First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 12

EDITOR’S GREETING M ANY TERMS or catego- ries serve to stymie Native art conversation, such as art vs. craft. Decade after decade these terms keep the conversa- tion moving in small, repeating circles. So what are useful lenses through which to view Indigenous art of the Americas? What frames are relevant, not only to installation art in museums but also to non-Western art forms made and displayed in the context their tribal communities intended? Porcupine quillwork, an art form unique to North America, is my personal litmus test. If a proposed methodology can’t discuss quill- work, then it cannot adequately discuss Indigenous art of the Americas. Formalism has long been a go-to approach for analyzing Native art. This prevailing approach to studying visual art of the mid-20th century is analyzing an art form based on its observable qualities, privileging sight but potentially including any sensory information, such as an aroma or a sound. Yet, formalism decon- textualizes an artwork from its origins, the process of its creation, its maker, its maker’s intentions, the meaning behind its symbolism, and many other intangible concepts surrounding the work. Back in 2009, heather ahtone (Choctaw-Chickasaw) published an essay, “Designed to Last: Striving toward an Indigenous American Aesthetic,” in which she clearly outlines a practical methodology for critiquing Native art based on Indigenous values. Her later essay, “Reading Beneath the Surface: Joe Feddersen's Parking Lot” (Wíčazo Ša Review, 2012), provides an example of implementing her methodology on a specific artwork (a glass vase sculpted by Okanagan-Sinixt artist Joe Feddersen). ahtone has continued to flesh out and refine her Indigenous methodology to four lenses: materiality, metaphor/symbolism, kincentricity, and temporality. 1 Materiality is an examination of the physical media, which includes looking at historical use of those media by the artist’s community, or ways the artist uses novel or new media. How do artists gather the materials and how do they process them? For example, in her profile in this issue, Linda Aguilar (Chumash) describes horsehair and linen that she uses to make baskets, both of which are used histori- cally in utilitarian baskets, but both were introduced by Europeans to her commu- nity. She makes potent statements about complex interpretations of economic value when she adds abalone shell or poker chips to her baskets. These choices bleed into the lens of metaphor/symbolism. ahtone writes that “for an oral-based community … knowledge was often coded into visual references.…” 2 These layers of symbolism can be semirepresentational and inferred without specialized knowledge—or highly abstracted and require instruction to decode. An example of symbolism is Choctaw-Chickasaw painter Norma Howard building up her soft, atmospheric watercolors with minute strokes of paint mimicking the weave of Choctaw river- cane basketry. These baskets are integral to Choctaw self-representation, and their geometric shapes hold symbolic meaning in tandem with practical forms used, for instance, in drying herbal medicines. Kincentricity was coined by Dennis Martinez (O’odham-Chicano) and, as he says, describes “where we have a rela- tionship not only with our immediate biological family, our extended family, our tribe, our clan, our community, but also with plants and animals out in the natural world.” 3 Kincentricity is based on reciprocity. How does an artwork refer- ence relationships, perhaps from the artist to other members of her or his tribe or to other artists? As described in the feature article “Bááháálí Chapter Young Weavers,” Elouise Washburn and Gloria Skeet (both 1. heather ahtone, “Cultural Paradigms of Contemporary Indigenous Art: As Found in the Work of Shan Goshorn, Norman Akers, Marie Watt, and Joe Feddersen” (PhD diss., University of Oklahoma, 2018), 66–67. 2. Ibid., 66. 3. Dennis Martinez, interview by David E. Hall, Native Perspectives on Sustainability (January 3, 2008), 3, PDF. 4. ahtone, “Cultural Paradigms of Contemporary Indigenous Art,” 68–69. 10 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM Navajo) used weaving wool as a means to bring together elders and young people from their community, the Bááháálí Chapter, within the larger Navajo Nation. The finished rugs and purses also speak to the symbiotic relationship the humans have with the sheep. Temporality is when “the artist is positioned within a time-space continuum that is informed by personal experience, family and tribal history, and works within a network of influences and possible materials.” 4 In his photo essay, Lester Harragarra (Otoe-Missouria- Kiowa) photographs Apsáalooke people celebrating the 100th annual Crow Fair. This milestone allows them to reflect upon where they stand as a people in 2018 compared to a century ago. Harragarra emphasizes the passage of time by juxta- posing people of all ages. He further hones in on the joyous reflection of time passing with his photograph of Charlie and Ramona Real Bird celebrating their 57 years of marriage in the Adali and Norma Falls Down 50th Wedding Anniversary category in the Crow Fair parade. This is a precursory introduction to these concepts, but even so, I am confident that considering materiality, metaphor/symbolism, kincentricity, and temporality when studying Native art will help to more deeply read and reflect on the works. Indeed, these are doors to greater understanding and insight into Indigenous perspectives that can be applied to all art forms, not just Native art. —America Meredith above America Meredith (Cherokee Nation), Sun Circle 2012, Oklahoma red clay, gypsum, mica, acrylic medium, 12 × 12 in., private collection.