Good stuff for March

The pandemic still got you stuck at home? Don’t worry, we’ve found some stuff online that´ll keep you busy for a while. Maybe even the rest of the week if you dive into this podcast I highly recommend. As the title suggests, 5 Plain Questions is a podcast that poses five questions to Native American artists about their artwork and practice. The pod was initiated by Joe Williams, director of Native American programs at Plains Art Museum as a complement and maybe even substitute for art enthusiasts unable to see artworks during the pandemic.  

Already 30 episodes in, 5 plain questions is quickly turning into a verbal archive documenting the experiences and thoughts of contemporary Native American artists.

Listen to it here  

Being quick to jump on anything Chris Pappan-related, Kiva Gallery is of course very excited to read this long, in-depth interview with one of the most interesting figures in contemporary art. My Modern Met has the goods.

The Heard Museum Guild’s annual Indian Fair & Market took place for the 63rd time over the weekend. This year, however, it was forced to make some changes due to the pandemic. You can read about it here 

The news of the first Lakota cartoon character in a kid’s TV show is almost a month old but worth a mention in case you missed it:

https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/539379-nickelodeon-unveiling-lakota-cartoon-character

Let’s round things off on a happy note. The laughs might not come too easy during these bleak days of quarantine, that’s why you may need some professional help to coax those mouth muscles upwards. That shouldn’t be a problem if you drop by The Vulture where you’ll find some of the funniest Native American comedians working today. 

 

Happy March!

Chris Pappan Does Doodle for Google

 

A day late for this one but I’ll chalk it up to being located in the dark corners of the globe known as Sweden. As I understand it, yesterday’s Google Doodle was mainly presented to computer users located in the North Americas. No wonder considering the topic specifically related to the American History. Februari 22 marks the 145th birthday of Zitkala-Sa, a writer, composer, teacher, musician and member of Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. Born in 1876, Zitkala-Sa led a remarkable life characterised by indigenous pride of heritage and culture at a time of forced assimilation. As a young girl, Zitkala-Sa was enrolled at a Missionary boarding school where she was forbidden to speak her own language and practice her religion. 

Later she would return to her reservation to document oral stories told among her tribe. She was also skilled musician and would go on to write the first indigenous opera.

Given the honor of illustrating Zitkala-sa for Google is none other than Chris Pappan – a definite Kiva Gallery favorite. Pappan explains how he approached the task of representing Zitkala-sa 

All of the elements in the artwork relate to Zitkala-Ša’s life in some way. Her Lakota name translates as “Red Bird,” she wrote an opera relating to the Sun Dance, and she was an accomplished musician—all reflected within the Doodle. She also witnessed great upheaval and change throughout her life, as symbolized by the tipis. The lettering for “Google” is based on a beadwork design from one of her traditional dresses.

Since day one, Kiva Gallery has applauded every step Pappan has taken and we are glad to see his art get more and more exposure. 

National Native American Heritage Month

November is National Native American Heritage month in the U.S. hence native art figures more frequently in the news than it usually does. To honor the month Rice University´s student newspaper, The Rice Thresher, has a list of ”5 Native American Artists you should know” complete with decent introductions. There are some names that are new to me, particularly some musical acts I need to check out.

Give it a read here  

 

I know everybody is stressed about the election so let’s take a moment to chill like Doggface

It’s a ridiculously simple clip but chances are pretty big that you’ve come across it. After all, by now it’s been viewed by over 35 million people. A middle aged guy is gliding down the street. We can’t really tell because of the high angle through which he is filming himself, but it’s easy to assume he’s on a skateboard. Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit “Dreams” plays as he cruises along. He takes a swig of the huge container of cranberry juice in his hand. He starts lip-syncing along to the lyrics of “Dreams” just before the video cuts off. Boom! That’s it! 35 million views later and the skateboarding Fleetwood Mac fan is a familiar face all over the world, resulting in yours truly writing these words all the way out here in Sweden. 

The man behind the 22 second video clip is Nathan Apodaca, but if you’re a TikTok regular you might know him by the username “Doggface”. The clip has only been in circulation since the end of September but through the magnificent cultural time warp that can only be achieved by something going viral, Apodaca’s face is now already an icon of popular culture. An inseparable part of his now iconic appearance is the big tattoo on the right side of his head. It depicts a pair of big feathers. Apodaca is of mixed Northern Arapaho and Mexican descent and the feathers are a symbol of the Native part of his identity. 

I don’t know if his cultural heritage has anything to do with his disposition, but Doggface seems like a dude who knows how to chill in the face of stress. And for that reason he is exactly the one we need to turn to at this particular moment in time. The backstory to the video is that Apodaca was driving to work when his truck broke down. Instead of waiting to have his truck towed, Apodaca grabbed his longboard and his juice and went on his way to work. I had no idea of this backstory  when I first came across the video. The mood is all the more remarkable for it. None of the stress of the situation comes across in the clip. Apodaca just seems to be entirely inside this bubble of good vibes. 

That’s exactly what we need right now.

With just hours away from what many consider to be the most important political election of recent American history, stress levels are at an all time high. Throw some rampant COVID-action on top of that and you’ve got yourselves a mess were you simply need Doggface’s de-stressed bubble to survive. So let’s have Doggface be our ambassador of good vibes.

In this time of hypertension, be like Doggface. Grab your cranberry juice, sing along to some Fleetwood Mac and just chill. If only for a moment.  

 

Voyage around other people’s rooms

Philosopher Blaise Pascal said, in paraphrase, that the trouble of humanity stems from the unwillingness of men to sit alone in their rooms. Pondering the sentiment in light of COVID-19 and the protests currently lead by men (mostly) who would rather spread the disease than remain in their rooms, Pascal had a point.  

Nevertheless, I would think just about everybody around the world are sick and tired of their own homes by now. Some are well into their second month of quarantine and the couch that used to hold out such irresistible promises of relaxation has probably turned into an object of resent a long time ago. Avenues of escape are welcome, even if they are only for the mind. We can look to some literary classics that offer methods on how to cope with enforced isolation. Xavier De Maistre´s Voyage Around My Room is one. The 18th century book is a splendid and eccentric manual on how to entertain oneself while being spatially restricted. Written under house arrest for unlawful duelling, the author uses his time to travel by means of his imagination and memories. He uses the objects around him to do so. He studies them and pays them more attention than he usually does, and in the process he is transported by them.  

It’s obvious De Maistre wrote before the internet. Had he had access to the overabundance of information and entertainment we have now he would hardly have thought it necessary to use his imagination to pass the time. Besides, De Maistre was only under house arrest for six weeks and most of us have already been quarantined longer than that. Many have likely experienced that voyaging around your own room gets real tiresome after a while. There is, however, another upside to the culture of stay-at-home and that is the fact that others are staying at home as well. Even celebrities. It is a well known fact that celebrities want to be seen which means that they have to allow cameras into their own homes. Lucky for us that we now have an opportunity to voyage around celebrities rooms. Some clever TV hosts have turned the current limitations to their advantage and devised ways to stay on air by transmitting directly from their own homes. I for one must admit to enjoying getting to peak inside the homes of the likes of Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brian, If only for the opportunity to voyage around some one else’s rooms for a while.     

For similarly escapist reasons, it was a real joy to come across a photo diary on Vogue’s website featuring Kiowa jeweller Keri Ataumbi in her beautiful New Mexico home. It was through reading the piece that Xavier De Maistre’s book came to mind, because by means of the article’s photos and the writing it feels like we are being treated to a proper voyage around her living space. The layout of the piece is designed like a trajectory or journey through Ataumbi’s house, starting with the exterior of her house and moving through her spa, garden, studio and patio.   

At Kiva Gallery we are great admirers of Ataumbi’s jewellery which is why it was of special interest to get a peak inside her studio. Getting to virtually visit Ataumbi’s beautiful Santa Fe home was a most welcome voyage considering that this is the time of year that we usually start planning our yearly trip to the area. This year it looks like we will have to content ourselves with voyaging around other peoples rooms, while staying put in our own.   

Star Wars themed exhibition at Museum of Northern Arizona

We’ve been waiting for this to happen and we’re mighty glad it did. Museum of Northern Arizona is hosting an exhibition themed around Native Art inspired by the movie franchise Star Wars. The movies have attracted quite a substantial number of Native artists in recent years and have become a pop-cultural touchstone of sorts. We wrote about this attraction on the blog back in 2017 and have since then seen the interest grow even larger. It is always interesting to see artists interpret the space saga in their particular ways. There is a highly readable article in Forbes which charts the different aspects to Star Wars that might explain the appeal it holds to Native artists. The aspects range from the philosophical and political ideas guiding the heroes of Star Wars to similarities in the landscapes. The desert scenery of Luke Skywalker’s childhood home planet Tatooine will in particular resonate with artists familiar with the nature around New Mexico and Arizona.     

The Force Is With Our People at Museum of Northern Arizona is on view trough March 2020 and  includes Kiva Gallery favorites Ryan Singer and Randy Kemp. 

Chris Pappan explores new media and loses none of his complexity

As so often happens, life takes you on a detour and before you know it half a year has gone by without us showing this blog any love. For that we’re sorry. A lot of exciting stuff has happened in the art world in the meantime and my drafts folder is full of unfinished reports on events and exhibitions from the past summer that never made it onto the blog. 

Let’s see if we can get this ol’ blog back on track, shall we?

It´s no secret that Kiva Gallery are big fans of Chris Pappan, so we thought it worthwhile to give a little recap on what Mr. Pappan has been up to as of late. It’s been a busy summer for Pappan. He has been involved in two big projects in his hometown Chicago. Both projects are noteworthy insofar as they allowed Pappan to work with media that are new to his practice and on a bigger scale than usual. Pappan is, of course, famous for his precise ledger drawings with a twist – they are often slightly deformed and perspectivally askew (we’ve written about that at length here). It’s exhilarating to see what happens to Pappan’s core aesthetic when he tries his hand at a new medium. Both of Pappan’s Chicago projects were developed in dialogue with the city. The first was a collaboration with The Floating Museum – a Chicago initiative that aims to turn sites of Chicago into art spaces. For this project they utilized the Green Line of the city’s transit system. The idea was that passengers could view site specific art from the train while in motion but also engage with new cultural spaces through the various stops along the line. In his contribution, Pappan collaborated with artist Monica Rickert-Bolter to construct a 25-foot inflatable sculpture entitled Founders. The sculpture consists of the heads of four non-white figures who have been of historical importance for the city of Chicago. The figures are Harold Washington – the first black mayor in any American city; Jean Baptiste DuSable –  the founder of Chicago; his wife Kitihawa; and a bust by African American artist William Artis.

 

I think the concept of inflation is what makes the sculpture line up so neatly with Pappan´s previous preoccupation with the idea of distortion. In his ledger drawings, Pappan uses visual deformation in his depictions of sometimes stereotypical Native American imagery to suggest that what we see is a distorted truth. The meaning is conveyed by the technique he chooses. Similarly, in Founders, much conceptual weight is imparted through the very act of inflation. The stated ambition of Founders was to highlight historical figures that elevate the stories of indigenous people and people of color, honoring the often-overlooked roles they’ve had in shaping our contemporary world. 

The effect and signification would not have been the same had the sculpture been executed in another medium. Consider a stone statue of the same four figures. The very medium would suggest something rigid – perhaps that the figures are eternally present to the public. However one wishes it be so, it could hardly be said to be an accurate account of their historical standing. A sculpture that has to be inflated, on the other hand, conveys that it takes an effort for it to get into public view. Moreover, it lends an air of impermanence and fragility to the sculpture that underscores how easily non-white people fall out of historical view. 

Pappan’s other Chicago-specific project was conceived within the frame of Expo Chicago – an art event taking place in September each year. A part of Expo consisted of Override – a project that let artists take over billboards throughout the city. Pappan’s contribution was Ghost of Route 66 – an image of three central Native American figures wrapped in blankets, flanked by two outlined (ghostly) repetitions of the central figures. 

The large image looks completely awesome against the backdrop of Chicago’s high-rises and office buildings. But taking into account the large, commercial format of a billboard, it feels inadequate to dismiss the image with an Instagram-friendly “awesome!”.  

Seeing three stoic Native Americans within a space usually reserved for the purpose of advertising goods and services to be sold is an emotionally complex experience. This complexity has always been Pappan’s “hook” and what sets him apart – things are never quite what they seem; there are dimensions and layers; subtexts and buried meanings.

These most recent works of Pappan bring forth the complexity in a triumphant new scale and we hope to see more of it.        

Jeffrey Veregge’s love of comics

 

A lot of folks these days are looking forward to Avengers: Endgame. I know Jeffrey Veregge is one of them. Here’s a clip and an article of Veregge talking about his love of comics, which hasn’t always been easy.   It is a love that has often been mixed up with frustrations over the negative representation of Natives in comics. However, Veregge has recently had a chance to himself rectify some of these misrepresentations.  When Marvel rebooted the Native American character Red Wolf, Veregge was brought on board to steer the character clear of the stereotypes it has been attached to in the past. He devised the character in the style that has become his trademark – incorporating the traditional formline art technique common to his reservation Port Gamble S’klallam in Washington into the overall design. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeffrey Veregge is still on view at the Smithsonian with a large superhero- themed mural.  

 

Wendy Red Star at Newark Museum

Wendy Red Star is one of the most exciting contemporary artists at the moment. There was recently a feature article in Vogue about Red Star which is a clear sign that she is hot stuff in the art world right now. Moreover, she has a solo exhibition at Newark Museum. It is an extensive exhibition that covers her production from 2006 to 2019 and includes more than 40 of her works. 

Red Star has tried her hand at many different mediums. Some, such as weaving, she uses because of it’s traditional link to the crafts of her reservation – the Apsáalooke (Crow) in Montana. But it is perhaps her photographic work that has drawn the most attention.  Red Star often uses herself as subject and model in her photographs. 

A recurring theme for Red Star’s art is the politics of identity and memory. 

Many of Red Star’s works utilize strategies and methods found in conceptual art. “My Home is Where my Tipi Sits”, for instance, echoes Bernt and Hilla Becher’s photographic typologies. But a still more significant influence is arguably the “theatrical” trend in 1980s art. The staged quality of Red Star’s work can be traced back to artists such as Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Robert Longo, Richard Prince. 

These artists used strategies of theatricality and artifice to explore the manufactured nature of various identities. As does Red Star. But when she employs similar strategies she needs them to convince more than the artists above. That’s because the figure of the Native American is arguably surrounded by some of the most rigid stereotypes there are. In the series “Four Seasons” (2006) Red Star examines and seeks to undermine the image of “the natural Indian” – a Native American with a privileged bond to nature and to earth. As evidenced by Disney’s Pocahontas, the illustration for the butter Land o’Lakes and countless posters, album covers and posed photographs, there is such a shortage of Native American artists and cultural commentators with a strong voice on the international stage, that these stereotypes are often allowed to continue to shackle Native identity. Many whites hold their stereotypical notions dear and are profoundly invested in the view of the Native American as holder of the secrets to nature. 

As Daniel Larkin explains:

This romantic, and generic, image of the American Indian as spiritually connected to a bucolic earth has inspired many non-Indians to make trips to reservations, visit museum exhibitions, partake in rituals, and read texts associated with the many different indigenous peoples of North America. However, this romantic image can lead outsiders to cherry pick ideas from the diversity of American-Indian spirituality so that they fit into their preconceived, romanticized New Age schemas. 

What is particularly brilliant about Red Star’s photographs is that they look better than they actually are. What I mean is that, at first the images appear to unproblematically play into the hands of those with romanticized notions of Native Americans. What the viewer initially encounters is an adorned Native woman in a beautiful landscape, accompanied by animals. The image is so familiar and normalized that it is understandable if the viewer does not immediately spot the ”tells” that this image is fake, such as the suspicious creases in the landscape – which is actually a poster – behind Red Star. Or the blatant two-dimensionslity of the cardboard animals. Through this perceptual twist, Red Star’s images not only uncovers the artifice of visual clichés but also lay bare the viewer’s willingness to be seduced by them. 

Red Star’s staged photographs remind me a bit of that scene in Night at the Museum where Ben Stiller tries to have a conversation with Sacagawea through thick glass that mutes all sound. Red Star’s tableau’s are similarly characterized by disrupted communication. That Red Star now has a major exhibition in a big museum is fitting considering that museums and cultural institutions have often been major agents in perpetuating skewed ideas about Native Americans.  

Wendy Red Star´s mid career survey is on view at the Newark Museum until June 16, 2019