Uncle Paulie’s World Gives Photographic Glimpse of 2012 SWAIA Indian Market

Handmade Doll by Emil Her Manyhorses/Photo: Paul Niemi

It’s really true what they say…a picture is worth a thousand words!  In August, I attended the 2012 SWAIA Indian Market in Santa Fe.  The weekend started with a visit to Ahalenia Studio for Zombie Skins, a contemporary Native American art show higlighting creative works with the undead as their theme. Then it was on to Eggman and Walrus Art Emporium for Low Rez: Native American Lowbrow Art featuring the work of many of the same artists from the Ahalenia Studio show.  Then it was on to the SWAIA Indian Market Preview and then the Market itself over  the weekend.

Enjoy a video montage of all the colors and beauty (the people and the art!) that surrounded me during my fantastic weekend in Santa Fe HERE!

Zombies and Indians and Art, Oh My!

Photo: The Virtual Stage

Who doesn’t love zombies, right?  They’re everywhere these days.  Television fans are sitting on gravestones and pitchforks waiting for the new season of TMC’s Walking Dead, which premieres October 14.  In Vancouver, British Columbia, The Virtual Stage, brings The Zombie Syndrome to town October 13-31.  This production takes audience members on a scavenger hunt from a starting location in downtown Vancouver.  The catch?  They won’t know where until the day before when attendees will receive a phone call from a character in the show telling them where to meet.  Using the GPS on their smartphones (Yes, phones are very much encouraged!), audience groups advance the story by finding clues.  Conceptually, this show is like a theatrical “progressive dinner” without the food and with a little high-tech thrown in for good measure. Zombies lurk around every corner. See it for only $25!  For more information visit www.facebook.com/TheVirtualStage or follow them on Twitter @TheVirtualStage.

This fall, the Universityof Washington in Seattle is actually offering a course entitled Zombies and Indians.  The course is designed around the idea that “zombies have existed at some level of reality for centuries,”   though they were popularized during the Twentieth Century. The description goes on to add that they “have their origins at the many points of collision between colonizer and colonized…” and “have always walked the uncertain spaces between binary ‘certainties’ such as us and them, rich and poor, slave and master, and, of course, alive and dead.”  It isn’t hard then to see how this concept can be linked to Native Americans, and their treatment in popular culture iconography.

Photo: Ahalenia Studio/
Zombie Skins

In fact, there is a generation of contemporary Native American artists who are taking on these images, turning them around to make them their own to elicit discussions of issues that affect Native Americans.  Much of this “repatriation” is done in works that pay homage to the lowbrow movement of the late 1970s, or what people have come to know as “pop surrealism.”   At first glance, many of these pieces seem frivolous with their bright color palettes and familiar subject matter plucked directly from popular culture.  While some pieces are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, according to Swedish-Cherokee artist America Meredith, who easily maneuvers between contemporary Native and lowbrow art, these works are intended to have a broader, more biting message.  “Even though the imagery in our work might be silly; the messages are serious.”

She went on to say that Native artists walk a fine line of “respect and criticism” of the world.  “Many of the artists are also young parents, so they don’t have the luxury of nihilism.  We hate society, but we love our grandmothers.”  Instead of fitting the mainstream stereotype of artists as iconoclast, many of the artists are dancers and are active in their own tribes’ ceremonies, and the art reflects this respect for their tribes. But many things need to be torn down and critiqued.” 

Installation by Daniel McCoy in
Low-Rez at Eggman and Walrus Art Emporium

Last month, when I was in Santa Fe for the 2012 SWAIA Indian Market, I had the opportunity to check out some of this type of work in two exciting shows.  Low-Rez: Native American Lowbrow Art was curated by Meredith and on view at Eggman and Walrus Art Emporium just off of the Santa Fe Plaza.  The work was thoughtful, colorful, well executed and garnered praise by Native American art heavy hitters. “The response has been overwhelmingly fantastic. Luckily hosting the show during Market enabled us to share our work with the widest possible audience of people in the Native art world, including curators of major museums,” Meredith explained.  

While Low-Rez was the show that attracted everyone’s attention, quietly situated across town at Meredith’s Ahalenia Studio I found Zombie Skins: Salon de la Vie Morte, another group show featuring many of the same artists from the Eggman and Walrus exhibtion, including Meredith, Monty Singer, Frank Buffalo Hyde, Daniel McCoy, Mary Beth Nelson, Tom Farris,  Chris Pappan, Melissa Melero, Ryan Singer, and more.  Meredith found herself coordinating this show as well.  I missed the opening night party but had the opportunity to peruse the studio walls uninterrupted by other spectators in late afternoon just before the SWAIA preview night. The art was high-quality, interesting, fun, and some pieces were even priced as little as $40!
Zombies Skins at Ahalenia Studio
Photo: Paul Niemi

Why a zombie show (besides the obvious reason that they are cool!)?  “Several artists at the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market asked me if they could do a show at my studio during Indian Market,” Meredith said.  Chris Pappan stepped up and helped hang the show, along with his wife Debra Yepa-Pappan. Crews of volunteers made the show happen — Natasha Wagner, Robert Garcia, Stephen MacMurray, Staci Golar, Melissa Melero, Linda Eben Jones, Maggie Ohnesorgen, and others.”  

While Meredith insists that this type of work is not the wave of the future for the Santa Fe Native American art scene, shows such as these are airing out some of the stuffiness that one oftentimes experiences in Santa Fe’s cultural landscape. They give artists the opportunity to create outside of the confines dictated by many traditional galleries. With these shows, artists are free to set the rules and break them–whatever they want to do.

“Dealers in Santa Fe have a great deal of money and emotional investment in continuing on the exact same path they have been on for decades,” Meredith contends. I hope Meredith continues to produce and support more art events such as the ones I attended during Indian Market week. 

“There’s a great deal of talk locally about demographic shifts occurring among Santa Fe Indian art collectors. More and more, Native people collect art, and the Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers are the collectors now…I believe they want art they can personally relate to.” 
Photo: Partial Self-Portrait by
Cannupa Hanska Luger

Speaking of more shows of this genre, if you are traveling through Oklahoma, catch zombie madness with the debut of Zombie Skins in Norman, which opens tonight (Friday, September 14). Tom Farris of Bigfoot Creative has brought a handful of the artists and their work from the Santa Fe show and others to Norman. The exhibition will kick off with an artist reception and Night of the Living Dead Live Paint
at 7 p.m. as part of Norman’s 2nd Friday Art Walk. The show features the work of Bryon Archuleta(Ohkay Owingeh), Lara Evans (Cherokee Nation), Tom Farris (Otoe-Missouria-Cherokee), Robert Garcia (Mestizo), April Holder (Sac and Fox-Wichita-Tonkawa), Topaz Jones(Shoshone-Lummi-Kalapuya-Molalla), Daniel McCoy, Jr. (Potawatomi-Muscogee Creek), Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan-Arikara-Hidatsa),America Meredith (Cherokee Nation), Joseph Sanchez (Mestizo),Hoka Skenandore (Luiseño-Oneida-Oglala Lakota), and Micah Wesley (Kiowa-Muscogee Creek). 

Zombie Skins runs through October 8 at Bigfoot Creative 315 E. Main Street in Norman, Oklahoma. Bigfoot Creative is open Monday through Saturday, 9:00am to 5:00pm, for more information call (405) 420-0119 or visit their web site at www.bigfootcreative.net.

Watch an interview with Otoe-Missouria-Cherokee artist Tom Farris at 2012 SWAIA Indian Market HERE.