In Indian Summer, a bucolic scene is obviously staged. There is a printed mountain backdrop, a cut-out cardboard deer, fake plants, and Western-themed props strewn across a manicured bed of Astroturf. The Native artist Wendy Red Star sits poised amid the artificial flora and fauna. She wears traditional Apsáalooke (Crow) regalia and stares stoically into the distance.
Indian Summer is from the larger photographic series Four Seasons, which includes Fall, Winter, and Spring. When I first viewed Indian Summer, I was reminded of bright, color-saturated storefronts with eerie mannequins and design sets—frozen behind walls of glass. In Four Seasons, Red Star plays on the commercialism of Native identity and satirically recalls the dioramas of Native people exhibited at natural history museums.
Red Star was raised on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, and received the Seattle Art Museum’s Betty Bowen Award in 2016. Through reclamatory, unsettling, and playfully witty art that is also collaborative and intergenerational, Red Star dismantles the narratives of Natives by white photographers, archives, and media: depictions that remove Native agency and preserve stereotypes of Natives as stoic, passive, and distant.
In an interview with SAM, Red Star reflected on her role as an artist and cultural archivist: “Native voices have historically been silenced, unable to explain or even place our own narrative within the larger society. As a Native person I have witnessed the lack of inclusion for Native artists in particular in the contemporary art world, many of whom struggle for inclusion in important exhibitions.”
“Also troubling is a prevailing but antiquated expectation of what Native art should be, whether from the 19th century or the 21st. This leaves many Native artists feeling segregated into categories of “traditional” work and without a place in the contemporary art world. I consider my practice and the act of annotating, revealing, and erasure a reclamation of my own history and identity. The act is so much more than a rejection of the colonial gaze, it is a deliberate act to take authority and rewrite histories in humanist way.”
This week, fireworks, barbecues, patriotic fanfare, and heavy traffic usher in another 4th of July holiday. Prior to yesterday’s processions at the White House, Trump had tweeted “It will be the show of a lifetime!” ensuring more tanks and military planes. In the wake of continued injustices toward immigrants in this country, it remains precisely that: a show. Ongoing histories of racism, genocide, nativism, and imperialism get to masquerade as nationalism under a venerating sheen of red-white-and-blue. On the cultural archive of Native experience and presence, Wendy Red Star removes and probes these veneers of unaccountable histories—dismantling and rewriting false colonial narratives to engage Native voices past, present, and future.
– Rachel Kim, SAM Curatorial Intern