Dezbah Rose Evans spent much of her childhood in Albuquerque flipping through comic books and watching superhero films like X-Men.
When she was 6, her paternal grandmother, Nancy Evans — a Navajo woman and hardcore Star Trek fanatic — took her to her first comic-con, where she remembers staring googly-eyed at real-life portrayals of characters she previously had seen only in illustrations. Being surrounded by others who were equally enamored with fictional heroes and “nerd culture” icons, she said, likely sparked in her subconscious what later would become a borderline obsession.
By the time she was in middle school, Dezbah Rose Evans, who has Chippewa, Yuchi and Navajo heritage, felt as if she’d found a sense of belonging among Star Wars light sabers, Marvel fandom chatter and high-tech cosplay.
But at every comic-con, she was acutely aware of one thing: “As a Native person, I’m not represented.”
For the past three years, Evans, 23, has tried to fill that void by creating costumes of superheroes and sci-fi characters she loves — with a Native twist.
She will showcase two handmade cosplay garments that integrate Native techniques and elements at this year’s IM:EDGE, a contemporary art show in its fifth year at the Santa Fe Indian Market. This is Evans’ first year participating in the nearly century-old market.
She said she hopes her designs will provide a mirror to Native women and girls who otherwise don’t see themselves represented in pop culture.
“When young Native women see this strong icon … and then their identity represented alongside that,” Evans said, “it helps their identity become their source of strength.”
Evans first started wearing costumes made by her paternal grandmother when she was 3 or 4, dressing as Queen Amidala from the Star Wars series and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Her grandmother made at least eight renditions of Dorothy over the years, she said.
When she was older, both of her grandmothers — her maternal grandmother is Darlene Albert of the Chippewa Tribe — and her mother, Bineshi Albert, began teaching her basic sewing and beadwork skills so she could learn to create her own apparel.
Her first costumes, made when she was a middle schooler, were David Bowie and Ace Frehley.
In 2014, Evans began dabbling with cosplay, first making costumes of Mia Wallace, a character from 1994’s Pulp Fiction, and DC Comics’ Poison Ivy.
She received praise for her first Native-style costume, a character she created called Diné Rey — a Navajo version of Star Wars — in 2016 at Albuquerque’s inaugural Indigenous Comic Con, an event she helped found.
Evans said she remembers thinking, “I should do more of this.”
Today, her niche is Native cosplay, melding indigenous beadwork, imagery and textiles into costumes of iconic characters.
It’s “reimagining pop culture figures as indigenous people,” she said.
A priority with Native cosplay is ensuring the costumes are genuine reflections of indigenous culture, she added. “It’s bringing in aspects that are authentically Native.”
Learning about the culture of her three tribes in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Canada — and how to use influences from the tribes in her contemporary costume designs — has been a long process, Evans said. She grew up along the bosque in Albuquerque, removed from tribal people. For years, she has been researching her tribes and using what she learns to guide both her art and activism.
The pieces Evans will show at IM:EDGE, scheduled Friday through Sunday at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, include a version of Dorothy’s baby-blue checkered dress in the style of a jingle dress — or Native dance regalia — with pieces from the Chippewa Tribe stitched into the seams — and a Diné Wonder Woman costume that features a thunderbird on the chest, where Wonder Woman outfit normally sport a large W.
To make the Diné Wonder Woman logo, she used silk screening; for the corset, she used traditional Navajo velvet; and for the costume’s accompanying jewelry, she used a three-dimensional printer.
Her techniques are more modern than those of many Native artists who will show their work at this weekend’s Indian Market, she said, and she acknowledged cosplay itself is “a fairly new medium” for the event.
But, she said, bringing innovative artwork to the forefront of a traditional market helps “push art forward.”
Peshawn Bread, a friend of Evans’ who also creates cosplay, says that’s exactly what Evans is doing. “She’s creating a new image, and she’s paying homage to her culture.”
“For her to do a cosplay,” Bread said, “is finally reuniting the indigi-nerd. … It’s truly moving us forward.”
Evans said the goal of her art is “to create discourse and discussion on how Native people, Native women, are represented.”
It’s also just for the love of it.
“These pieces I make I actually put onto my body. … I become part of the art,” she said. The result is a “super Native woman, which Native women already are.”