Last week, I finished my 44-page humdinger of a thesis paper (titled Seeing Red: Re-conceptualizing Approaches to Native American Arts) and installed my arts-based research project (titled The Messenger Brings the Gift) in the student exhibition. Here's my artist statement, which explains the conceptual nature of the work better than anything my burned-out brain could come up with right now:
In the beginning, there existed only two entities that were at once separate and the same: Thought and Grandmother Spider. Engaging Thought, the Spider spun great bundles of knowledge, casting them out into space where they remained, latent and vibrating. Grandmother Spider then called on her granddaughters, and together, they sang the bundles of knowledge into bursting existence, creating the universe and all life within it.
As an artist, educator, researcher and storyteller, I have cultivated a curiosity about my own cultural heritage (Cherokee and Appalachian) that has served as a driving force behind my work. As a budding educator, I am curious about how to teach “authentically” about and from works of Native American art.
By engaging creative narrative, art-making, and my investigations into my Cherokee ancestry, I set out on a perilous journey to find out what an educator should do or consider when approaching a Native American art curriculum. The endeavor was rife with questions: How does one teach authentically from art? What does “authentic” even mean? How do we know what we know about Native Americans? What can we know, and how can we know it? How can we encourage students into their own investigations?
This artwork is as much a manifestation of my research as it is evidence of a ritualistic communion between hand and material. Each stitch within the embroidery is representative of a lesson learned, a record of thought, and a conversation.
The large center hoop is a multi-layered artistic application of my research findings. It references the Sacred Hoop – a ceremonial, medicinal, and educational tool used by many indigenous people groups and is a symbol of simultaneity; the embroidery hoop, which is, in its own way, a site for ceremonial and spiritual activity; the web of Grandmother Spider, a prominent figure in Cherokee mythology; and my Cherokee ancestry though the printed text and the pattern itself, which is gleaned from centuries-old embroideries. The ravens encircling the central Sacred Hoop are the carriers of seven “messages”: these are representative of seven considerations that should be made by art educators when teaching about and from indigenous arts and peoples.
As an educator, I am the messenger who brings the gift of a burning curiosity – one that fuels a lifelong learner. Like Grandmother Spider, it is only through engagement with students that knowledge can be sung to life.
There you have it. With that, I am finished with school. Possibly forever. Wonderful and terrifying at the same time.