Visual

In Red Ink

Beyond appropriation

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Goya’s prints depicting atrocities against Spanish peasants in the French invasion of 1814 are the first examples of “protest art.” This tradition continues today at La Conner’s Museum of Northwest Art’s latest installation, “In Red Ink.”

A hundred years ago, Edward Curtis’ photographs reinforced the view that American Indians were primitive and a “vanishing species.” The white settlers did their best to bring this about by appropriating Indian lands, removing Native American cultural artifacts to museums and sending Native children to government schools, where they were forbidden to use their tribal languages and customs.

Some 20 American Indian artists who are fed up with being stereotyped are showing their work in the “Red Ink” exhibit. Through painting, video and multimedia presentations, they claim the right to define themselves and they offer their traditional spiritual values as an antidote to environmental destruction.

Erin Genia’s “Facing/Not Facing” pictures a puddle of spilled oil from broken pipelines coming from the four corners of the Earth. In the center is a human face—we are “responsible for the mess and endangered by it.”

Challenging the work of Edward Curtis, Matika Wilbur is in the midst of a project to photograph remarkable personalities of the 562 accredited tribes and tell how they keep tradition alive while contributing to our shared society.

Others snipe at monolithic white culture in clever, unconventional ways: Andrea Carlson by her project to “uncollect” museum specimens, and John Feodorov by lampooning office culture with his “Spirituality” and “Totem Teddies” videos (see them online at Art 21).

An unusual exhibit is Joe Feddersen’s wall, hung with almost invisible glass shapes, in traditional and contemporary images. As these cast petroglyph-like shadows on the wall, they suggest how all cultures will merge as time passes. Feddersen taught art at Evergreen State College for many years and now works from home in Omak, also serving on the Colville Confederated Tribal Arts Board.

Carlson, an artist who works in a style of “Indigenous futurism,” describes herself as a “cis-gendered woman of Anishinaabe descent.” She occupies herself with studying how cultural objects, abstractions, metaphors and storytelling react to one another. Her two-dimensional graphic work draws images from the “cultural cannibalism” of Western imperialism in film and museum collections, complete with “gaping-mouthed” predators lurking at the edges.

Feodorov shows a welcome sense of humor, as he says, owing to a “background of traditional Navajo [and] Jehovah’s Witnesses, which are completely opposed to each other, and I’m in the middle trying to make sense out of it.” But he has a deeply serious side, too.

Feodorov’s “Desecrations,” paintings on hand-woven Navajo wool rugs, depict environmental disasters such as an oil spill and a power plant in the desert belching poisonous smoke. 

A visitor exclaimed, “Why would he ruin a hand-woven rug with such an ugly picture!” I wanted to reply, “It’s a metaphor, ma’am. The precious rug stands for the Earth and the people who live in it.”

Bob1
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