Welcome to the Contemporary North American Indigenous Artist Blog.
I suggested to William LePore, the Chair of the Department of Art at Portland State University, that I would like to teach classes focusing on topics about Contemporary Native art. To my delight he took me seriously and gave me the amazing opportunity to teach a class called “Contemporary Native American Art” during the winter term of 2010.
I was very nervous about teaching the course. My nervousness came from wanting to give adequate represent to my fellow Contemporary Native Artists and their work, while also trying to convey some issues related to Indigenous struggles both in the past and currently. Even if the Native artists’ works that we examined had nothing to do specifically with indigenous subjects, it seemed like the course could not function without an overview of Native and First Nation’s history.
While preparing for the course I considered several approaches to take, none of which really satisfied my desire to learn about these artists in very direct ways. So, I decided to employ the Internet to allow me to build my course around student engagement with Native Artists in person.
The first day of class I presented my idea to my fourteen students. I asked them if they would be interested in helping me build a blog that would archive student conducted, e-mail based interviews with Contemporary Native Artists. The general response was excitement with a bit of nervousness. I compiled a list of over fifty Native Artists and gave short presentations on each artist showing a few of their major works. Each student than picked an artist from the list to contact for the project.
The students had over six weeks to research the artist’s work, formulate questions for the interview, respond with a second round of questions, select images, and upload the final interview to the blog. All interviews except for one were conducted through e-mail. At the end of the student’s interviews I requested that they each ask their artists two of my own questions:
• Do you think of yourself as a “Contemporary North American Indigenous Artists?” Do you think terms like that one are useful or not? Do you feel like there is a separation between contemporary indigenous artists and the rest of the art world as represented by mainstream art magazines, biennials, art fairs, etc.?
• Can you recommend another artist that we should interview for this blog in the future?
When making the blog I wanted to make sure not to exclude First Nations Artists. The course title was Contemporary Native American Art but many of the artists we researched are from Canada. So the blog title is an attempt to be as inclusive as possible: Contemporary North American Indigenous Artists, with the idea being to focus on contemporary art made by North American Indigenous artists regardless of subject matter.
It was an amazing ten-week process. The class met every Tuesday from 1-4:50pm. The students gave updates to the class about their interactions with their artists. Students would read their responses to the class and that would inspire conversations which might not ever have happened had the class been structured in a more traditional lecture format.
Throughout the process the students and I felt a range of emotions from excitement to suspense. One of the artists had a baby during the course of the interview and another artist was traveling throughout Asia. Knowing about these life events made the students feel more connected to their artists. On the final day each student gave an in depth presentation on each of their artist’s work and talked about some of the highlights during the interview process. I think the students were surprised to find that they can gain access to people they are interested in researching more easily than they thought. For the most part the experience was very positive and the students are proud to be providing the public with more information on contemporary Native Art.
I have gained great inspiration from this process and a feeling of community with the artists included in the project. I would like to thank all of my students for making this blog possible and all of the amazing, talented, and generous artists who participated with my students.
Wendy Red Star
Department of Art
Portland State University