First American Art Magazine No. 22, Spring 2019 - Page 71

LEAH MATA-FRAGUA for pictures? And I’m like, “I don’t know what’s going on here.” That was my first experience, so I thought, This is easy. I’m going do more of these. That started the trajectory of doing shows and stepping out of California. Then the second show I did was at the Heard, where I won a first place. It was just beginner’s luck or maybe people were seeing new techniques, new skills, or new media. What kept me going was that people were interested in work from California. People do like it. They were curious, so that made me feel good. Then I applied for the Smithsonian fellowship, and when I was able to see just the amount of jewelry that came from my village it was really validating. And I was also able to incor- porate older styles into my work. The question for artists who make regalia for their community is how do you take those pieces outside your community, without offending the community? When I teach Traditional Arts and Ecology at IAIA, a lot of students will come to me after class and say, “Here’s where I’m struggling.” And I’m like, “I wish I could help you, but I have the same struggle.” What I’ve done is try to develop lines extending from that community frame- work and move them forward. To move our arts forward, as our culture prob- ably would have moved had it not been interrupted. While I am still making pieces for my community, I also make pieces that are not ceremonial but still reflect California Indigenous cultures—the work still has those materials. I’m just using them differ- ently so that someone’s not out wearing our regalia. It’s a hard balancing act. Where’s the line between what’s shareable and what’s not shareable? AM: Now that you are in this artistic sphere where most people are not familiar with Indigenous Californian opposite Leah Mata-Fragua. All images courtesy of the artist. right Dress with Beaded Belt, 2018, bark skirt, deer hide, pigment, abalone, seed beads, olivella shells, clamshells. Photo: Christopher Short (Citizen Potawatomi). SPRING 2019 | 69