Like A Hammer

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 

At the intersection of 1st Avenue and University Street in downtown Seattle is a large sculpture of a craftsman utilizing a hammer outside of the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). For decades, the museum has been the home to a collection of diverse artwork celebrating the many cultures from around the world, including several installations and exhibits that highlight traditional Indigenous artwork such as carvings and paintings.  This spring, the SAM decided to host a major exhibit that was first curated and featured at the Denver Art Museum and showcases the works of Choctaw and Cherokee Artist Jeffrey Gibson who, much like the craftsman sculpture, used a hammer to attract the masses and break into the art world, albeit metaphorically. 

“Like A Hammer as a title has always been conceptually and philosophically the idea of a hammer being used as a tool of deconstruction and reconstruction,” Jeffrey stated in a video displayed within the exhibit.  “In particular, like a DIY ethic. It’s this simple tool that a single person can alter something with.”

Located on the top floor showroom of SAM, the Like A Hammer exhibit invites visitors to explore Jeffery’s mind and vivid imagination as his creations serve as a reflection of who he is, all while paying tribute to the history of the art, material and words that inspire his artwork, drawing ideas from his culture, modern music and personal life.

The exhibit features over sixty-five unique pieces from Jeffery’s collection, all of which were created after 2011 following a huge revelation that found him deconstructing and reconstructing many areas of his life. In a lecture at the New York Studio School, Jeffery explained that he nearly gave up his passion after his material was rejected by several art museums and studios. He was so upset that one day he took all of his paintings to his local laundromat and put them through three back-to-back wash cycles. 

After hearing this news, Jeffery’s friend recommended him to a counselor for anger management. The counselor in turn suggested physical activity as a way to take out his aggression, so he joined a nearby gym and it was here where he had his first breakthrough.

“I sat down [with my counselor] for my first session and all these issues around race, class, gender and homophobia came out very easily,” he said. “What we began talking about was this disjoint between the mind and the body. Ultimately, he recommended that I worked with a physical trainer and the physical trainer is the first one who introduced me to the bag. When working out aggression on the punching bag, my trainer would ask me to name what I was punching – to name who I was angry at, what were my obstacles. And somehow this naming and projecting, and then literal hitting, was meant to unify what was happening up here [in my head] with what was happening in the body.”

The beaded Everlast punching bag is perhaps Jeffery’s most notable work to date. Approximately fifteen colorful bags are displayed throughout the exhibit, all featuring traditional beadwork with contemporary designs. On several punching bags, Jeffery incorporates the lyrics of his favorite songs into his beadwork such as ‘If I Ruled the World’ by Nas and Lauryn Hill as well as ‘I Put a Spell On You’ by Nina Simone. In addition to lyrics and beadwork, Jeffrey also included various elements of ceremonial regalia like jingles, sinew and fringe.

“The punching bag was a lifesaver for me in the sense that it was able to, as a format and materials, encompass the narrative for the first time. This idea of adornment and regalia defused the violence of a punching bag. Where it coincided is that these traditional people were wearing garments that they made, that identified them as different from the mainstream. They felt very proud, they carried their history with them and they had happiness and sadness. There was something about it that I thought was different from fashion, it is a garment that really signifies your identity and it’s a garment that indicates that you are working and moving through the world differently. It also commanded respect. Ultimately this all melded together into the bags. Once the bags started, I started looking at all sorts of different tribal aesthetics. The powwow is an intertribal event. It’s an event where the dancers, although they are relative to tradition, they are encouraged to innovate, they are encouraged to individuate themselves and there are lots of different modern innovations that happen.”

The lyrics and wordplay aren’t limited to the punching bags. In fact, Jeffery repurposed a number of traditional wool blankets into contemporary art that hang on the wall of the museum and garner a lot of attention from local art enthusiasts. Memorable lines from ‘Time (Clock of the Heart)’ by the Culture Club, ‘Fight the Power’ by Public Enemy as well as a quote by writer James A. Baldwin are spelled out in glass beads on the blankets. SAM also displayed a number of Jeffrey’s geometrical paintings which he constructed on rawhide as well as sculpted figurines that don traditional regalia, such as jingle dresses and shawls.

The exhibit ends in a room with rainbow curtains covered with bold letters that read ‘Don’t Make Me Over’ and ‘Accept Me for What I Am’. Projected on the wall is a video presentation by Jeffrey in which he is dressed in customized ceremonial garb and performing spoken word and song on a traditional hand drum. 

Although, the Like A Hammer exhibit displays artwork that explores the identity of Jeffery Gibson as a proud queer Indigenous creative, his intention behind his work is the hope that others can identify with the art, whether through triumph or struggle, and find a sense of community as well as inspire the next generations to come to simply be themselves. 

“Indigenous history and crafts provides this incredible infinite use of materials and content that I really feel privileged to have access to. When I decided to start making again, I was determined to make what I wanted to see. I started to use the word maker because it allowed me to go into everything from garments, to video, to sculptures; embrace textiles, and adornment and the decorative without feeling the boundary of what art is perceived to be. I look for words that I imagine a viewer can actually place themselves in. I move forward as an artist on the trust that we all share a similar experience. Ultimately everyone is at an intersection of multiple cultures, times, histories. The world is shifting and changing and if you’re engaged in the world, you are also shifting and changing.”  

Like A Hammer is a must-see-in-person exhibit and is currently on display until May 12. For tickets and more info, please contact the Seattle Art Museum at (206) 625-8900 or visit www.SeattleArtMuseum.org. 

Major exhibition presents a Native-activated space, explores legacy of Edward S. Curtis

 

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) presents Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson (on display from June 14 – September 9). Featuring iconic early 20th-century photographs by photographer Edward S. Curtis alongside contemporary works – including photography, video, and installations – by Indigenous artists Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, and Will Wilson. Their powerful portrayals of Native identity offer a compelling counter narrative to the stereotypes present in Curtis’s images.

Edward S. Curtis is one of the most well-known photographers of Native people and the American West. Double Exposure features over 150 of his photographs. Threaded throughout the galleries of his works are multimedia installations by Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, and Will Wilson. Their work provides a crucial framework for a critical reassessment and understanding of Curtis’s representations of Native peoples, while shedding light on the complex responses Natives and others have to those representations today.*

“The historical significance of Curtis’s project is well-established,” says Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art. “In many cases, his photographs and texts provide important records of Native culture. However, it’s time for a reevaluation of his work. His methodology perpetuated the problematic myth of Native people as a ‘vanishing race.’ This exhibition reflects a collaboration among SAM, the artists, and an advisory committee comprising Native leaders to make a space for a reckoning with Curtis’s legacy.”

Three contemporary Indigenous artists in Double Exposure challenge assumptions about Native art and illustrate how Native communities continue to creatively define their identity and cultures for themselves. First Nation artist Marianne Nicolson created an immersive sculptural light installation that casts moving shadows to address the impact of the 1964 Columbia River Treaty on Native communities. 

Seminole and Choctaw filmmaker/artists Tracy Rector empowers Indigenous communities by capturing the activism, defiance, and reclaimed traditions of Native tribes through her new video work of short stories derived from environmental awareness and life experiences of Natives today.

“All of my work is centered in Indigenous story: for, by, and about Indigenous people,” says Rector, whose video will welcome viewers inside a “Native-activated space” surrounded by related art.

Will Wilson’s large-scale tintype portraits feature Native lawmakers, artists, educators, and community members from the Seattle area. Artist Tracy Rector, Senator John McCoy, and others will speak through “talking” tintypes created using augmented reality. Wilson, a Navajo/Diné photographer, aims to counter stereotypes that Curtis’s work propagated.

“I want to supplant Curtis’s ‘settler’ gaze and the remarkable body of ethnographic material he compiled with a contemporary vision of Native North America,” states Wilson.

Double Exposure is a chance to see art of Native Americans in all its complexity through each of these artists’ perspectives on culture and identity.*

In honor of Double Exposure’s opening, the Seattle Art Museum invited any individuals with tribal affiliations to be the first visitors to view the exhibit. Dubbed ‘the Indigenous Peoples opening’, held the evening of June 11, representatives from many Coast Salish tribes gathered at SAM for the free event which included admission to the exhibit, performances by the Suquamish canoe family, and songs shared by Lummi violinist Swil Kanim.

“This Indigenous-only celebration was inspired by Miranda Belarde-Lewis (Tlingit/Zuni),” explains artist Tracy Rector. “She suggested the idea of decolonizing curation and what it means to indigenize museum spaces. Having a Native-centered exhibit opening is a way we could be in community experiencing artwork together.”

*source: Seattle Art Museum press releases, exhibition literature

Image credits: Kalamath Lake Marshes, 1923, Edward S. Curtis, goldstone. Mussel Gatherer, 1900, Edward S. Curtis, photogravure. John McCoy (Tulalip) – Talking Tintype, 2018, Will Wilson, exhibition print. Madrienne Salgado (Muckleshoot) – Talking Tintype, 2018, Will Wilson, exhibition print.

Indigenous Futures: Mixing Pop-Culture with Native American design

 

 

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Steer Clear. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

Steer Clear.
Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

Recently, the Seattle Art Museum presented PechaKucha Seattle volume 63, titled Indigenous Futures. PechaKuchas are informal and fun gatherings where creative people get together and present their ideas, works, thoughts – just about anything, really – in fun, relaxed spaces that foster an environment of learning and understanding. It would be easy to think PechaKuchas are all about the presenters and their presentation, but there is something deeper and a more important subtext to each of these events. They are all about togetherness, about coming together as a community to reveal and celebrate the richness and dimension contained within each one of us. They are about fostering a community through encouragement, friendship and celebration.

The origins of PechaKucha Nights stem from Tokyo, Japan and have since gone global; they are now happening in over 700 cities around the world. What made PechaKucha Night Seattle volume 63 so special was that it was comprised of all Native artists, writers, producers, performers, and activists presenting on their areas of expertise and exploring the realm of Native ingenuity in all its forms, hence the name Indigenous Futures.

 

Star Wars.photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

Star Wars.
photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

 

Jeffrey Veregge is an award winning Native American comic book artist from the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe in Kingston, Washington. His work uses Coastal Salish and contemporary graphic design techniques that created the look dubbed ‘Salish Geek’ by his creative peers. Along with his work for IDW Publishing, he has appeared in numerous websites and publications such as Fast Company Magazine, Cowboys and Indians, and Wired Magazine. His works and commissions are part of some prestigious collections located at Yale University, Washington State University, The Burke Museum and the Seattle Art Museum. He’s also the pop and nerd culture contributor for Indian Country Today Media, where he is known as NDN Geek.

“A member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, I was raised and spent a majority of my life on our reservation known locally as Little Boston, which is located near Kingston, Washington. Although I am enrolled there, I am also both of Suquamish and Duwamish ancestry,” says Veregge. “I am an honor graduate from the Art Institute of Seattle, and I have had the privilege to study with Tsimshian master carver David Boxley for a short time learning the basics of Salish form-line design.

“For the past 10 years I have been employed as Lead Designer/Studio Manager for a media agency that specializes in non-profits. My work is a reflection of a lifetime love affair with comic books, toys, TV and film; taking my passions and blending them with my Native perspective.”

Veregge has been an artist since the moment he was able to hold his first action figure and create stories of his childhood superheroes on paper with whatever art utensils were available. That creative fire and passion for superheroes and comics never faded and eventually led him to the Seattle Art Institute where he studied industrial design technology. Later, he was fortunate to study with Boxley to learn the basics of Salish form line design, a traditional style that influenced the superhero comics yet to come.

After graduating from the Seattle Art Institute, Veregge had a great job at an advertising agency for eleven years. Working in advertising allowed him to tap into his creative side, but the Native artist within wasn’t satisfied, he needed something more. He went to art school to be an artist and to have fun, not to have his inner artist constrained by the everyday politics of advertising. Being an artist wasn’t just to sell art and make money for Veregge, it meant having fun, it meant viewing a blank piece of paper as a magical canvas to express the imagination of a cluttered mind of a Native American who loves comics, movies, Sci-Fi, and action figures. So he left the advertising agency and embarked on an artist’s mission to create something truly unique. The search for a new, personal and bold direction in his work resulted in Veregge creating Native Superhero comics

 

Visit Seattle. photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

Visit Seattle.
photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

 

“For me it wasn’t just trying to create art as a geek or nerd, but as a Native I felt like I had something unique to offer,” Veregge says. “That’s my appreciation for all art and design, my passion for heroes, robots, aliens and monsters, and my pride in where I came from.

“My origins are not supernatural, nor have they been enhanced by radioactive spiders. I am simply a Native American artist and writer whose creative mantra in best summed up with a word from my tribe’s own language: ‘taʔčaʔx̣ʷéʔtəŋ’, which means ‘get into trouble’.”

Creating Native Superhero comics and the website jeffreyveregge.com is a reflection of a lifetime love affair with comic books, toys, TV and film. Taking his passions and blending them with his Native perspective, artistic background and the desire to simply be true to himself. The work he creates now takes who he is as a Native person, his love for graphic art and design, and his passions and blends them all together into a new art form that he loves and has fun creating.

“Basically I am just trying to have fun and get back to that kid that went to art school to begin with, wanting to create artwork that I want to see and make just for the hell of it,” describes Veregge of the bold new art he creates today. “There is a time and place for preserving the old ways, the traditions, but then there is the call for all artists to push the limits, find new ways to say things, and new stories to tell.”

12th. photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

12th.
photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

Transformers. photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

Transformers.
photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

 

photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

photo courtesy of Jeffrey Veregge

 

 

Contact Micheal Rios, mrios@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov

Indigenous Futures: Indian Heritage Murals

Mural_3

Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison

 

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

Recently, the Seattle Art Museum presented PechaKucha Seattle volume 63, titled Indigenous Futures. PechaKuchas are informal and fun gatherings where creative people get together and present their ideas, works, thoughts – just about anything, really – in fun, relaxed spaces that foster an environment of learning and understanding. It would be easy to think PechaKuchas are all about the presenters and their presentation, but there is something deeper and a more important subtext to each of these events. They are all about togetherness, about coming together as a community to reveal and celebrate the richness and dimension contained within each one of us. They are about fostering a community through encouragement, friendship and celebration.

The origins of PechaKucha Nights stem from Tokyo, Japan and have since gone global; they are now happening in over 700 cities around the world. What made PechaKucha Night Seattle volume 63 so special was that it was comprised of all Native artists, writers, producers, performers, and activists presenting on their areas of expertise and exploring the realm of Native ingenuity in all its forms, hence the name Indigenous Futures.

 

Andrew Morrison.Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison

Andrew Morrison.
Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison

Andrew Morrison, San Carlos Apache and Haida, is a phenomenal painter and muralist who is proud to call Seattle his home, he is a great 12th Man Seahawks fan, and considers a blank wall his absolute greatest resource. Morrison’s PechaKucha presentation was on the past, present, and future of the great Indian Heritage High School murals he created of Chief Sealth, Chief Joseph, Geronimo, and Chief Sitting Bull.

“Being a Native person, I really take a lot of pride in painting and creating murals. It truly is an honor every day to be able to celebrate the Native American arts through my craft,” says Morrison. “The goal of my painting is to better myself, my family and the community.”

Morrison and many of his friends attended Indian Heritage High School (IHS) in Seattle. In 2001, after attending college, Morrison began volunteering in the art program and noticed there was a void within the school. “I saw there wasn’t a lot of artwork on the walls of the school. The walls were very blank and very dormant, without energy. As a muralist, as a painter, I’m always striving for larger surfaces,” explained Morrison of his motivation to begin painting 25-foot by 100-foot large murals of Native American heroes.

It was a twelve-year project to completely finish the four mammoth murals on IHS, beginning in 2001 and being completed in 2013. The massive portraits of Native American heroes was noticed by news outlets, tribal and non-tribal alike. The portraits are a source of pride for many Native people who don’t see their heroes recognized as they should be. Unfortunately, there were those who saw the massive portraits as an opportunity to vandalize another’s work to showcase their own ignorance, as the mantra goes, ‘haters gonna hate’. Over the weekend of February 24, 2015 a local graffiti crew desecrated the murals by splattering white latex paint all over them.

 

Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison

Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison

 

Only days later a cleanup operation, led by Morrison, consisting of 30-35 volunteers worked tirelessly to remove the white spray-paint and restore the murals to their former glory. As if the vandals’ desecrations wasn’t enough, soon after restoring the murals Morrison learned there was a proposal in the Seattle School District to demolish Indian Heritage High School, along with his murals.

“I fought and advocated for a  year straight, twelve months exactly, to preserve these murals. I felt these images of our Native American warrior chiefs were so sacred and so holy that to demolish them to the ground would be another form of desecration. That was a very tumultuous battle and fight, but I give the credit to the community and the people who believe in art and believe in our indigenous culture. Through the power of togetherness we were able to get the Seattle School District to vote to preserve these murals. Now, these murals are presented prepped and ready to go as they will be built into the new Wilson Pacific Schools to be opened next year.

“Especially after living through experiences like these, it actually inspires me to paint bigger and larger and be more creative and go more in depth. It is heartwarming to know that the murals will continue to witness life and be an inspiration at the new Wilson Pacific Schools.”

 

Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison

Photo courtesy Andrew Morrison