Work of the Week – Spring by Wendy Red Star
by Parker Louise Bobbitt
This week’s Work of the Week is Spring by contemporary artist Wendy Red Star.
We are often presented with Native American tropes in our day-to-day lives whether through sports team mascots, Halloween costumes or cartoon depictions. These frequently lead to misconceptions about Native American culture and its authenticity.
Wendy Red Star’s Spring in her Four Seasons series is a visually striking mixed media work that explores the Native American stereotypes found in popular culture. Throughout Red Star’s work there is a stylized, playful vibrancy that catches your eye and draws you in for a closer look. Spring is no exception with its saturated colors and vivid imagery. With closer inspection of this work, cardboard cutouts of animals, silk flowers, synthetic grass and the creases in the paper backdrop become recognizable. In the center of this arrangement, the artist poses in a traditional elk-tooth dress.
While the juxtaposition between the eccentric background and Red Star’s authentic dress may not be immediately apparent, it remains crucially recognizable and spurs further exploration. “I want to pull people in with aesthetics first and with more knowledge they can find more meaning,” says Red Star.
Wendy Red Star was born in Billings, Montana and raised on the Crow Indian Reservation nearby. She attended Montana State University where she studied sculpture and earned her BFA. Later, she received her Master of Fine Arts at UCLA then moved to Portland, Oregon where she is now based. Red Star’s Four Seasons series was inspired by a visit to the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History where she saw that the Native American gallery was adjacent to the Dinosaur exhibit. Questioning the concepts of authenticity and personal identity in relation to her Native American ancestry, Red Star created these works that employ her craft-oriented training of beadwork, textiles and ceramics as well as photography. This convergence corresponds with her experience as a Crow Indian in contemporary society.
As seen in this work, art is a powerful means of confronting misconceptions. Works of art have the potential to initiate changes in perception. Spring, along with Wendy Red Star’s other works, holds great cultural significance as it challenges the appropriation and commodification of Native American culture.
Artwork above: Wendy Red Star, Spring, 2006, Archival Pigment Print, Edition 2 of 28. 2015 Collectors’ Circle Purchase.