Art of ori­gin

Stu­dio Arts

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Adele Oliveira

Stu­dio arts

“If I have a phi­los­o­phy of art, it’s this: You have to know where you come from in or­der to know where you’re go­ing,” Dorothy Grand­bois said on a re­cent af­ter­noon in the pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio at the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts. The stu­dio was quiet in the calm be­fore the be­gin­ning of the se­mes­ter: Stacked grey lock­ers hadn’t yet been as­signed to stu­dents, rows of huge flat-screen Ap­ple com­put­ers were all pow­ered off, and the re­volv­ing doors to the ana­log dark­room were closed. Grand­bois is a grad­u­ate of IAIA and the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico, and has been a pho­tog­ra­phy in­struc­tor at IAIA for 19 years. For Grand­bois, an en­rolled mem­ber of the Turtle Moun­tain Chippewa tribe, and for many artists in the de­part­ment, work­ing at IAIA is syn­ony­mous with en­gag­ing in ques­tions of iden­tity and rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Stu­dio arts at IAIA en­com­pass pho­tog­ra­phy, dig­i­tal art, print­mak­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, paint­ing, ce­ram­ics, sculp­ture, and jew­elry and metal work. (Con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from these of­fer­ings is fiber arts, due to lim­ited space and al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources, ac­cord­ing to J. Craig Tomp­kins, the de­part­ment’s in­terim chair and a cin­e­matic arts and tech­nol­ogy in­struc­tor.) The cam­pus sprawls across 140 acres south of the Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Col­lege. Stu­dio spa­ces are con­tem­po­rary and un­adorned, spa­cious and well-equipped. (“I have the most beau­ti­ful Ep­son prin­ter,” Grand­bois said.) The phys­i­cal plant has come a long way from its be­gin­nings on the cam­pus of the In­dian School, and later, rented space in the bar­racks at the Col­lege of Santa Fe, where the school was housed for about 20 years, from the early ’80s un­til 2000.

“The bar­racks were freez­ing, and we used to break into the stu­dios at night to work, even though we weren’t sup­posed to,” re­called James Rivera, a Pas­cua Yaqui tribal mem­ber and pain­ter who teaches at IAIA and is a 1996 grad­u­ate of the school. Even with less than stel­lar fa­cil­i­ties, “It was a mag­i­cal time,” Rivera said. “We were so ex­cited about what we were do­ing; we’d stay up all night just to work.”

Cur­rently, the stu­dio arts de­part­ment has about 200 stu­dents, in­clud­ing the 19 AFA and 71 BFA can­di­dates who will en­roll this fall. Stu­dent-teacher ra­tios av­er­age about 12 to one, with many classes be­ing much smaller. For first-year stu­dents, ad­mis­sion re­quire­ments are not par­tic­u­larly rig­or­ous, nor is there a re­quire­ment to present a port­fo­lio. “We’re look­ing for stu­dents who don’t nec­es­sar­ily have a back­ground in art and who maybe don’t have abun­dant ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion,” Tomp­kins said. “Part of what stu­dio arts stu­dents learn is how to build and present a port­fo­lio.”

When Grand­bois first came to IAIA as a stu­dent in the early ’90s, she had lit­tle art ex­pe­ri­ence and was a stay-at-home mother in her early for­ties, go­ing through a di­vorce. “I’d done bead­work at home, but never pho­tog­ra­phy,” she said. “Pho­tog­ra­phy changed my life. It awak­ened a part of me that had been sleep­ing.” She went on to study pho­tog­ra­phy at UNM. As a pho­tog­ra­phy in­struc­tor at IAIA, Grand­bois be­gins each of her classes by hav­ing stu­dents in­tro­duce them­selves and talk about their back­ground. “One year, we had one el­der who was a flute player, and he played for us,” Grand­bois said. “If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have known who he re­ally was.”

Grand­bois also shares her own work with her stu­dents. One of her pieces is a strik­ing photo-litho­graph that fea­tures a de­pic­tion of the cru­ci­fix­ion printed over an early 20th-cen­tury pho­to­graph, tinted red, of three Na­tive Amer­i­can girls in dou­ble­breasted school uni­form jack­ets. The im­age re­calls Grand­bois’ ex­pe­ri­ence at govern­ment and Catholic board­ing schools. “It wasn’t un­til my mother died and I saw pho­tos she had of me in the same type of out­fit that I re­mem­bered things I hadn’t thought of for years,” she said, like her brother be­ing forced to carry a bucket of sand af­ter he’d bro­ken his arm, as pun­ish­ment for speak­ing their tribal lan­guage. “Life in a board­ing school or on the reser­va­tion is hard,” Grand­bois said. “Art is how I healed.”

Rivera’s fa­ther had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence at board­ing school, but it wasn’t un­til Rivera was an adult that he asked his fa­ther where the scars on his back came from — they were the re­sult of be­ing cut with a penknife when he spoke in his Na­tive

lan­guage. “My work is all about lan­guage right now, and about mis­con­cep­tions and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions,” Rivera said. “I’m so light-skinned that peo­ple don’t think I’m In­dian at all, and there’s a lot of, ‘How In­dian are you? Do you speak your lan­guage well enough? Were you raised on a reser­va­tion?’ ”

Rivera has held var­i­ous po­si­tions at IAIA, in­clud­ing be­ing a “dorm daddy,” work­ing in the fi­nan­cial aid of­fice, and as an in­struc­tor. He says the rigor of the cur­ricu­lum has in­creased since he was a stu­dent. “They’re push­ing re­search and the­ory in a way that they weren’t be­fore,” he said. “We’re pre­par­ing stu­dents for grad­u­ate school.”

Ter­ran Kipp-Last Gun is a mem­ber of the Pi­ikani (Black­foot) Na­tion and grew up near Brown­ing, Mon­tana. He’s a se­nior at IAIA this fall, and will grad­u­ate with a BFA in mu­seum stud­ies and an AFA in stu­dio arts. He plans to in­tern at the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion (as many IAIA grads do) next sum­mer. “Most of my art­work is talk­ing about iden­tity is­sues and my own cul­ture,” he said. His work in­cludes pho­tog­ra­phy; in one piece, the same woman poses in dif­fer­ent spots around a liv­ing room; she’s adorned with kitschy “Na­tive” ac­cou­trements, like a pleather head­dress with dyed neon feath­ers. “My art and my cu­ra­to­rial work [is in­formed by] a Na­tive per­spec­tive,” he said, elab­o­rat­ing that he’d like to make mu­se­ums more aware of what kinds of tribal items should be on pub­lic dis­play, and which ones should be repa­tri­ated.

The es­sen­tial com­po­nent of an art ed­u­ca­tion at IAIA is its in­dige­nous ap­proach. “Where else are you go­ing to find all these in­cred­i­ble Na­tive artists in one place?” Rivera said. He added that an arts ed­u­ca­tion at other pres­ti­gious art schools, while broad, is rooted in the Western canon, while at IAIA, the Western ap­proach is in­cor­po­rated into the cur­ricu­lum, but its core is Na­tive. Yet not all of IAIA’s stu­dents are Na­tive Amer­i­can. Ap­pli­ca­tion is open to any­one, and the de­part­ment has both non-Na­tive Amer­i­can stu­dents and in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

Tomp­kins is white. “I’m not the only white guy on cam­pus, but I’m def­i­nitely in the mi­nor­ity,” he said. “Truly, I don’t no­tice it too much. When I’m teach­ing, I let my stu­dents know that tech­nol­ogy is a tool, that it can add to the tra­di­tional means of pro­duc­tion rather than take away from it.”

There are few spa­ces (es­pe­cially in higher ed­u­ca­tion) where the ma­jor­ity is in­dige­nous. “It feels good to be back in a mostly-Na­tive set­ting,” said Wane­sia Spry Misquadace, an IAIA grad­u­ate who just fin­ished a dual MA/MFA pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Madi­son at Wis­con­sin. Though she’s best known for her birch­bark can­is­ters, which in­cor­po­rate met­al­work with tra­di­tional birch bit­ing tech­niques, this fall she’ll be­gin teach­ing in­ter­me­di­ate and ad­vanced pho­tog­ra­phy at IAIA.

Misquadace grew up on the Fond du Lac reser­va­tion in Min­ne­sota. Her par­ents died when she was a child, and she lived in fos­ter care and in chil­dren’s homes, both on and off the reser­va­tion. “I was think­ing about cos­me­tol­ogy school when an IAIA poster came in the mail,” she said. “I’d al­ways been a maker, and I knew that ed­u­ca­tion was the key for me.”

“The old stereo­types and out­moded ideas about what it is to be Na­tive still ex­ist,” Misquadace con­tin­ued. “I want my stu­dents to go out into the world and say, we’re pow­er­ful, we’re ed­u­cated, and we have a strong cul­tural foun­da­tion.”

Clock­wise from left, stu­dent Tania Lars­son (Gwich’in) in the jew­elry stu­dio; stu­dent Ter­ran Kipp-Last Gun (Black­feet) speak­ing dur­ing the 2015 IAIA Schol­ar­ship Awards Cer­e­mony; stu­dent John Her­rera in the Al­lan Houser Hao­zous Sculp­ture & Foundry Build­ing Op­po­site page, top, stu­dents, alumni, fac­ulty, and staff mak­ing art dur­ing 2014’s Art Rush; stu­dent Charletta Yazzie (Navajo) paint­ing dur­ing Art Rush; pho­tos Ja­son. S. Or­daz

Life in a board­ing school or on the reser­va­tion is hard. Art is how I healed.

— in­struc­tor Dorothy Grand­bois

Stu­dent An­gel Mills (Oglala Lakota) mak­ing fry bread dur­ing the 2014 IAIA Pow­wow; be­low, IAIA stu­dent Ed­sel Brown (Navajo) dur­ing a bless­ing cer­e­mony at the Balzer Con­tem­po­rary Edge Gallery; pho­tos Ja­son S. Or­daz

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.