Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Jamison Chas Banks | Terrortories: The Frontier

Crowd scene: Let them eat cake

Show flier
In "Terrortories: The Frontier," artist Jamison Chas Banks held both a performance and open studio as a culmination of several months’ art residency in the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe. Banks (Seneca-Cayuga-Cherokee) explores the aesthetics of nationalism and military totalitarianism—pushing it to such an extreme that it becomes absurd. Much in the manner of Slovenian artist collective Neue Slowenische Kunst, Banks repurposes imagery from diverse governmental institutions from all over the globe to demonstrate the universality, and futility, of conflict; however, in this performance, he and his collaborators, Daniel Grignon (UNsurgent) and Echota Killsnight (U.N. Envoy/Guard), resolved their conflict by signing a peace treaty, sharing peace medals, shooting a deerhide slingshot that showers the studio with hair—“a blessing” as Banks described it. Sadly, I missed the performance; however, the aftermath was still performative, people enjoying celebratory slices of white cake emblazoned with the United Nations’ logo, while visitors wandered in and plied the artists with questions.

mixed media painting
Banks is the printing instructor at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and his focus is serigraphy—creating multiple hand pulled prints that walk the line between propaganda and show poster. He has a flair for creating all encompassing environments with multiple layers and dimensions of art creation. In this installation, Banks had painted huge wall murals, overlaid with his videos. He displayed “artifacts”—knives, books—in cases, suggesting trophies of war. Prints and paintings of terrorists, such as Saddam Hussein were accompanied by Arabic music. Meanwhile Banks, Grignon, and Killsnight sat at their command post, a desk with obsolete radios and telephones, dressed in a pastiche of uniforms.

Banks and his collaborator represented “blue” and “red” forces—generic enemies that could be applied to war, sports, gangs, corporate raiders, politics, Coke/Pepsi, or simply human nature. While much of his imagery and material reference warfare and conflict directly, they also reflect the romanticized, patriotic view of warfare portrayed in movies, television, and novels—the mediated, heavily censored, and patriotic means that many of us civilizations experience war, which is so far removed from the horrors of those that directly experience conflict.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jessica Metcalfe on “Native American Fashion from the 1940s to the Present, and into the Future”

Now that Jessica Metcalfe is living back on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, the “super important fashion Mecca,” as she puts it, it’s a special treat to see her down in Santa Fe. The School of Advanced Research (SAR) organized her talk at the New Mexico History Museum—their talks have become so popular audiences can no longer squeeze into their auditorium at the SAR campus. Metcalfe earned her PhD in Native American fashion from Arizona State University, and in recent years she has become a force for Native fashion.

Metcalfe began with a quick history of Native fashion since the 1940s, beginning with Lloyd Kiva New, Cherokee from Oklahoma, who founded a wildly successful fashion studio in Scottsdale, Arizona. He sold to Neiman Marcus and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wore his designs. He was the first Native American to participate in an international fashion show: the 1951 Atlantic City International Fashion Show. His studio had 15 assistants, and New collaborated with such prominent artists as Andrew Van Tsinhnahjinnie (Navajo) and Charles Loloma (Hopi). The Heard Museum just acquired hundreds of fabric swatches from Lloyd’s studio.

“Lloyd believed the oldest art form across all cultures was personal adornment,” Metcalfe says, and continues, “He felt Native cultures were essential to American identity.” He flourished as a Native designer during a time when the United States Indian Policy was actively terminating tribes, trying to assimilate Native peoples into mainstream culture, and relocating families away from their tribal homelands.

Jessica Metcalfe at Beyond Buckskin's
"Pop Up Boutique" at the MOCNA
New took his philosophy about Native art and identity to Santa Fe, where he co-founded the Institute of American Indian Arts in 1962. That first decade is known as the “Golden Years,” when textile arts and fashion design were essential parts of the academic program.

Wendy Ponca (Osage) became the main fashion instructor at IAIA from 1983 to 1993. “As Indians,” Metcalfe quoted Ponca, “we are furthering tradition.” Ponca created body art based on Osage cosmology, almost a lost art—in the 1980s only one elder had traditional tattooing. The spider, in particular, was tattooed on the back of women’s hands. Wendy used both spider and snake imagery in fashion.

Ponca co-founded “Native Uprising,” the Native American fashion designer collective in the 1980s—featuring Ponca, Marcus American (Choctaw), Pilar Agoyo (Ohkay Owingeh), and many other talented IAIA students and alumnae. Their innovative creations forced SWAIA to create new categories in the 1990s.

Fast forward to Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo), first Native American to be featured on Project Runway. Michaels studied with Ponca at IAIA and then went on to Lloyd Kiva New’s alma mater, the Chicago Art Institute. While even today her creations are criticized for “not being ‘Indian’ enough,” she won the 2011 SWAIA Indian Market classification for textiles. Starting with plain cloth, akin to a blank canvas, Michaels hand paints designs on her fabric. Michaels keeps demolishing barriers—becoming the first Native American to participate in Mercedes Benz Fashion Week.

Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo) is a fashion designer that draws inspiration from Cochiti pottery designs. These are heavily influenced by oral history, so he retells stories with his clothing design, for instance, reimagining the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Ortiz is interested in “collapsing time.” Jessica quotes him: “We must understand ourselves as embodying past, present, and future.”

Jessica Metcalfe shifted the focus of her talk to her new personal project, Beyond Buckskin, launched in 2009 with a whopping $100. With a vision statement to “empower Native artists and design,” she first started a blog to educate the public about Native fashion, sharing the history and profiling designers.

Misappropriation of traditional Indigenous aesthetics has emerged as a major focus. Paul Frank, back in September, posted a thousand photos on Facebook from their “powwow party” which featured rainbow dyed chicken feather headdresses and faux tomahawks. A flood of complaints convinced the company to pull the photos from the web in 24 hours. Metcalfe followed up with an open letter to the company addressing the racism and troubling imagery from their faux Indian party. She was shocked when the President of Paul Frank apologized, contracted her directly, and wanted to talk. After the discussions, the Paul Frank company actually agreed to collaborate with four Native American designers, and in fact, one of their representatives was in the audience. The new designs will be unveiled in August.

On May 7, 2012, Metcalfe created a boutique space. She kept encouraging people to wear clothing and accessories created by Native designers, and she was constantly asked, “Where do we buy them?” So an online boutique was the perfect mechanism to bring designers with the public. Now Beyond Buckskin showcases 30 different designers ranging from affordable street wear to high-end couture.

Just launched on March 12 in Las Vegas, Beyond Buckskin Lookbook is a landmark publication, featuring over 15 Native designers, since, as Metcalfe says, “This needs to be a movement.”

Metcalfe concludes: “Native fashion’s biggest days are yet to come.”

—America Meredith

Jessica Metcalfe’s feature article, “More Than Just a Trend: Rethinking the 'Native' in Native Fashion,” will appear in the pilot issue of First American Art Magazine.

Teri Greeves, New Mexico Art Museum

Teri Greeves addresses a packed house
Sleepy Santa Fe is waking up from its winter hibernation! Finally there’s more art shows and art talks to lure us out of our caves. The New Mexico Museum of Art is hosting Alcove Shows 12.9 as part of its annual cycle of five-artist, five-week solo exhibits, which features Kiowa–Comanche bead artist Teri Greeves, who shared a public talk about her work Friday, March 22nd.

The New Mexico Museum of Art has been a longtime supporter of Indigenous artists. By showcasing Native art in mixed shows, the museum recontextualizes the work and exposes it to new audiences.

Greeves exhibited her large–scale bead mosaics on raw silk. These simultaneously feature contemporary individuals from Kiowa society and timeless figures from Kiowa oral history, such as Spider Woman, modeled after Greeves’ own mother, who cared for the Half Boys, modeled after Greeves’ sons.

Speaking to an attentive crowd of art lovers, Greeves explained the stories behind her works and further explained how she uses the beautiful aesthetics of beadwork—the colors, the reflective qualities of light—to lure audiences in who might not be otherwise willing to learn more about Kiowa, and by extensive Indigenous, histories, that contain experiences of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

When asked why she doesn’t include facial features in her work, Greeves responded that she didn’t care her beaded faces and wanted instead to convey information through body language in her figures—a slouch, a haughty posture.

Even though beads are considered a “traditional” artform today, they were cutting edge technology introduced from Europe in past centuries. “We incorporate new technologies as soon as we’re given it,” Greeves says. “That’s survival.”

—America Meredith

Teri Greeves is represented by Jane Sauer Gallery.

For a review of “Storied Beads,” see

Look for Teri Greeves’ profile of Navajo bead artist and fashion designer Orlando Dugi in the upcoming pilot issue of First American Art Magazine.