Finding my voice

My Vne Este Mvskoke exhibition came down last Thursday.  Through this ten-year body of work, I have used art making to talk about my journey into my Muscogee heritage and to tell unspeakable stories from my tribal and personal history.

I have also created the opportunity for myself to stand up and talk to people about my work and about issues relevant to Native Americans.  I spoke about my current exhibition at two Private Views that I held.  Throughout my exhibition, I also had a Pop Up Native American cinema in which I raised funds for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center in the US.  Before each screening, I spoke about the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in North America and then introduced the film.   And last Friday I gave a 45 minute talk and dinner about my current exhibit and my Mvskoke Journey.

To be at ease when speaking in public before an audience was a goal that I set for myself about a year ago.   I’ve recently read my poetry at public events, and through my work with Art Raft for Health, I have found myself standing up before funders to talk about it.  But I have not found public speaking comfortable.  My breathing becomes shallow.  My voice goes quavery and comes from the top of my chest.  I also rush and try to cram as many words as I can into the small space I feel has been allotted to me.

I know that this comes from having grown up in a society where, as a woman, I have not been given the space to speak and to be listened too.  Woman who speak are labeled nags, scolds, bossy, shrill or (fill in the blank).  Nor have I had much opportunity to see and hear other women taking their space to speak about what matters to them.  In fact, in films female characters feature in less than 20% of speaking roles.

A friend of mine helped me to become aware of my breathing and to deepen into a place of strength and confidence when I speak before people.   Talking about my art work, my ancestors and past and current issues in Indian Country gave me a reason to move into a deeper place.   My copywriter husband helped me to craft my story into a concise and meaningful talk.  I consider my self a pretty good writer, but writing to speak is a different bag of cats.

My talk went really well.  People thanked me for my truth and honesty, and I have been asked to come and speak in a few places around Devon over the summer months.  It feels really good to have set and reached a new goal.

My next goal related to being audible in public is to begin story telling and performance.  There are a lot of Muscogee (Creek) tales that I would like to share.  The story of Little Red Stick, a Mvskoke girl who ran away from the Removals to stay in her Homelands accompanied by Wolf and Spirit Bird continues to grow and unfold inside of me.  Her story will be a live performance with spoken word, music, art work and film projection.

Untamed, 2012

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How I learned to be Indian

The first time I exhibited my art work about my Muscogee (Creek) heritage, I was shocked when someone said to me ‘You are so lucky to be part-Indian’.  I wish that I had the wherewithal to ask just what she meant.  The history of all indigenous people in the United States is marked by physical and cultural genocide, and land theft and we have all inherited a legacy of Historical Trauma and Unresolved Grief.

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s with a father who felt very ashamed about his Muscogee ancestry.  My dad Frank was born in 1919 to my Muscogee grandmother Mattie Davis.  His father Ted Schwakhofer was of Austrian-American heritage.  Both of my grandparents were 16 years old.  My grandfather had nothing to do with his son or the mother of his child.  All that my dad received from him was his surname.

My dad said that he could understand the Muskogee language, but never learned to speak it.  The White kids called him a ‘Half Breed’ and the Muscogee kids didn’t like him because he was part White.  From 1920 onward, Native American children in Oklahoma were educated in the mainstream school system, where they and all of the other pupils learned that Indians were ‘savages’, although my dad used to argue with his teachers about this.  My grandmother Mattie would have gone to a residential school where students were actively discouraged from speaking their native tongue by having their mouths washed out with soap, or worse.

My brother, sister and I grew up knowing we’re part-Indian, but not much more than that.  My dad used to get The Muscogee Nation News delivered to our house and letters from distant relatives in Oklahoma, but by and large, he’d cut himself off from his ancestry.  I grew up wearing my Muscogee heritage like a cloak of shame.

I’ve come back to working with fibre and textiles in the past several months.   I’ve been studying an inspiring book by textile artist Rosie James.   I took the plunge into a machine sewn portrait of my dad onto paper printed with the front page of The Muscogee Nation news from 1978.

I made a line drawing from a photograph and printed off some text to make a layout of the piece.

Then I put the front page into Photoshop and added some text directly onto the page.  It is too fine to embroider onto the paper.  I used a glue stick to attach a piece of cotton organdie to the back of the paper to stabilize it and keep it from ripping when I stitched the portrait.  Then I machine stitched directly onto the front of the paper.

This is how it looks from the back.  I had originally thought about stitching through the fabric onto the front of the paper so had traced the picture onto the cloth.  It gives an interesting effect which I may explore in later work.

Back

My Dad used to have The Muscogee Nation News delivered to our house in West Covina, California and kept them in a drawer.   He’d read them at the dining table, drinking a beer,  He’d say: “We’re part-Indian.  We’re Creek.  We’re one of the Five Civilized Tribes.”

Back to the beginning

Over the past five or so years that I’ve been on a hiatus from making fibre art, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about my Muscogee ancestry all the way back to the Mississippian period.  The Muscogee, also known as the Creek Confederacy,  are descendants of the Mississippian culture peoples, who flourished between 800 AD and 1600 AD.   The Muscogee were a confederacy of tribes consisting of Yuchi, Koasati, Alabama, Coosa, Tuskeegee, Coweta, Cusseta, Chehaw (Chiaha), Hitchiti, Tuckabatchee, Oakfuskee, and many others.  

I have been influenced by much of the artwork that has survived and been documented.  I have also read many of the stories and legends which have survived orally and were collected throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Alabama Indians’ creation story tells of the beginning of things –

“Once, long ago, before the time of the oldest people,
water covered everything.
The only living creatures above the water
were some small animals and birds
who occupied a log raft
drifting about in the great ocean. . . . . . .”

First World, Neocolor crayons on paper, 25 x 25 cm, 2014

I began this acrylic painting last weekend on a rainy Sunday.  In the summer of 2015 I took a painting workshop led by Nocona Burgess in which we learned about painting onto a canvas primed with black gesso.  I found a couple of blank black canvases recently during a studio tidy up.

One of the tips I learned from Nocona was how to mask off the canvas to get a super straight and crisp line.

A crisp tip

I surrounded this first world with colors from the Medicine Wheel.

In the Beginning there was only Water, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 cm, 2017

For my current work in progress I’m using Sennelier Oil Pastels on 250gsm mixed media paper.  I love working with my fingers and how the colors can be blended.

Water covered everything, Oil pastel on paper, 30 x 30 cm, 2017

I’m going to the art store tomorrow to get some turpentine so I can see what that does to the pastels.  I also plan to pick up some more square canvases.

I suddenly have a lot of ideas and images for paintings and works on fibre waiting patiently to come out.  It is as though everything I have been taking in over the past five years has had a chance to settle, find roots and is growing once again towards the light of day.

Sources:   Creek Confederacy  ::  Muscogee

Hearing the cries of the world

I’ve been feeling many different emotions in response to all that is happening in the world.  The recent violence in Germany, France and America, and the political situations in the UK and the US.  I was especially upset about the killing of an elderly priest in Rouen.  I’ve lately felt quite overwhelmed and as though I would like nothing more than to retreat from the world and build a hard shell around me.

I woke from a dream the other morning in which I had just finished drawing a portrait of a young man who was dwelling with me. I beheld this young man, paid witness to him and captured his likeness. Next in the dream, I was about to draw a picture of Kuan Yin.

Dream figures reflect our inner state and the outer world. Many of our young men are not well fathered, nor well mothered nor held in the fabric of the world. Some of them are doing really horrendous things. It must be so difficult to grow up into manhood. I know how trapped and diminished girls and women can be by society’s definitions and roles for us, but it is no easier for boys and men.

Kuan Yin goes by many names. She is an Eastern goddess of Mercy and Compassion who hears the cries of the world. Compassion means ‘to suffer with’.

When I woke, I felt a softening and the ability to hold a lot of conflicting and difficult thoughts and feelings with love.

I felt at peace after being visited by the promise of Kuan Yin.  I found a few different images of her online:

Guanyin Bodhisattva

Guanyin Bodhisattva

Kannon (観音)

Kannon, (観音

Kuan Yin_chinese

Kuan Yin

Tara

Tara

This morning, I woke with the dawn and sat up in bed and made the drawing that I was about to in my dream last week.  As usual, different than expected elements always appear.  The earth is in the lower left hand corner and a dragon appears to  encounter the world.  This isn’t an evil presence, however.   The dragon, an ancient symbol for high spirituality, wisdom, strength, and divine powers of transformation, is a common motif found in combination with the Goddess of Mercy.

kuan yin

She Hears the Cries of the World, Staedtler-Triplus Fineliner pens, 25 x 25cm, 2016

I saw a friend last week who has a very similar resonance to me, and it was good to share and reflect together.  She currently has a very spiritual response to life, but said that when she was younger, she had a very political stance and wonders if she will take that approach again.  I think that many people are concerned about the state of the world and are wondering what response is needed.  We can choose to hide away, tune out, become politically active, write and speak to others about our feeling and thinking responses to events.   For myself, I don’t know if I will take a more active response, but for now it is enough to hear and acknowledge the cries of the world.

Going into the moment

One of the great and liberating things about becoming older is becoming more confident.  I’ve been such a perfectionist for so long, a bit of a control freak and so worried about ‘getting it wrong’.  I wrote about this in relation to art and creativity eight years ago.   As with many things, this particular lesson is one which spirals around again and again, giving me the chance to work on it some more!

With art making, these tendencies have allowed me to make some very finely crafted pieces of art;  the art quilts and fibre art that I focused on for the first years of my voyage as an artist are very well thought out and meticulously crafted.  But, it has always been difficult for me to let go, experiment and play with art materials.

Unexpectedly, the people who come to my  creativity group for people living with dementia are my great teachers.  In providing them with the opportunity for process oriented creativity, I am experiencing for myself the liberation of being in the moment, letting go of an ‘outcome’, going with the flow, experimenting and experiencing.
With my new found confidence and certainty about who I am, I am more and more able to shuck off my insecurities and do stuff I was previously too chicken to do.

This weekend, I made marbled paper which I have admired for a very long time.  I found a ‘how to’ article in Country Living which I didn’t follow because it had a supply list requiring an initial outlay of dosh that I wasn’t prepared to spend on marbling specific materials.  I ended up going with a very user friendly, simple tutorial using shaving cream and food colouring.  It was really fun to do and the results are amazing! 🙂

This was the palette for my first pass.

marbled1

Shaving foam marbled with colour

I kept adding colour and/or foam for subsequent pressings.

marbled2

I simply pressed the paper onto the bed of foam and lifted it off.

marbled3

Then scraped the foam off with a ruler.  The colour on the paper didn’t budge and I could wipe off the excess foam with a paper towel.

marbled4

The shaving cream dolloped ruler was a joy to behold.

marbled5

marbled6

Et voila!

marbled7

A delicious, serendipitous and temporal piece of art

I had a lot of fun doing this and excitedly showed Steve each one as it became revealed.  I did a couple of them twice.

marbled8

My results from the day

 

These were printed onto 120gsm cartridge paper.  I folded them in half and glued the backs together with PVA to make them double sided.  I went back to the Country Living tutorial and made decorations for an Easter tree, which I will show in another post.