First American Art Magazine No. 22, Spring 2019 - Page 12

EDITOR’S GREETING Y EARS AGO Katherine Abu Hadal launched a campaign to declare that Native art should not be shown in natural history museums but instead be shown in art museums. At the time my mental response was, Who on earth is Katherine Abu Hadal? and then, What is the value of separating human endeavors such as art from the natural world? Regarding the question of where Native art should be exhibited, the answer is simple and obvious: Native art should be shown in natural history museums and art museums (in the Art of Americas wing, American wing, Latin American wing, contemporary art wing, modern art wing, educational rooms, administrative offices, cafés, lawns, etc.), as well as commercial galleries, nonprofit alternative spaces, kunsthalle, public squares, the streets, and any other potential art venue. Regarding the second question, should art be seen as an exclusively human endeavor separated from other species—that's more complex. When I briefly taught Native art history at the Institute of American Indian Arts, each semester I had the students write an essay about “What Is Art?” In one class, a student asked if paintings by dogs and elephants would be considered art. The argument that paintings by dogs and elephants do not constitute art hinges on cognition and intentionality. Presumably, dogs and elephants have not studied art history or theory. 1 However, one could argue these are the ultimate outsider artists. I have no problem with their inclusion; others would disagree. What do we really know about non-human cognition? Am I anthropomorphizing animals instead of appreciating them for their own ways of knowing? Still, wouldn’t isolating art from non-human animals, plants, fungi, and other lifeforms play right into Eurocentric humanist values that led us to our current Anthropocene crisis of mass extinctions of diverse species? Deep ecology, a movement that does not privilege humans above other living beings but instead sees us as part of a larger whole, was founded in 1973 by the Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess. This seems like Western thinking belatedly playing catch-up to Indigenous thinking. above America Meredith (Cherokee Nation), Grassroots Organizing (Little Bluestem), 2007, gouache on paper, 14 × 11 in. The Ecological Indian, blissfully at one with nature, is, of course, a stereotype that Native people have resisted, but beyond the stereotype is a core understanding that humans are an integral part of nature, not separate. Biodiversity hot spots, those places with the highest concentration of diverse lifeforms, coincide with linguistic diversity and are homes to Indigenous peoples worldwide. 2 In a natural history museum, one can see Native art in close proximity to the raw materials, such as abalone, the shell of a living mollusk. These non-human beings are, in many ways, our collabora- tors, and Native artists often speak up for their welfare and fight the dire situations humans have imposed on them. Perhaps the most famous historical example is the Southern Plains warriors who risked their lives to fight the mercenary buffalo hunters, or the Native artists of today fighting to save the salmon and the black ash trees. In her interview, Leah Mata- Fragua relays her anguish over abalones being threatened with extinction. Meanwhile, in an art museum, the vast, soaring spaces spawn serious reflec- tion and invite people to slow down, spend time with the artwork, reflect on and challenge their own ideas. Yet, doesn’t much of Indigenous knowledge stem from close, contemplative understanding— deep reading—of our fellow animals, plants, fungi, and other living beings? Perhaps art is an overt, intentional catalyst whose invitation we should carry with us to contemplate the outside world. In this issue Andrea Ferber titled her introduction to international repa- triation protocols “The Rhizomes of Repatriation.” What an apt metaphor for the spread of artistic ideas! Rhizomes are roots that run laterally across the ground while extending root hairs into the earth to seek life-sustaining water. They sprout new life, both connected to and potentially independent of the mother plant. Also called root runners, these provide artistic materials for Cherokee basket makers here in Oklahoma. Their growth parallels the organic spread, potentially direct and far-reaching, or serpentine, when encoun- tering walls, metaphorical or literal. B oliv i a and E c u ador, b ot h countries with Indigenous/mestizo majority populations, incorporated the rights of non-human beings into their constitutions. At the end of 2018, the White Earth Ojibwe passed a law guaranteeing the rights of wild rice. Maybe the art world should follow their lead. —America Meredith 1. After an acquaintance from Colorado was disgruntled because her application to art school was rejected, she noticed a neighboring dog’s habit of lining up objects—sticks, balls, and the like—next to a swimming pool in his yard. She began photographing the dog’s various installations and submitted these to the same art school. The dog’s application was accepted. Unfortunately for us, the dog did not attend the school, so we don’t know if studying art would have enriched the dog’s artistic oeuvre. 2. L. J. Gorenflo, Suzanne Romaine, Russell A. Mittermeier, Kristen Walker-Painemilla, “Co-occurrence of linguistic and biological diversity in biodiversity hotspots and high biodiversity wilderness areas,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (May 7, 2012), abstract; Russell A. Mittermeier, “Language Diversity Is Highest in Biodiversity Hotspots,” Human Nature (May 10, 2012), web. 10 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM