By Weronika Kocurkiewicz
While scrolling aimlessly through my Instagram feed, I came across an image of a Native American woman set in an artificial ‘natural’ setting, full of vivid colours with cardboard animals and fake flowers arranged against a huge photograph of an ideal landscape. The work called Spring (2006) is part of the Four Seasons series by Wendy Red Star, a Native American contemporary artist whose work is influenced by both the Crow Indian tribe in which she grew up, and Indian culture as seen from historic photographs. What is striking about this particular work, is that it was intended to mock our perception of the Native American culture which is largely shaped by Hollywood films. This example shows the dilemma of the appreciation of ethnic minorities in the art world today. The glorification of art of the Western culture is omnipresent and artists such as Wendy Red Star is an exception.
Spring is an epitome of the romanticised view that non-ethnic viewer might associate with Hollywood films. It is disappointing how we are exposed to this stereotypical image and yet know so little about the true art of Native Americans. However, Red Star is trying to abolish this stereotype by promoting her Crow identity, particularly through presentation of traditional regalia. Her works can also be identified as feminist as she is celebrating the women of her tribe. As a Native female artist, Wendy Red Star is giving voice to Native women. An example of this is another work titled Grandmothers – I Come As One, I Stand As Ten Thousand which presents twenty portraits of Crow women taken by Cree Photographer Richard Throssel printed on a mirror which cleverly incorporates the viewer into the portrait while looking at it. In this way, the viewer is allowed space to identify with the figure depicted, by standing shoulder to shoulder with the Crow woman.
In addition, Wendy Red Star found social media, especially Instagram, as a great means of expressing her art. She stated in an interview for Paper magazine that for her, it is a “miniature gallery” where she can present herself freely. Fascinated by the concept of a hashtag, she created #apsáalookefeminist (a worthwhile one to follow), to celebrate feminism and the Crow identity and aesthetic as seen through her eyes.
Red Star sees a slow appreciation of contemporary Native American art in the wider art world, and claims that the lack of diversity in the collections is so evident that American curators are seeking more ethnic artists to exhibit their works to provide “the voice” which has been lacking in many museum collections.
In short, Red Star’s parody of stereotypical perceptions of Indian culture shines a light on the lack of knowledge and appreciation of non-Western cultures in the artistic sphere, and in turn, inspiring her to promote her own identity as a Native American.