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San Antonio Museum of Art opens survey of acclaimed artist Wendy Red Star
Wendy Red Star, Indian Summer—Four Seasons, 2006. Archival pigment print on sunset fiber rag, 23 x 26 in. (58.4 x 66 cm). Gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2016 2016.46.1.1, Collection of The Newark Museum of Art © Wendy Red Star.

SAN ANTONIO, TX.- The San Antonio Museum of Art opened Wendy Red Star: A Scratch on the Earth, an expansive mid-career survey of acclaimed multi-media artist Wendy Red Star. With more than 40 works, produced between 2006 and 2019, the exhibition captures the incredible range of Red Star’s practice, which embraces photography, sculpture, textile arts, mixed media installations, and performance. Raised on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana and an enrolled member of the tribe, Red Star leverages the formal qualities of her materials and media to explore her heritage and its relationships to mainstream American culture and historical narratives. The exhibition captures the spectrum of the artist’s creative output and engages audiences with new perspectives on Native history and experience. A Scratch on the Earth will remain on view through May 8, 2022.

The title of the exhibition, A Scratch on the Earth (or Annúkaxua in Apsáalooke), refers to a period after 1880 when U.S. government policy focused on and enforced keeping the Crow people on their reservation. Annúkaxua (pronounced uhm-NOO-gah haa) implies that a person stays within or on one side of the “scratch,” the invisible borders delineated by the government. Red Star’s work examines the arbitrary nature of these boundaries and the ways in which such divisions continue to manifest across race, gender, class, and cultural differences. Her work emphasizes, in particular, how this historical moment and government effort affected Native identity and continues to reverberate today.

To support further discussion and engagement with the critical and timely issues and experiences illuminated by Red Star’s work, SAMA will host a multi-day symposium on February 25 and 26. Through a range of presentations and panel discussions, the event will examine how Native American cultures have been romanticized, appropriated, and/or erased from the canons of art history. It will also provide insight into the work of several contemporary Native American artists. Among the keynote speakers are Red Star, Ruben Olguin, and Joe Harjo. The symposium will include both in-person and virtual offerings, and registration is open on SAMA’s website.

“Red Star’s work engages images and materials that are rich with meaning to initiate vital conversations about identity, culture, and American history,” noted Lana Meador, SAMA’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “SAMA is thrilled to share this important exhibition with our community.”

In addition to drawing on her own upbringing, Red Star is an avid researcher. Her work often engages with cultural artifacts and historical source materials, which she examines through the lens of contemporary experience and study, capturing and critiquing outmoded or flawed narratives. She gives special focus to the Indigenous roots of feminism, the importance of family, and mutability of identity and the external forces that often affect it. She brings forward these nuanced and complex subjects with incredible wit, perception, and cultural pride, uplifting Native voices and perspectives. Below are several highlights of the exhibition:

● Four Seasons, 2006: The series of four photographs, labeled by season, is among the earliest in which Red Star uses herself as a subject. By positioning herself within a range of landscapes, including different cultural markers, Red Star articulates the themes of identity, popular culture, and cultural critique that are foundational to her artistic vision and practice.

● Family Portrait series, 2011: In this series Red Star incorporates images from her own family archive into colorful star quilts. Traditionally, star quilts served as precious objects in Crow and Plains Native communities. Through these works, Red Star examines issues of authenticity and the pressure she has felt from outsiders to demonstrate her Native authenticity. The exhibition will feature two of Red Star’s quilts, made in cotton broadcloth with archival ink.

● 1880 Crow Peace Delegation series, 2014: Red Star’s archival research into Crow leaders and important figures responsible for the present-day boundaries of the tribe’s lands led her to create this series. In these works, Red Star alters historical portraits, drawn from the National Anthropological Archive, of members of the 1880 Crow Peace Delegation who met with U.S. officials to negotiate land rights. Red Star annotated the portraits in red ink to include personal observations, facts about the delegation, and to critique the ways in which the portraits strip the delegates of cultural context.

● Let Them Have Their Voice, 2016: The work features 15 hand-cut paper constructions and a 33-minute audio recording. Red Star created this installation in response to the photographer Edward S. Curtis’s 1908 multivolume book, The North American Indian. She altered Curtis’s widely circulated photographs of Crow chiefs, carefully removing the Native subjects to transform these portraits into anonymous silhouettes. The visual experience is amplified by the incorporation of wax-cylinder recordings of Crow singers performing traditional songs, recorded by Curtis between 1907 and 1912.

● Map of the Allotted Lands of the Crow Reservation, Montana—A Tribute to Many Good Women, 2019: This mixed-media installation layers a 1907 map of the Crow Reservation with present-day images of Crow women. Following the General Allotment Act of 1887, the U.S. government surveyed and divided up Native lands, replacing the traditional matriarchal societal structure with a patriarchal one. To create this work, Red Star contacted Apsáalooke women with historical ties to these lands and asked them to contribute photographs of themselves in traditional elk-tooth dresses. The crowd-sourced photographs, chosen by the women themselves, connect the Crow women to the physical spaces from which their ancestors were displaced and honors the matrilineal structure of the Crow Tribe’s pre-conquest history.

Wendy Red Star: A Scratch on the Earth was originally organized by The Newark Museum of Art, and curated by Nadiah Rivera Fellah, guest curator, and Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Newark’s Curator of American Art. The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue published by The Newark Museum of Art.

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