New SAMA Art Exhibit Reaches Native American Past and Present
A subtle but striking rectangle of wall text titled “Land Remembrance” welcomes visitors to the new exhibition Wendy Red Star: A Scratch on the Earth, which opened Friday at the San Antonio Museum of Art. The text establishes the necessary bases for appreciating all the complexity of the exhibited work:
The San Antonio Museum of Art is mindful of its location on the ancestral lands of the first peoples of this region, including the Esto’k Gna (Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas), the Tehuan Band of Mission Indians, the Nation Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan and the many other local indigenous peoples who have ties to this land.
Four works by Red Star on the opening wall, however, initially seem to abandon this solemnity in favor of a subtle and mischievous humor. They are colorful self-portraits of the artist at rest in various naturalistic settings representing the four seasons, a traditional subject for artists from the ancient world to the present day.
Red Star flips the script by using artificial turf, nature view wallpaper with visible creases, plastic foam nuggets in place of snow, and a plastic inflatable elk to artificialise its seasonal settings.
Most striking in each image is the performer herself, dressed in all the regalia of her Crow people, complete with beaded headband, choker and moccasins, and elaborate decorations featuring various traditional themes, including horses and tribal insignia. The contrast between its appearance and its surroundings challenges the way Indigenous peoples have been depicted throughout history, usually from a colonial perspective and separated from their true context.
White clay and bear fat
Red Star’s commentary becomes more apparent in other works, particularly a timeline of Crow history from the 1900s to the present day, and two groups of altered portraits of 1800s Crow peace delegations sent to negotiate with the United States government.
Black-and-white portraits from the National Anthropological Archives are familiar as historical images, but Red Star has added a host of notations in corrective red ink. His additions offer a mix of personal observations and apparent historical facts that rehumanize the frozen figures, once drained of personality, language, and names by the ethnographic effort to document Native Americans as generic representatives of the culture. “Indian”.
As a Crow reservation native knowledgeable about her tribe’s history, Red Star’s notations range from explanatory, such as “white clay bear grease pomade” to describe Plenty Coups’ hairstyle – a prominent Crow chief of the late 1800s, of whom Book-length studies have been written – to restore his proud voice, with “I shook hands with Prince Albert of Monaco.” He was lucky to shake my hand,” damn it, with a note that Plenty Coups “swapped a large chunk of the stash for two white prostitutes and a fifth of whiskey.”
Red Star’s ratings also consider the century-long historical timeline she created for a 2017 exhibition at the CUE Foundation in New York and revisits here as a wraparound wall installation in the hall’s corner gallery. of exposure.
Title Um-Basax-Bilua, “Where they make noise” 1904-2016brings to life photographic depictions of Crow people gleaned from a mixture of sources, including National Geographic, the Getty Images collection, and his own personal family photo archive.
The timeline reveals many historical facts, such as “the raven floral beadwork on a white background became popular in the 1920s-30s”, while restoring the names of the characters depicted, including Myrtle Big Man in the white robe depicted.
Red Star herself appears several times in the timeline as a representative of her family line, Amy Bright Wings Red Star’s granddaughter, as a “goofy teenager” holding a can of Orange Crush soda, and as as the proud mother of her daughter Beatrice, whose name Crow translates to “Sandhill Crane Woman.”
One notation is surprisingly current for anyone accustomed to the relegation of Native American culture to the presumed past: Red Star’s parent, Jaymeson Red Star, named his horse “Snoop Dogg.”
Curator Nadiah Rivera Fellah, behind the exhibition with Tricia Bloom for the Newark Museum of Art, said Red Star insisted on emphasizing the context of contemporary art rather than framing her work ethnographically or solely on the basis of their indigenous identity.
Fellah said that working with Red Star, she learned to appreciate “the fact that her story as a Crow Indian is our whole story, really.”
While Red Star chronicles the history of efforts to preserve Indigenous lands in detail, “it’s not just his tribe’s story, but it’s American history,” Fellah said.
This history is current, as demonstrated by the exhibition’s themes that resonate with its presence in San Antonio. The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation has made repeated efforts to claim Indigenous human remains on the grounds of the Alamo, which have been rebuffed in part because the tribal group is not officially recognized by the federal government.
Fellah emphasized not only the contemporaneity of Red Star’s work, but also how such federal designations continue to play into the artist’s personal life. Now associate curator of contemporary art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Fellah worked with Red Star on a new piece for the current exhibition. Imagine motherhood now which details the artist’s inability to have his daughter become a federally recognized member of the Crow Tribe because she did not meet the requirements.
“So she’s faced with this identity crisis, wanting to pass on all of this heritage to her daughter, but knowing that there’s this barricade, purposely built by the US government to basically ban the future generation of these tribes. “, said Fellah.
The “Land Remembrance” cited above, organized by each museum visited by the show in collaboration with local indigenous groups, demonstrates a greater willingness to engage members of indigenous communities as fully present members of society and representatives from an often overlooked heart of American history.
Wendy Red Star: A Scratch on the Earth will run through May 8 at the San Antonio Museum of Art, accessible with regular museum admission. The Mays Symposium: Contemporary Perspectives on Native American Art on February 25-26 will feature a virtual talk by Wendy Red Star.