and sews ribbons onto textiles to create intricate geometric patterns. The artform reached an initial peak of beauty and complexity in the mid-1800s, but by the early 1900s the practice of ribbonwork was in steep decline. In the 1990s, Myaamia people reawakened our language and began an effort to revitalize our cultural practices, including art forms like ribbonwork. 

Through an examination of the pieces created by our Myaamia ancestors we learned to identify several geometric patterns that are unique to our community, and from this foundation, we continue to create new patterns. Over time we’ve also learned that the geometric patterns that we find in ribbonwork can be found in many other Myaamia artforms. Most of these geometric patterns produce a ‘shimmering’ effect that Myaamia people continue to find beautiful. 

Diamond pattern from 2016 publication peepankišaapiikahkia eehkwaatamineki ‘Myaamia Ribbonwork’

In the example above, four white diamonds are combined together on a black background to create a fifth black diamond in their middle. Viewing the contrasting shapes simultaneously creates a vibrant effect in which the ribbonwork appears to be moving. This effect we call waawaahsinaakwahki ‘it shimmers’ in Myaamiaataweenki.

ataahsema ‘Legging’ flap with ribbonwork. As you look across the image from right to left, you should notice how the diamonds waiver a little and appear to move. These leggings belonged to the family of Mihšihkinaahkwa ‘Little Turtle’ and are cared for by the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Scott Kissel, Miami University.

Historically, the beauty of this shimmering effect was magnified by combining ribbonworked clothing with silver ornaments worn on shirts and headwear. The labor and wealth of an entire family group was usually required to adorn an individual in a shimmering manner and so this effect illustrates the family’s affection and support for the wearer.

Teekwaakia ‘John Baptiste Brouillette,’ painted by J.O. Lewis. Note the silver armbands, gorgets, earrings, and headware. Teekwaakia’s legs and feet are not depicted in the painting, but he was known to wear leggings and moccasins with ribbonwork.

Our community continues to deepen our understanding of the geometric patterns and accompanying shimmering effect that we find in ribbonwork. These patterns are finding their way into many different visual arts like weaving, screen printing, and tattooing. As our community uses geometric patterns in other artforms we’re also striving to understand how these designs can also be said to waawaahsinaakwahki ‘shimmer.’

You can learn more about waawaahsinaakwahki ‘shimmering’ by visiting the virtual Miami University Art Museum exhibit, Peepankišaapiikahkia Eehkwaatamenki: ‘Myaamia Ribbonwork’. This community curated exhibit was on display in spring 2020 and we have worked with the Art Museum to make it available online. One of the central themes of the exhibit was waawaahsinaakwahki. You can watch the video below or on the Myaamia Center’s YouTube channel.

Myaamia Ribbonwork Walkthrough – Episode 2: Shimmering

For more on ribbonwork and other Myaamia arts read the following posts:

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