I am a Native and I am an artist.
I am deeply concerned about the issues my people face. And right now I want to address a subject which is at the very heart of survival for Native nations – the complexity of contemporary Native identity.
I am concerned with how we (Native people) will see each other and identify each other – in the future. How we recognize each other is the key to our sense of cultural/spiritual belonging and to healing from historical trauma.
Most tribes are forced to identify their citizens by blood quantum. This system was established by the U.S. Government. I see how it works hand in hand with forced assimilation and “voluntary” relocation to diminish Native populations over time. The goal as I see it is: to eliminate Native people so their rights and claims to their lands will cease. As a result of this intentional systematic genocide, Native people would be swallowed up by the great melting pot of peoples lacking history, culture, ancestral ties to this land.
As a result of assimilation our rapidly changing demographics have contributed to a major shift in how Native people see each other. In the past our introduction went something like this – tribal affiliation, clan, home territory and family name. This introduction has for many been replaced by more complex definitions.
Many Native people in my community have complex identities and stories of being wounded by rejection or uplifted by acceptance – by their Nations, communities, and other Native peoples.
I myself have experienced spiritual dilemma through my own “who is or who isn’t” judgment of others.
invisibility, consumption of Native identity and art, and my response…
To experience racism one must be physically seen or regarded in some perceivable way. Native Americans in the United States are invisible – viewed primarily as stereotypes and as a historical people of the past.
Paradoxically, while we experience invisibility, we struggle with the mass consumption and appropriation of Native art, culture, and identity by the dominant culture.
It is the erasure of Native people that allows this consumption to be completely disconnected from the contemporary people who created this art and continue to represent our cultures.
As an artist it isn’t my job to educate non-Native people about Native issues, and whoever’s job it is – it’s not working anyway.
Lacking real knowledge, personal interaction and empathy, the dominant culture has false and simplistic preconceptions about indigenous people. Most Americans feel exonerated of a troubling shared history by simply sitting through a lecture, a film, or a performance.
I believe this ignorance allows audiences to consume my work by sensationalizing my story and cultural voyeurism. I want to disrupt this monotonous exercise between passive audiences and myself. I want to challenge the notions of how Native art is experienced. I want to disrupt conventional audience expectations by physically shifting the proximity of the audience and artists.
Is it possible to create a performance work that more truly and effectively crosses the divide between a general audience and a Native artist?
What does Native culture and art have to teach a non-Native audience about making and consuming art in a way that is less polarized and polarizing, less transactional and more relational?
I created We Wait in the Darkness to heal my ancestors from the emotional, physical and spiritual injuries of the past using movement, image and sound. My approach to We Wait in the Darkness was to author my work for Native audiences and make the work available for all audiences. I found that this approach helps me break barriers between people who come from different perspectives, traditions, and self-understanding – in large part because I have found a way to be true to my own identity and artistic inquiry, while diminishing the cultural voyeurism that so often happens when white audiences engage with Native artists and artists of color.
In the creation of Skin(s) Native artists will create with a Native audience in mind. This will be easily reinforced as we will be working within our Native communities who will participate in the creation of movement, text, film, and in a way take ownership of parts of the work.
Each creation and performance residency for Skin(s) – Native and Non-Native people can witness rehearsals, be a part of discussions, and give feedback on what they see.
In this way… Skin(s) will always be a living document that allows the audience to shift and shape the work from community to community.