USAO News Bureau

New Exhibit Explores Native Women’s Experience

Friday, July 14, 2006

CHICKASHA – Coinciding with the theatrical world premiere of “Te Ata” the University of Science and Arts is hosting a unique Native American art exhibit that will bring to life the “real world” experience of the American Indian woman.

The opening reception is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 5 in the Davis Hall Art Gallery. “Te Ata” premieres later that night at 7:30.

Curated by artist Carol Whitney, the Native American Women exhibition explores Native American women from the experience of men, women, Indian and non-Indian artists.

“Through these diverse perspectives, I hope to avoid the predictable icons of romantic Americana,” Whitney said of the show. “Though enchanting, such images speak little to the real experience of the exuberant 21st century Native American woman.”

From documentary film to multimedia assemblages, photography to bronze sculpture, this exhibition will confront the viewer with unique and exciting interpretations of the subject, according to Whitney.

Whitney said she selected artists who are recognized as inventive practitioners of imaginative and challenging art.

“Each brings a unique vision to the subject through the presentation of a number of pieces,” she said. “In this way, viewers should come away with a broadened perspective of both the subject and a greater appreciation of each artist’s unique vision, techniques and talents.”

The exhibit will be unveiled as part of the “Te Ata” world premiere. Based on the life of Chickasaw storyteller Te Ata Fisher, who graduated from the Oklahoma College for Women (now USAO) in 1919, the off-Broadway theatrical production tells the story of the Native storyteller who was named the first Oklahoma State Treasure in 1987. For more than 70 years, Te Ata performed a one-person show internationally. Among her audiences were U.S. presidents, governors, kings and queens.

Brought to life by award-winning Chickasaw playwright JudyLee Oliva of Albuquerque, “Te Ata” features a predominately Native cast from across the U.S. Tickets for the production are available by phone through the USAO Box Office at (405) 574-1213.

Beginning on opening night, the USAO Art Gallery will feature 12 artists including a memorial presentation of work by “Petas,” the Native and professional name used by Comanche-Kickapoo artist Wendy Mahsetky Poolaw who died earlier this year. Whitney said Poolaw, the great-great-great granddaughter of Chief Quanah Parker, was an extremely mature contemporary artist whose work spanned the worlds of mainstream and Native American art.

“Her ever-evolving creativity is an outstanding example of our theme and praise of Native American women,” Whitney said.

Artists include Debra Ahtone of the Kiowa tribe who incorporates historic reference with pop culture images, traditional and far-from-traditional materials to make political and social statements.

Choctaw-Chickasaw Ronald Wayne Anderson’s art spans a spectrum of painting, sculpture, poetry, photography, ceramics and video. All of his work, however, could be considered “conceptual” as each piece is a statement of the artist’s philosophy and values of art, religion, culture, history and current events.

Annette Arkeketa of Otoe-Missouria and Muscogee Creek heritage founded Hokte Productions and has made many video documentaries promoting American Indian leaders, educators, artists and other role models.

“I found that the creative process of producing documentaries has fulfilled that need I had to visually tell a story that has all the elements I believe make me whole as an artist,” Arkeketa said.

Kiowa/Delaware artist Parker Boyiddle said his approach is one of cultural transcending.

“People can only idealize their ancestral past,” said Boyiddle. “My ancestors were Plains Indians – Kiowa on my father’s side and Western Delaware on my mother’s. Both hunted buffalo and were nomads. Today there is no way I could live that life, but I can exercise some of the customs, morals and religion of my people and still function in modern life.”

Cynthia Clay was born to a Comanche mother and a military father from Texas. Her art is inspired by her travels across the world and the vision and stories told by her Comanche grandmother about times “before the country opened.”

Grounded in two worlds of Oklahoma’s Native American community and the South Texas Latino art scene of San Antonio, Joan Frederick approaches art with a photographic eye. Of Gringa heritage, she is using the highly popular contemporary art scene of South Texas “to make a statement that Indians are not a vanishing race … but they live in the modern world, vital and distinctly Indian, even under extreme upheaval and duress.”

Juanita Pahadapony, also of the Comanche Nation, says the theme of Native American Women is appropriate for her work.

“The earth is like a woman – living breathing, changing, adapting and, at times, unpredictable,” Pahadapony said. “The theme of Native American Women connects my work to the earth and her resources. All of my art pieces are visual narratives of this connection to the environment.”

Tom Poolaw of the Kiowa Nation has earned many awards for his art and had works displayed in the National Museum of the American Indian Collection at the Smithsonian, Denver Art Museum, the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Jacobson Native Arts Center among others.

Susan Shannon got her love for photography from her parents after her father brought home the family’s first camera from Germany after World War II. The Osage Indian realized the importance of her childhood being chronicled by her parents through photos because “Native American life is hardly ever covered in the mainstream,” she said.

Richard Whitman of Yuchi-Creek heritage found his role as an artist, a culture worker and a tribal citizen in 1973 at Wounded Knee.

“I began to see the artist’s role in the context of the struggles at that time,” Whitman said. “In North America, too often artists seem to do marketable work of safe images to hang on the wall, not work that is engaging and saying something about how it is with us today.”

The exhibit includes a commemorative wall hanging featuring photos of Te Ata during her storytelling years. The quilted blanket was a fundraising project by the USAO Alumni Association for a future statue of Te Ata to be built in the Oklahoma Treasures Garden at the State Capitol.

The Native American Women art show runs Aug. 5 through Sept. 1. Hours are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday – Friday, with special openings two hours before each performance of “Te Ata.” More information about the USAO Art Gallery is available online at www.usao.edu/gallery. Information about the world premiere of “Te Ata” is available online at www.TeAtaWorldPremiere.com.