Wendy Red Star’s Powerful Take on Ravens History

SAN ANTONIO – “In my public school education, the history of crows was not taught, and it wasn’t until college that I learned about Native American history,” said the artist Wendy Red Star in a 2018 interview with curator Nadiah Rivera Fellah. “Learning about this story felt groundbreaking, and it inspired my desire to learn more about the history of the Crow Nation and re-educate myself with acquaintances, which I could then visually share with a large audience.

An investigation into the work of Red Star, Wendy Red Star: A Scratch on the Earth at the San Antonio Museum of Art, clearly shows how this desire permeated the artist’s career. Originally curated by the Newark Museum of Art, the exhibit features more than 40 works of art produced between 2006 and 2019. In it, Red Star deftly moves between a wide variety of media, including photography , sculpture, textiles and installation, and uses a complex and compelling mix of archival and historical sources as well as material from his own lifetime.

The title of the exhibit refers to a United States government policy implemented after 1880 that sought to keep the Crow on their reservation in what is now Montana, although their traditional lands once spanned 38.5 million people. acre. Red Star was born and raised on this reservation, and her work focuses on questioning and challenging how Crow people and culture have been represented by outside forces through time.

Wendy Red Star, “My Home Is Where My Tipi Sits (Sweat Lodges)” (2011), archival pigment print on sunset fiber rag, 57 x 72 inches. Collection of the artist (© Wendy Red Star)

the red star Four Seasons (2006) was inspired by a visit to a natural history museum in California, where the artist saw dioramas with artificial landscapes intended to depict Native American life. “They presented Native American culture as something static or something from the past,” exhibit curator Lana Meador told Hyperallergic during a recent tour. “So she created her own kind of diorama using the Western art historical theme of the four seasons to highlight this dichotomy between authenticity and falsehood.” Here, critically, Red Star poses in traditional Crow regalia amid hunting decoys, crumpled backdrops and astroturf, challenging the offensive, old-fashioned ways Native Americans have often been imaged and imagined in the Euro-American culture.

Another reference to European art history appears in “My Home Is Where My Tipi Sits” (2011). Red Star’s photos of sweat lodges, HUD houses, cars, signs and churches on the Crow Reservation are arranged in tight grids reminiscent of the stark 20th century black-and-white photos of Hilla and Bernd Becher on European and North American industrial architecture. However, Red Star resists the Bechers’ distanced ethnographic tone by recording its subjects up close and in color. Her works send the message that the landscape of her community is best documented by someone from the inside.

the Feminist apsaalooke (2016) shows the artist and her daughter wearing Crow insignia and seated on a sofa. Although they seem to be at their leisure, the women also seem to be expecting something. “They really subvert the look here,” Meador said. “Both look at us and affirm their presence.” The piece is a nod to Crow matrilineal tradition and a counterpoint to the many photos taken of male Crow members during peace delegations to Washington DC in the late 19th century. These works also serve to affirm an empowered future for women like Red Star and her daughter. This dual orientation, examining both the past and the future, is one of Red Star’s many strengths. This exhibition allows us to appreciate this aspect and other aspects of his rich and multifaceted practice.

Installation view of Wendy Red Star: A Scratch on the Earth at the San Antonio Museum of Art (courtesy San Antonio Museum of Art, © Wendy Red Star)
Wendy Red Star, “Portrait of Perits-Har-Sts (Old Crow) and with his Wife, Ish-Ip-Chi-Wak-Pa-I-Chis (Good or Pretty Medicine Pipe)” from the series Crow Nation Diplomats, 1873 Crow Delegation (2017), pigment print on archival photo paper, 17 x 25 inches. Collection of the artist (© Wendy Red Star)
Wendy Red Star, “Indian Summer—Four Seasons” (2006), archival pigment print on sunset fiber rag, 23 x 26 inches. Gift of Loren G. Lipson, MD, 2016 2016.46.1.1, Collection of the Newark Museum of Art (© Wendy Red Star)

Wendy Red Star: A Scratch on the Earth continues at the San Antonio Museum of Art (200 West Jones Avenue, San Antonio, Texas) until May 8. The exhibition was organized by the Newark Museum of Art and curated by Nadiah Rivera Fellah, Guest Curator, and Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Curator of American Art in Newark.

Helen L. Cuellar