My work is centered within the Native American (Plains) tradition known as Ledger art. The westward expansion of the United States in the early to mid 1800’s, led to the introduction of paper to the indigenous populations through the ledger books brought by soldiers and merchants. The visual narratives that had historically been created on hide and bone were then easily transferred to the paper via new art materials also appropriated from American traders, and it was revolutionary. Our ancestor’s way of life had ceased to be, as they had known it, so the paper then became a practical substrate to visually record/recall the way of life that had been erased. Contemporary Native Ledger artists continue to work in the stylized, pictographic method, re-enacting historical events to honor the tradition, but my aim is to redefine the genre, to expand its boundaries and keep it relevant through modern methodologies of expression.
Typically working from historical photographic portraits, I try to connect with the subject by imagining their story, their life and the sacrifices our ancestors made for our survival. Once I have chosen an image to render in graphite I will either distort, multiply, mirror, combine or simply transcribe the portrait. The premeditated distortions in my work speak to the skewed version of history; a history borne of oppressive colonialism in which we all have been forced to view our ancestors and ourselves.
The contemporary interpretations of Buffalo woman and Deer woman, narrative figures from oral histories, continue as characters in my work to explore contemporary narratives and work to humanize our existence.
The ledger paper substrate serves to link my work with the material culture of my people as well as acting as a metaphor for the accounting of the traumatic history of settler colonialism. Incorporation of traditional graphic decorative elements present bold statements and simultaneously give the works a sense of contemporary sophistication. As my own nod to tradition, I also incorporate media that would have been used historically in Ledger art such as watercolor, graphite and colored pencils. Utilizing contemporary tools such as Photoshop (to distort and manipulate images) and inkjet printing, the tradition remains relevant within contemporary contexts. Collaged map elements symbolize our connection to the land; just as ledgers are an accounting of goods & services, the map is an account of stolen lands and a reminder to the viewer that we are all on Native land. A narrative begins within the juxtaposition of these elements in my work; while a figure looks in on itself, or as Buffalo woman sits in the midst of a UFO attack, a trailer burns in the distance, metaphorically destroying colonial paradigms of the past and present. My intent is to make the viewer aware of our humanity, and to move away from a polarized idea of who Native Americans are supposed to be and highlight the unspoken connections of humanity.