Monday, November 5, 2007

Eiteljorg Fellowship, Creativity & Visual Soverignty

The Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis is hosting their Eiteljorg Fellowship activities, titled Diversity and Dialogue starting on Thursday November 8th. It promises to be quite the event because they're flying all six of the Fellowship awardees for the gala reception. This years Fellows are:

James A. Luna (LuiseƱo), Distinguished Artist

Dana Claxton (Lakota)

Gerald Clarke (Cahuilla)

Larry McNeil (Tlingit/ Nisgaa),

Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Inupiaq / Athabascan)

William Wilson (Dine)

It occurs to me that sometimes the creative process is such a powerful tide that I feel I'm just kind of along for the ride too, and can only pretend to steer it. Same with everything that informs the work. Maybe the creative process has to do with being in tune with waves from the cosmos and we're the ones seeing what kind we can catch. Don't mind me, I've only had a few hours sleep the past few nights and reality is getting a bit hazy around the edges.

It was really great to be a part of this year's Eiteljorg Fellows, so inspiring. I wish I could make poetic art like Sonya's that is intuitive yet loaded with subtle emotion lurking just below the surface. Or like Dana's, full of assertiveness about what really matters, and sifting out the important things, speaking to the core instinctive part of our tribal identity, passing stealthily past the surface parts that are caught up in our everyday lives. Gerald's is just plain fun, yet critical and heartfelt. What a cool mix. I'd like to have my own son learn art from Gerald because they're both tribal boys at heart. Will's seems so relevant to our times, maybe not as fictional as one may first think. He too is speaking directly to your inner self and doing it quite fluently, while simultaneously carrying on an intellectual conversation with the more cerebral part of the viewer. This doesn't surprise me in the least and reminds me of speaking Tlingit in English without the listener being aware that the literal is metaphorical and vice-versa. Very trippy if you're learned of the nuanced language patterns. My art is simply about pulling the bully's pants down in front of everyone and blending into the crowd before he knows what's happening. I'm pretty easy to figure out. Ravens were the original stealth fliers. Of course we have our resident moon, Dr. Luna. Home is a critical part of his stuff I think, not just any home, but our Indigenous home where he clears it of colonialist junk and makes a space for himself, and by extension, other indigenous people... damn it. Making an indigenous space here in America is hard, man. It takes a lifetime commitment, so he has fun stuff in the mix too.

There you have it. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe not. I like to play the critic (more of a commentator than a judge) and talk about art. In this case, we've got a really cool spectrum of sensibilities and aesthetics, and a very dominant component of much of the art is that it is very relevant to all people; it's speaking to the world, not just a small select audience.

And the above are only this year's Fellows! If we stand back and look at all of the previous Fellows, the art is almost dizzying in its scope, especially when you consider that just about all of the artists are still going full speed ahead with new art. Jaune's inspired keynote had me scribbling notes well into the night before I forgot them.

Mique'l Icesis, the young Tsimpsian writer mentioned that she is going to change her Ph.d to include a more contemporary slant as a result of the Eiteljorg experience. It makes so much sense to be fully engaged with the artists of one's own time and get the research first-hand. We ARE in dire need of Indigenous writers. I think Mique'l made a very wise decision that is not only about scholarship, but what Hulleah wrote so eloquently about with her chapter on Visual Sovereignty. Mique'l will definitely have the opportunity to further the cause of visual sovereignty with her future writing.


I liked the title of one of the catalogs that mentions a fray, because that's where we all really are, especially the Eiteljorg and the people there like Jennifer McNutt who weather various storms behind the scenes, but hold true to the course no matter what. Thank you Jennifer, you have our sincerest acknowledgment of gratitude. We all realize that what you do with the Fellowships is very, very challenging on a lot of different levels, and you always seem to come out the other end with a hearty laugh that sounds like... victory.

With the passing of Harry Fonseca, I am left with the stark reminder that life is short and we'd better make our art while we can, and tell the people around us how much they mean to us. With this being the 10-year anniversary of the fellowships they brought in many of the former Fellows like Truman Lowe, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Rick Bartow, Joe Fedderson, Shelley Niro, Kay WalkingStick, Hulleah Tsinhanahjinnie, Marie Watt, Tanis Maria T'eiltin, C. Maxx Stevens, and so on. Every single artist who was an Eiteljorg Fellow has a work ethic that is nothing less than blistering. They're all extremely creative with their own unique aesthetic with a style that is unique unto themselves. All the ones I know love having fun along the way too, which come to think of it, is likely a critical layer in their art too, which can be a bit ironic when contextualized with their other layers.


Last week I was interviewed by Julie Saetre at the Indianapolis Star, who asked the following questions regarding the Eiteljorg Fellowship:

What does the Eiteljorg Fellowship mean to you personally?

It means that I can literally buy myself time off to make new art and not have to worry about the more mundane things like earning money to pay the bills while trying to squeeze in the time to make new art. It guarantees that I can spend the time necessary to explore new ideas. It is seed money for the creation of new work, which is really quite magical when you stop and consider its ramifications. It means that our culture thinks that what artists do is important enough to buy time for them to make art and continue what was presented at the Fellowship exhibition. In this sense it emulates a research fellowship where scholars and specialists from various disciplines earn funds to do research that wouldn't otherwise be possible.

It also means that I have my art represented in a new collection of rarefied world-class art. As a joke I made a red bumper sticker that said "Art Warrior" and awarded it to students who attended an art residency that I led a few years ago. They made art that was true to themselves, broke new ground, had a fearless attitude with their art and live what is clearly a purpose-driven life that has to do with making our world a better place. These Eiteljorg Fellows fit within this definition of what defines an Art Warrior!

And, in your opinion, what is the importance of the Fellowship program to the arts community in general?

It means that your work has reached a high level regarding not only a visual and cultural impact, it also means you have successfully navigated through complex ideas about our mainstream culture. One very critical yet fun thing that artists do is offer an interpretation of our times and in a manner that sometimes is a bit ambiguous so that it gets the viewer involved. Sometimes the art serves as an aid to navigating into the future, especially when we have profound questions about ourselves. Like how do we proceed after the tragedy of 9-11 (There is a piece of art that asks that question in the exhibition)? The Fellowship is kind of a barometer that artists are coming forth with art that doesn't shirk difficult questions about our identity, which is a critical role that art plays in our society, and yet starts to transcend the ordinary with visual aesthetics too. Maybe the short answer about the fellowship's significance to our communities is that it adds a critical layer of knowledge about our collective identity that would be difficult to attain any other way.


Jaune Quick-To See Smith said in her keynote address, "...European people don't come to America to see European art because they have much better European art in their own museums back home. They come to see what is uniquely American..." this includes experiencing the best collection of Contemporary Indigenous Art in the world, which the Eiteljorg Museum has the honor of holding.

Exhibition Title: Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art
Exhibition Dates: November 10, 2007 - February 10, 2008
Where: The Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis

The Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art is presented by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., with additional support from the Ford Foundation and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The symposium was supported by the Indiana Humanities Council.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the fellowship, Larry! Your work will now travel to the mainstream world. Exciting news!!

Your work is beautiful.