28 April 2011

Upcoming symposium: Essentially Indigenous

Essentially Indigenous?: Contemporary Native Arts Symposium
Thursday, May 5, and Friday, May 6, 2011
National Museum of the American Indian in New York
George Gustav Heye Center; Diker Pavilion
One Bowling Green, New York, NY

This is a free event. I can't go (someone has to create the art and curate the shows, right?), but if you're in the New York area - check out it. If anyone wants to share feedback about the symposium, I would be very grateful! Session topics include:
  • Essential Images: On the Critical Production and Reception of Contemporary Native Art
  • Essential Place: The Relationship between Native Art and Place
  • Blood Memory: Indigenous Genealogies and Imagined Truths
  • Indigenous Aesthetic Paradigms: Community and the Artist.
Registration info.
Schedule online.

22 April 2011

In Praise of Annual, Competitive Art Shows: The Trail of Tears Art Show

Resurgence, Daniel Horsechief, at the CHC
While new Indian art markets seem to pop up like mushrooms – despite the horrible economy – annual, intertribal competitive art shows have decreased, not increased, in number. With the loss of the Lawrence Indian Art Show in Kansas, which operated independently of the Haskell Indian Art Market, the number of annual shows open to all tribes is down to two. As far as I know, there is only the Red Cloud Indian Art Show and the Trail of Tears Art Show.

A few more annual shows are limited to certain tribes. Founded in 1997, “Here Forever” is an August show at the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, Oregon. It’s open to enrolled members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, that is Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla tribes. The Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee, Oklahoma sponsors a competitive show each June and July that is open to members of all federally and state recognized Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, and Seminole tribes. Each August/September, the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma hosts the Cherokee Homecoming show open to enrolled members of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. For the last three years, the Cherokee Nation hosts the Cherokee National Holiday Art Show in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Both markets and art shows serve worthy purposes. While art markets are exciting events for socializing and networking, they can also prove expensive and exhausting for artists. Many emerging and elder artists might not have the inventory to fill a booth, and familial, academic, or job commitments or health issues prevent many artists from traveling to markets. Art shows, as opposed to markets, allow these artists to participate and share their work and ideas. And unlike markets, the art, not the artist, is showcased. One can quietly spend as long as one wants examining and reflecting on the work, allowing for a deeper understanding of content and underlying crosscurrents between works.

Both the two annual intertribal art shows are in Indian County: Pine Ridge, South Dakota and Park Hill, Oklahoma, which allows the local Native communities to see what’s going on in the contemporary indigenous art world. And both are free to enter, which in the art world in extraordinary. Usually art spaces will host a competitive art show as a fund-raiser, since it’s common to charge $5 to $50 just to enter.

The Trail of Tears show is near to my heart because it the first place I ever exhibited my art. Since 1995, I’ve shown in it every year. Now in its 40th year, the Trail of Tears art show (TOTAS) was founded in 1971 by the Cherokee National Historical Society at the Cherokee Heritage Center. All entries to first shows were limited to the Trail of Tears theme, which proved too narrow a focus. My mother says that at the shows’ low point less than half a dozen people showed up at the reception to see the four or five entries for the entire show. The following year, the show opened up to new categories.

Categories now include painting, graphics, pottery, basketry, miniatures, and Trail of Tears theme. This year was exciting because, thanks to sponsorship by the Chickasaw Nation, a jewelry category was added. The show now allows photography and digital art, but these compete with hand pulled prints, drawings, and even scrimshaw. Every year I crack up when I read the rules explicitly prohibiting painting on saw blades.

This year had an excellent turnout, and visitors at the opening reception said it was too crowded to even see the art (which is why you have to visit more than once). The show had 155 pieces from 95 different artists, but representing only 13 tribes. It seems that is has been more tribally diverse in the past, and I hope it will be in the future. I didn’t see any non-Cherokee baskets. Attention indigenous basket makers of America, please enter next year! Both sales and prize money are good, and it’s a great opportunity to share your work with a largely Native audience.

The grand prizewinner was Putting the Pieces Together, a gorgeous and haunting ceramic sculpture by Troy Jackson (Cherokee). The foot tall figurative work has an elegant Mississippian-esque man composed of black and white jigsaw puzzle pieces, holding black and white pieces in his hands. The figure sits on a blanket on top of a container bearing the word, ᏣᎳᎩ (Cherokee). The lip of the bowl has a lug of copper wire holding a white cross. Small coiled, copper earrings also provide a touch of color. Representing a mixed blood individual’s identity struggles and that of the entire tribe, the piece is ultimate serene, suggesting a resolution and acceptance of a mixed identity.

Shan Goshorn’s High Stakes; Tribes Choice won best of graphics category. Her photograph of a traditionally dressed Eastern Cherokee man is accented with an array of glitter, suggesting the glitz of casino lights more than the spiritual sparkle of mica or other sacred minerals. Sharon Irla’s very classically painted Corn Mother is a beautiful, naturalistic, oil painting of Selu as a tattooed woman with closed eyes, clad in a fur robe, and wearing wampum and shell necklace and pearl bracelets. She holds a white swan feather fan, symbol of a Beloved Woman’s authority. Before her sits a shallow tray of ripe corn. Irla delicately implies erotic energy in manner that doesn’t cross local sensibilities.

David Pruitt's Fire Carrier, a raku clay sculpture of the southeastern Mississippian water spider who brought fire to humanity, won best of the ceramics category. The large number of ceramics entries is a testimony to the work of Anna Sixkiller Mitchell and recently Jane Osti, who offers pottery classes from her studio in Tahlequah.

Lisa Forrest won best of the basket category with her ambitiously large Traditional Storage Basket, woven from vegetal dyed honeysuckle runners. This basket is a foot in diameter, with a delicately woven lid, embellished with seedpods and hazelnuts. Gathering one’s own materials and dyeing with natural dyes is greatly prized in Oklahoma basket weaving; however, I saw some nice doubleweave baskets in commercial reeds. At least the lesser materials allow new weavers to master the art of doubleweaving.

Best of sculpture category was a naturalistic wooden carving, Redtail Hawk by Darrell Smith (Cherokee Nation). The attention to detail was extraordinary with every single feather carved out.

Navajo jeweler and teacher Fritz Casuse won first place in the new jewelry category, with his impressive towering Cala ring with abstract floral designs. His wife Wanesia Misquadace (Fond du Lac Ojibwe) won second and third places. Misquadace is one of possibly a dozen birchbark biters active today, and she travels to northern Minnesota each year to harvest the bark. She incorporated birchbark bitings of turtles in her second place winner, A Song and Prayer for Mother Earth, a canister of birch embellished with silver. Personally I also greatly enjoyed Charley Johnson’s Man from Etowah.

The Trail of Tears category, open to work about any forced removal such as The Long Walk, was won by James Wing with his oil painting, Trail of Tears Water Crossing, a realistic narrative piece portraying two men and a woman trudging through the snowy forest.

Because of the nature of the show, many emerging artists participate, and the quality is uneven. Due to the uncurated nature of the show, one get a more direct feel for trends in styles and subject matter, where genre and figurative art well represented. Many works reflect agrarian culture, such as Choctaw artist Norma Howard’s painting of working cotton fields or Amy Smith’s still life of eggs. Relationships between artists are evident everywhere with relatives and teachers and students showing together. Rose Drake entered a tribute, Quiver for Gunter, in memory of the Cherokee basketweaver, Gunter Anderson, who recently passed on.

The Trail of Tears art show runs through May 8.

If you are interested in entering the Red Cloud Indian Art Show, the information is online here. You have until May 1st to let them know what you want to enter.

10 April 2011

Revitalizing Bacone College's Native Arts Program: An Interview with Tony Tiger

Ataloa Lodge, Native art museum on campus
Turning off Highway 62 onto Old Bacone Road in Muskogee, Oklahoma will lead you to a cluster of native red stone buildings with blue slate rooftops. Some buildings date to the 1880s. This is the campus of Bacone College, the oldest continuing Native American institution of higher learning. The school boasts the oldest continuing Native American art program in the country. Celebrating its 75th year, the Art Department was founded in 1935 and is unique in that Native American artists have always directed the program. Bacone College itself was founded in 1880, when it was simply known as Indian University. While its campus stands within the Muscogee Creek Nation’s tribal jurisdictional area, and the college maintains close relationships with area tribes and the American Baptist Churches, the school remains an independent four-year liberal arts college.

Professor of English and Philosophy Mary Stone McClendon (Chickasaw) founded the Art Lodge at Bacone in 1932. Her Chickasaw name was Ataloa, and the art museum was later renamed the Ataloa Lodge in her honor. The comfortable, home-like museum exhibited her extensive collection of Native American art. “Many of the beautiful things created by Indians have been taken far away, to museums in the east, where the Indians rarely see them,” she said at the museum’s dedication. “We want to bring many of those things here… where Indians may see them and be inspired by them” (Elder 64).

In 1935, the charismatic dancer, actor, and artist Acee Blue Eagle (Pawnee-Muscogee-Wichita) helped establish the college department and became its first director. Studying under the Kiowa Six’s mentor, Oscar Jacobson (Swedish-American), Blue Eagle helped create the Bacone style of painting, which was in the flat-style popular among Native artists at the time. He drew upon his Southern Plains and Southeastern oral history and worldviews, as well as Modernist influences such as Art Deco. This syncretic, versatile style became a vehicle for expression for artists whose tribes had, due to Removal and cultural upheaval, lost their tribally-specific traditional painting styles.

Tony Tiger (Sauk and Fox-
Muscogee Creek-Seminole)
Woody Crumbo (Muscogee-Potawatomi) replaced Blue Eagle in 1938. Crumbo was a dancer, musician, muralist, and easel painter. In 1947, Crumbo was succeeded by Dick West, a Cheyenne peace chief and father of the National Museum of the American Indian’s founding director, Rick West. Ruthe Blalock Jones (Shawnee-Delaware-Peoria) directed the art program from 1979 and now works as a fulltime artist. Tony Tiger (Sac and Fox-Muscogee-Seminole) took the reins from Jones as Director of the Art Department. He has extensive experience and working with Indian young people in the US and Canada, and is an award-winning mixed media artist. Tiger’s work incorporates images of family photographs with vividly hued, transparent layers of paint, and, often, sculptural elements, which differs dramatically from the work of his predecessors.

I was highly impressed by the Bacone students who attended last year’s Native American Art Studies Association (NAASA) conference in Norman. A Kiowa student in particularly was quite articulate about how his art was created for family and community, not for the larger art world. Listening to these young Bacone artists made me curious to know more about the new director’s efforts to revitalize this long-standing art program.

Why did the faculty of Bacone back in the 1930s feel the need to create a visual art program? Why are visual arts important to Native students today?
From what I have heard and read, the study of the visual arts was a natural progression in Native education. Many students created and excelled in many art forms already, such as pottery, weaving, carving, and painting. The forms were primarily either utilitarian in nature or history based, items such as baskets, pottery, and ledger paintings. The study of art, form, subject matter, and content, for the Native student has evolved. Technology and the influence of contemporary society on the Native population is evident in the art that young Native artists are creating.

How large is the art program? What tribes are most represented?
The art program at Bacone is continuing to expand, and each semester we are accepting more art majors. There is also a growing interest in the art program, enticing students from other disciplines to take the classes we offer. The tribes most commonly represented on campus are Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole, but there are students from tribes throughout the United States and Canada studying at Bacone.

What are some common themes you see emerging in your student’s work? What are their goals are artists?
Technology and mass media are very influential, and as a result themes emerging from both technology and mass media are quite prevalent. Many students are also interested in mixed media and digital imaging. As far as their goals as artists, we have students who desire to go into many different aspects of the art world. I considered it the program’s goal, since we are still an associate’s degree program, to give the students a strong foundation in the arts. We want to prepare the student’s for the next level of study.

You’ve been cleaning out storerooms filled the artwork. What was your most unexpected find?
I found the original ink drawing by Dick West, The Founding of Bacone.

Do you find time for your own artwork? Has your experience at Bacone so far changed your art?
Yes, I have a studio in McCombs Art Building. I teach a class, go down to my studio and work until my next class. I have an upcoming solo exhibition at the Southern Plains Indian Museum which will run from July-September 2010. I have found the history of the institution has influenced my new work. My grandfather attended Bacone in the early 1900s, and that family history combined with the names and images of the past is fueling a new body of artwork.

Your mixed media work is a dramatic departure from the art for your predecessors. What kind of response does your work receive in northeastern Oklahoma?
I have received good reviews in the media and in responses from fellow artists. The word “new” is used a good deal, and the mixed media applications create interest and questions about the content and form.

Cited Work:
• Elder, Tammy Liegerot. Lumhee Holot-Tee: The Art and Life of Acee Blue Eagle. Edmond, OK: Medicine Wheel Press, 2006.

07 April 2011

Review | Double Vision: New Works by Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie

Recovering forgotten histories of 19th century Native American photographers, curating shows, and organizing international indigenous photography conferences, the self-identified “aboriginal savant” Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie has dedicated herself to furthering  the cause of Native photography. The Diné-Seminole-Muscogee artist created a new series of digital prints on fabric at the Great Plains Art Museum in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. She responds to photography by non-Natives — photographs in the Great Plains Art Museum’s permanent collection.

When invited to view early photos of indigenous peoples, Tsinhnahjinnie writes that she does “hesitate when invited to view or respond to them. I scan the messages, intentional and unintentional messages” and “reflect[s] upon the intention of the ‘subject’."

“It is my hope that these new works present a visual confrontation,” Tsinhnahjinnie writes, “an argument with premise that should be critically reviewed and endless questioned.”

Tsinhnahjinnie created large-scale digital prints on poly-satin, hung from curtain rods. Digital art, existing in the zero-space of a computer, can take a range of forms from computer monitors, light projections, or on prints on paper resembling traditional photographic prints. By choosing poly-satin, a polyester fabric with a dramatic sheen, Tsinhnahjinnie ‘s pieces become movie theater-esque — "silver screens."

Her dark palette of blacks, silvery blues, purples, browns, and a process cyan referencing CMYK prints, imbues the work with a dreamlike or nightmarish quality, punctuated by bright citron, red, and orange accents.

The first piece that confronts the viewer is one of the strongest, A Penny for Your Thoughts, derived from Laton Alton Huffman’s Stereoscope postcard, Taking the Tongues. Images of the buffalo nickel form a border below a giant buffalo nickel combines with Huffman’s print, featuring a man stretching a tongue for cutting from a buffalo corpse, one of eight – some partially butchered. The overarching, larger buffalo from the nickel resembles snowcapped mountains. Tsinhnahjinnie  changed the nickel’s text to “United States of Amnesia,” which is a little predictable; however, the text E Pluribus Unum takes an ominous tone, when one considers that the buffalo were slaughtered almost to extinction to destroy Plains Indians way of life and pen them on reservation to ultimately try to assimilate them in mainstream American society; that is, to make many people into one.

Laton Alton Huffman’s Taking the Tongues, is displayed next to Tsinhnahjinnie’s response. It’s a diminutive and faded sepia-toned Stereopticon (think View-Master) from Miles City, Montana, of the lone hunter butchering the eight buffalo carcasses; his rifle resting on one. I studied the piece carefully to clues to the hunter’s identity–was he Native or not? Ultimately it didn’t matter; one man killing eight buffalo at once is excessive no matter what their background is.

This image and the presence of the “Buffalo Nation/Bison Nation,” as the artist describes the animals so crucial to Plains culture, form a backbone to the show. The second work by Tsinhnahjinnie, Taking the Tongues, shows the same image darkened with the right image reversed to form a mirror with Ronald McDonald leaping through the frames. Ronald McDonald, who looks fairly demonic even in the best of times, presents a jarring representation of contemporary consumer culture, the demise of buffalo, and our own health – a food imperialist.

Another of Tsinhnahjinnie’s digital collages, Five Minutes Work, uses an earlier photo from the same series. The inversed image, mostly cyan, reminiscent of an architect’s blueprint, features the same eight buffalo carcasses with a lone horse instead of a man. In the first panel, “Excuse me” is scrawled above the horse and in the second, “I did not sign up for this!” Tsinhnahjinnie’s multilayered, darkly humorous work, braiding together history and 21st century banality,  reminds me of my favorite contemporary British artist, David Godbold. Anticolonialism figures strongly in both the artists’ work.

Two photographers provide Tsinhnahjinnie with the majority of her inspiration: Laton Alton Huffman (1854-1931) from Iowa, learned photography from his father, was attached once by Dull Knife (Cheyenne), and settled in Fort Keogh, Montana in 1879-1880. He later became a hunting guide and rancher and sold buffalo hides to supplement his photography sales (Sharyl Ferrall). The second photographer is William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), who owned a portrait studio in Omaha, Nebraska and was the first published photographer of Yellowstone National Park and the Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde (Getty Museum).

The Jackson Brothers provide the albumen print, Pawnee Indian—the inspiration for Mega Sale.  The Pawnee man in a fur hat and buffalo space is given a black scrawl down his face (a single tear?) and is treated to either the “dry brush” or “watercolor” filter in Photoshop, a program that also surprisingly has a “smudge stick” filter. A graffiti monkey and writing complete the piece, which is captioned by a Hawaiian Punch-esque font proclaiming: “The idea that history is about us.”

Since Photoshop is so associated with advertising and desktop publishing, it’s disconcerting when the rules of typography and graphic design are broken. For instance, The Special features a variety of disconcordant fonts from the original William Henry Jackson photograph, with “Pawnee, Omaha Special, specializing in authenticity!”  added in a font featuring stars for the i-dots. This piece is flanked by several 19th century photographs of the photographer’s work places — ranging from a cowhide tent, with a railroad and power lines faintly visible in the background to images of large interior spaces with workers a sinks, revealing that photography of Native Americans and the West were big business.

The show concludes with a tetraptych, Today I Was Thinking… At first it seemed like an afterthought, but luckily the space is ideal for sitting with the art. After awhile it began working on me. The four horizontal printed textiles were inspired by L. A. Huffman’s hand-colored platinum print, copyrighted in 1912, Buffalo Grazing the Big Open, shot in northern Montana in 1880. They feature the buffalo herd on a black background, accents with yellow and orange. The first has a photographs of moon phases, the second warped citron moons arching over the sky, as if referencing the eons passing with the buffalo herds shaping the Plains landscape; in the third Ronald McDonald once again rears his ugly head; and finally peace is restored and the buffaloes quip that “Real Indians eat curry.” This piece seems like Paiute prophet Wovoka’s vision of the buffalo returning but really says they never left the Plains and contemporary consumerism is just a blip in the timeframe of the Bison Nation/Buffalo Nation.

Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie's website

Images: © Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie. Nota bene: Images in art show reviews fall under the doctrine of fair use. Landes, William M. “Copyright, Borrowed Images, and Appropriation Art: An Economic Approach.” George Mason Law Review. Fall 2000: 6.