Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3 / Contemporary Native North American Art from the Northeast and Southeast is a part of the work of curator Ellen Taubman. The third in a series, Changing Hands 3 focuses on the works of Native artists from eastern North America. The work collected includes that of Kelly Church, Skawennati, and Jason Wesaw, who I had the privilege of asking a few questions.
Jean Rafaelian, student program assistant, with UMMA: When and why did you start creating art?
Kelly Church: I was always creating art. When I was younger, I was more interested in drawing, but I came from a family of basket weavers. I rejected basket weaving at first, because everyone else seemed to be doing it and I wanted to be different. I eventually came back to it, though, and have now taught my daughter.
Skawennati: I believe I was born an artist. I would draw, and I went to school for art. I found an art and design program I was really interested in. It was taught by artists and I liked the idea of creating while improving the world.
Jason Wesaw: I didn’t really pick up art until I was older, and I when I did I was trained in Western styles of ceramics and photography. My work is influenced by our traditions, but is not done in a traditional medium. When I first tried ceramics I didn’t stick with it; I came back to it a few years after and have been working with it since. I tell traditional stories with pottery.
JR: What is the relationship between the art you create and more traditional styles of Native art?
KC: Basket weaving has been in my family for a long time. I come from one of the the largest basket weaving families in Michigan. It is very traditional, but I make whatever I want. For the exhibition, I made a checkerboard with frog playing pieces. At home we have baskets to hold our tv remotes and CDs, and we make decorative baskets.
S: I was disturbed with the idea that there was no concept of a Native identity in the future: what would a Native person look like ? What would they be doing? Native people have been portrayed in the same way for a long time. My work draws from these questions. Graphic design is not traditional, and my work is set in the future, but I think it is really important.
JW: I attempt to capture our stories in contemporary ceramic work. While I work in a non-traditional medium, I feel a lot of support from the Native community for the work I am producing.
JR: How do you feel like your work interacts with others’ in the exhibition, and in the Changing Hands series.
KC: I feel like all the work complements each other.
S: I think my work is more contemporary on the spectrum of traditional to contemporary because of my medium, but I agree with Kelly. I think the exhibition is very cohesive.
JW: I think the institutions hosting these exhibitions are interesting to consider. A lot of them have in their collections Native American artifacts and remains that we are trying to get back. This exhibition offers an opportunity to bring that to their attention.
Thank you so much to Kelly, Skawennati and Jason for the opportunity to speak with you. Come see their work and others’ on view at UMMA in Changing Hands, on view until September 14th.
Interested learning in more about these particular artists and their work?
Like Swawennati on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/skawennati
Jason’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ConditionStudio
Kelly’s website: woodlandarts.com
University of Michigan 2016