Native Arts Celebration

Asking questions, honoring artists



WHAT: Native Arts Celebration
WHEN: A “Native Art Today” panel discussion takes place from 7-9pm Fri., Nov. 14 and a “Native Art Market” happens from 12-4pm Sat., Nov. 15
WHERE: Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall, 121 Prospect St., and Lightcatcher Building, 250 Flora St.
COST: Entry to each event is a suggested donation of $3

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Artist and educator Tanis S’eiltin thinks the category of “traditional” Native American art is a bit of a misnomer.

“Native peoples are sentient beings responding to life’s challenges and victories,” the Fairhaven College professor answers when asked what she’s learned about the evolving nature of “traditional” and “contemporary” Native American art—one of the main topics that will be covered at a “Native Art Today” panel discussion taking place Fri., Nov. 14 at Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall.

“Our art is constantly changing, as are our social, cultural and political environments,” the Tlingit printmaker and installation artist adds. “Evolution of art styles, traditional and contemporary, are driven by many factors; shifting economies, social media, tourist industry, collectors, curators, scholars and cultural trends.

“In addition, art produced in urban settings differs from the art produced in rural communities. And so it is difficult to use the terms ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’, or ‘Northwest Coast,’ ‘Alaska Native Art,’ ‘Native Art,’ etc. Just as difficult is the task to define how it has evolved.”

Still, when S’eiltin joins the panel—which will also include input from Seattle Art Museum’s Native American art curator Barbara Brotherton, Haida weaver Lisa Telford, Stonington Gallery’s Becky Blanchard, and Theresa Parker, a renowned basket weaver and educational curator for the Makah Cultural and Research Center—they will attempt to increase public understanding by doing just that.

The artists and those who represent them will also examine recent trends in exhibiting and representing the work of Native American artists. For her part, S’eiltin says she’s concerned about the practices with which Native artwork is both exhibited and defined.

“It is quite unusual to see an exhibition based on a specific theme, as they are often generated on an overarching generic and loosely based idea,” she says.

“In addition, I would be excited about exhibitions that represent ethnically diverse artists, be that white artists as well as indigenous artists. A specific theme that brings artists from a wide range of places, whose work represents contrasting ideas, would be very informative and provocative. This would also work to challenge a longstanding practice in the art world that tends to ghettoize the Native artist. In converse, I feel there needs to be more support for solo exhibitions throughout the nation.”

While it will be interesting to see how the rest of the panelists chime in on the topics at hand—and respond to questions from the audience—Friday night’s discussion is just one part of the “Native Arts Celebration” being presented by Northwest Indian College and Humanities Washington.

Those who are interested in the subject matter can return to the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building Sat., Nov. 15 for a closer look at what kind of art is currently being produced by both established and up-and-coming artists such as Ethel and Floyd Warbus, Cristie James, Kelly Yazzie, Faunt Visser, Lisa Telford, Theresa Parker, and Ernistine Gensaw.

While the art they’ll be presenting, selling and demonstrating will be the main focus of the “Native Art Market,” the “celebration” part of the weekend’s events will be in full swing as well. There will also be tale-telling with Nooksack storyteller Tammy Cooper Woodrich, music by flutist Peter Ali, and a chance for those in attendance at the culturally creative event to learn more about traditional materials and techniques such as weaving with cedar bark.

Hopefully, both Friday and Saturday’s events will serve as a way for others to learn more about the experiences of Native American artists—whether it’s through the art of conversation or simply the appreciation of their art.

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