Saturday, October 3, 2015

Art Inspirations: Indigenous Art

Most of my artistic choices come from listening to what resonates in my body.  I noticed during my undergrad time at Rutgers University studying Art History that the work that I most enjoyed would affect me on a bodily level.  Often as an energetic tingling, inner stillness or simply the release of a deep breath.


A photo from my visit to Rutgers in Dec 2014 of one building where I took art history classes
next to the Art Library and Zimmerli Art Museum.

My most profound experience of this came when I was studying for a semester in Melbourne, AU where I was exposed to work by Indigenous Australian artists.  The colors and textures had a visceral effect and the subtle articulation of the designs on the canvas resonated within me.  I was so inspired by how much could come across though the colors, lines and dots.

The following photos are from this amazing book: breasts, bodies, canvas: Central Desert Art as Experience
by Jennifer Loureide Riddle.

(L) Judy Napangardi Watson  Mina Mina Jukurrpa (Mina Mina Dreaming) 2006.
(R) Dorothy Napangardi Robinson Salt on Mina Mina 2001.
(L) Rosie Mapurrurla Tasman  Kurlukuku 1998.
(R) Rosie Napurrurla Tasman Yarla 2002.
Emily Kame Kngwarreye  Utopia Panesl (7 of 18) 1996.


Photo of a print I purchased of a painting called  Rainbow Serpent by Danny Eastwood.
***

After graduation I hung around my college town and worked on a certification in massage therapy.  During that time I was twice able visit a friend who was working as a volunteer teacher at the Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  The first trip was just to visit, the second trip corresponded with seeing a Tori Amos concert in Rapid City.  Sometime during that second trip I had one of the surest moments of clarity of my life and knew that I needed to become a volunteer and spend time in South Dakota.    Someday ill write something longer about the complex wondrousness of that place and my experience there.  For the purpose of this blog post I want to focus on the Red Cloud Heritage Center.

Our Lady of Lourdes Oglala Lakota Nation flag
The school I worked for is part of a Jesuit mission.  I asked the volunteer coordinator if it would be a problem that I did not consider myself a practicing Catholic and was actively exploring alternative spiritualities.  She assured me that an open heart was the only requirement and I signed up to return as a volunteer for the following school year.  As I would learn during my three year stint as a kindergarten aid and art teacher, this school was rooted firmly in Catholic faith yet it strived to offer a space for a unique blend of indigenous and christian spiritual practices.  I found this crossover culture to be a beautiful lens into the similarities and differences between the pillars upholding the Lakota and Catholic spiritual practices.  This experience helped me to better appreciate the heart of the religion I was raised in and gave me the opportunity to begin to understand another way of being in relationship to the world through witnessing the beliefs and practices of Lakota culture.

Our Lady of Lourdes school covered in snow
I lived and worked in the town of Porcupine at the Our Lady of Lourdes school which had Kindergarten through 8th grades.  On the property was an average sized two story school building, a small church and hall, a bus garage, a playground area and a handful of living spaces.  The volunteers resided in an old convent house.  During my 3 year stay I lived with anywhere from 3-6 other people.
A spot in the Bandlands National Park where we used to camp
and would wake up surrounded by bison.
The main campus of the Red Cloud school system was about 30 miles away and contained another grade school, a high school and the Jesuit mission buildings.  In one of those buildings was a space called the Heritage Center which functioned as an indigenous art and crafts store, museum and art gallery.   Their display room was a mix of traditional Lakota art and historical objects and a broad selection of contemporary Native American fine art.

Below are photos of some small pieces I have bought from the Heritage Center.

Various pieces by Sam Two Bulls
Print by King Kuka

The stunning collection there was humbling to me as an artist.  The line between life, art, spirituality and culture was dynamic and powerful.  Those paintings challenged me to understand how I am present to my own identity and relationships.

Me in the sun.  In front of a bus. 

If you would like to donate to or learn more about the Red Cloud Heritage Center check out their website.

More information about the AU community can be found here, here and here.  Also check out this awesome book about women's painting traditions







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