|Sunboyz Beaded Shoes, 2008, Dan Barsotti photo|
All of my beadwork starts with drawings first. I simplify them down, as simple as I can make it as line drawings, almost like a coloring book. Then I work my color in and my lines in and all of that. When my sons were really little, I made copies of those drawings on the computer and gave them to them as coloring pages. My idea was that just like any coloring book, or any kind of engagement with a child, that if they interact with it, they don’t even know that they’re learning from it.
I wanted my children to be able to read the story. So far, so good. All you can do as a parent and as an educator is introduce them to it. You talk to them about it and engage them with it in some way, and then hopefully it sticks. In the traditional form of learning – of Native learning – we live, a child shows interest in something, we encourage it, and then we let them go.
Either they follow through with it or they don’t. We encourage them, but they have to make their own mistakes throughout it. With my kids – a lot of my big work comes from me thinking about what I want them to know: What do I want them to know about me? What do I want them to know about our family? What do I want them to know about Kiowa people, and what do I want them to know about Native America? Native history, Native culture, certainly when my babies were born all that stuff really flooded into me: What am I doing here? What’s my purpose on this planet? Who cares? Who cares what I have to say? And then I realized that this was important information that was given to me that I need to give to them, so a lot of work was inspired by what I wanted to tell them.
I’ve been battling that battle since my first breath on this planet. I’ll never forget in high school, I was in high school, my American history class, like a good little American kid, and there was literally one paragraph in the 1800s that talked about Native America in my history book. One paragraph. And it was one of those big American history books. And I remember I read it like ten times, and I remember thinking, “This can’t be it.” I remember going to my history teacher and asking, “Why is there only one paragraph about Native History in here?” The high school I went to was about 16 miles off one of the largest reservations in the United States, Wind River in Wyoming. I grew up with my parents, and even though my father is white, we were Native, and we lived on the res[ervation] and all our good friends were Native – so in my mind I was like, “How do they not know this stuff?”
And then as I got out into the world — to California and to college –I really realized, “Alright. We don’t exist. We don’t exist in American history, we don’t exist in American culture outside of stereotypes. We just don’t exist.” Fighting that idea that we don’t exist, that we haven’t existed, that we’re not important to what is America, will be something I will do for the rest of my life. Every single time I make a piece in which I show modern day Indians, I force the viewer to consider that we do still exist. And I know, I’m obviously not the only Native person that has dealt with this. This is something that happens across Native America, across the board.
|NDN Art, Dan Barsotti photo|
Lichtenstein did that specific piece because at that time, they were asking themselves the same kind of question – What is art? What does it mean? And the bottom line of that question of are you a Native artist or are you an artist, the real question is: Are you making art?
|Roy Lichtenstein, 1962, Oil on Canvas|
I thought “What is Indian Art?” was an invalid question from the get-go. It just means that you don’t have an understanding of what we do, and how it’s placed in the continuum of art on the planet. I wanted to subvert this question and make it mine, and to do this I wanted to use stereotypical Native imagery – a war bonnet. Are we a stereotype? Am I traditional? I’m traditionally beading; however, I’m beading in neon colors, referencing Lichtenstein. It was one of those things where hopefully everything about the piece questioned every single thing that tried to define it.
All the books you read, articles that you read, 9 out of 10 of them are written by Anglo-theorists, anthropologists or art historians. But that’s changing, and so I jumped at the chance.