First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 60

PROFILE KAW-OSAGE-LAKOTA LEDGER ARTIST AND PAINTER CHRIS PAPPAN By Jami Powell, PhD B UILDING UPON THE LEGACY of Plains narrative art, artist Chris Pappan skill- fully draws images of American Indian peoples on ledger paper and historic maps. He also creates paintings that mimic the layering of media and meaning achieved through ledger art. Pappan’s work can be described in broad terms as “contemporary ledger art” and it speaks to the multiplicity and complexity of 21st-century American Indian experiences. His work, on ledgers and maps—and even shoes and skate- boards—speaks to the everyday acts of resistance that characterize historical and contemporary Indian life. Living in Chicago with his wife Debra Yepa-Pappan (Jemez Pueblo), and their daughter Ji Hae, Pappan confronts the ubiquity and erasure of American Indian histories and presence in his daily life as well as in his art. Debra, who is also an artist, was recently appointed as the community engagement coordinator at the Field Museum and was a long-time employee of the Chicago Public Schools American Indian Education Program. Ji Hae is an aspiring visual artist and ballet dancer and was awarded a SWAIA Youth Fellowship in 2014. Pappan often distorts portraits of American Indians on historic ledgers and maps of appropriated and occu- pied Indigenous lands within his work. These images raise questions about the distorted representations of American Indians that circulate in pop culture, history books, and museums. Pappan’s work also raises important questions about the ways we as American Indian peoples contort ourselves to conform to mainstream expectations and misrepre- sentations. This technique, and Pappan’s work more broadly, challenges his audi- ence and pushes boundaries within the field of contemporary ledger art in subtle and subversive ways. In Drawing on Tradition (reviewed in FAAM No. 17, Winter 2017/18, pages 74–75), an exhibition featuring Pappan’s work at the Field Museum in Chicago, his ability to subvert expectation is evident, and the show makes an important inter- vention within the permanent exhibition at the museum. I was fortunate enough to be a part of Pappan’s earliest visits to the Field Museum’s collections as he was doing research for this project. During our time together, we were able to speak about his life, his role as a contemporary ledger artist, and how he conceptualizes his role as an artist and co-curator. JP: Can you tell me about your upbringing and how it has influenced your work? CP: I grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona. My mom and dad met in Albuquerque where my mom was living at the time. My mom is white, and I get my Native heritage from my dad’s side.... She was 58 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM working at the BIA office, and that’s where my grandmother on my dad’s side was working, and so my grandma kind of set up those two together. When I was young, my mom remarried, and we ended up moving to Flagstaff, where I lived until I was 18. I was getting kind of restless when I was getting to be a senior in high school, so I wanted to get out of Flagstaff and … see what was out there. A recruiter from the Institute of American Indian Arts came to my high school and said, “Here is this school in Santa Fe focused on American Indian arts, and if you’re enrolled Native, you can go tuition free.” I was really focusing on my artwork at that time in high school, too, so it was perfect, and that’s how I ended up in Santa Fe. That’s where I met Debbie. Debbie actually grew up here in Chicago, but her dad was from Jemez Pueblo, and they would go back every year to visit, so she had close ties there. Her dad actually went to IAIA as well, and that’s how she knew about the school, how she ended up going there at the same time as me, so ... that’s how I came to be in Chicago [laughing].