Goodbye 2009


Working on my “Dentalium Dollar Bill” art project recently got me going back through a lot of my photographs I took of Karuk objects while I was at NMAI, which was one of the highlights of my past year.  One of the pictures I ran across was of a basket in the collection of the National Museum of Natural History that had struck me, because it had the same design as I had used on some monotype prints I made at a Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts Monothon fundraiser in 2008 (images below). 






It isn’t a particularly uncommon design, but I still thought it was kind of cool that I had randomly come up with this pattern and then run into again on a basket.  Additionally, I already have something art related in 2010 to look forward to—aside from the fact that I’ll be graduating.  I wasn’t able to go to the Monothon Fundraiser at Crow’s Shadow this year, but I will be taking a two-day Monotype Workshop in March with Master Printer, Frank Janzen. 


Happy New Year!      


“a privilege reserved for white art”


Lately, I’ve been reading a book called Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes: The Anthropology of Museums by Michael M. Ames.  It has been a really good read and there are a few passages so far that have really caught my eye.  For instance in the chapter titled “ Definition of Native Art” there is a paragraph on page 73 that states:


Native or tribal arts are still seen to be somehow inextricably and harmoniously bound up with ceremonial systems, all part of an exotic tribal complex, that is actually impossible, conceptually illogical, and ethically improper to disentangle.  It is further assumed that when particular Native social conditions cease to exist, the art associated must die as well since it is not imagined to have any legitimate autonomy of its own.  More than one museum and gallery official has suggested that the only good Northwest Coast Indian art is dead Indian art: that which was produced in the misty past when, so the myth of the Romantic Native goes, they lived in a stable, integrated, and happy tribal society.  The coming of the Europeans brought about the decline and fall of the untouched primitive, and everything produced thereafter lacks a true essence, a cultural meaning (the traditional social system is no more, after all).  Recent works are written off as deviations from scholastically defined traditional standards and not considered suitable for important art galleries.  Contemporary Native artists who try new media or new forms are criticized for abandoning their traditions or for catering to the money market.  If Native art is to retain its purity, its acceptability in wider society, it seemingly must remain parochial, unchanging, and exotic, that is, ‘primitive.’  Evolution of form and style, like freedom from cultural embeddedness, is a privilege reserved for white art.


When I’d met a couple months ago with Barbara Brotherton, the Native Arts Curator at Seattle Art Museum, she alluded to this issue and mentioned that, in the Pacific Northwest, there was a strong public preference for traditional Native art forms.  It is apparent in the Seattle Art Museum’s galleries, where any works apparently by Native artists are cordoned off in the Native galleries, and all of those works reference traditional Native art forms in some way or another.  Although this might not seem like such a big deal, it raises the question of why this segregation is not carried out consistently throughout the museum.  For instance, I have often seen works by Paul Horiuchi included in the contemporary galleries, but as he is a Japanese artist (and was born in Japan), shouldn’t his work—according to the same standards—be displayed exclusively in the Seattle Asian Art Museum up in Volunteer Park? 


One of the contemporary Native pieces on display is a large scale glass screen by Tlingit artist Preston Singletary.  It is based off of traditional house screen forms and displayed on a wall opposite an actual traditional house screen.  In this case, the juxtaposition of the two objects makes a lot of sense and I think it is wholly appropriate to display this contemporary piece with items that give it more context.  Another example is Sonny Assu’s Breakfast Series, which was displayed in 2007 when the Seattle Art Museum reopened downtown.  (The picture of the artwork below was taken by Alan Berner and published originally in The Seattle Times.)  I remember being struck by the piece when I first saw it and searching online to find out more about the artist later on.  Although I can’t find it today, I recall reading an interview with Mr. Assu where he stated that he was excited to have the work the museum’s collection, but he was disappointed that it wasn’t shown in the contemporary galleries.  Personally, I thought he had an excellent point. 



breakfast series alan berner        


Jen Graves from The Stranger wrote an entry on Slog (The Stranger’s blog) titled, “The Marooned Art of Sonny Assu” that said:


But then there’s the young Canadian artist Sonny Assu, whose work is marooned in a hallway off the Native American galleries. His cereal boxes are bitingly revamped to reflect the relationship between natives and the governments that screwed them: “Treaty Flakes,” “Lucky Beads,” “Salmon Crisp,” “Salmon Loops,” “Bannock Pops.”  In case you noticed his work dangling out there alone in the hall and wondered in what context it really belonged, Assu will talk about his art and influences Saturday (June 9) at 6 pm at SAM’s auditorium.*

*(We might have Suggested this, or at least run it in the listings, but Seattle Art Museum sent the release about the event after the paper went to press this week.)


The work isn’t on display any longer—according to a SAM press release, it is a designated gift to the Native American arts collection from Alexander and Rebecca Stewart—but, I think it is interesting that I wasn’t the only one who wondered what it was doing in a display case all alone in the hallway.  It seemed almost like an afterthought, really.  And even though the 2007 show at SAM (celebrating the museum’s 75th anniversary) was put on fifteen years after the publication of Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes, it seems apparent that a freedom from cultural embeddedness is definitely a privilege that, if not reserved exclusively for white artists, is certainly something that is still denied to many contemporary Native artists.  

Dentalium Dollar Bill


Since the semester ended I’ve been trying not to do much of anything where I have to think!  It has been really great, but today I was actually motivated to start working on my art project related to my participation this past fall in the Emerging Artist Program for the National Museum of the American Indian.  I’ve had ideas running through my head related to dentalium shells—which were used by many tribes as currency—and paper money, but until today they had remained mere ideas.  I found a note and sketch I’d done back in October where I was thinking about materials and putting dentalium shells onto a hundred-dollar bill:


dentalium money notes  


And then for my Directed Studies class presentation I made a conceptual model of my idea using Photoshop:




But when I was ready to get started on things today, I was realizing that it might be smarter to start smaller.  I wanted to use gold-filled wire to attach the shells onto the paper bill, but wasn’t sure how well it would work.  Instead of starting out with a hundred-dollar bill, I took a one-dollar bill and experimented with it. 




I’m still thinking of other ways to experiment with this project and see where it will go.  Ultimately, I envision it as a series of various “dentalium bills.”  We’ll see what happens! 

Daybreak Star


daybreak star

Photo by Joe Mabel, 2007 (from Wikipedia Commons)


I had a sudden burst of inspiration on Friday for my BFA Thesis!  A few weeks ago I had received a mass email forwarded through United Indians of All Tribes looking for folks to help out and adopt a native youth for the holiday season (adopt = buy gifts) as the sponsors from the previous years were unable to participate this year.  I ended up adopting two people and when I dropped the gifts off at Daybreak Star Cultural Center on Friday, I took the opportunity to check out the small art gallery upstairs. 


I’d previously thought that a part of my thesis project could involve curating a small contemporary art exhibit in a community space like Daybreak Star, but actually visiting the space really helped me to think of what shape it could take.  Perhaps, instead of coming up with two separate shows, I could curate a single show that combined historic artifacts with contemporary pieces?  And what if I was able to involve local native community members along with higher profile artists?  I’ll need to spend some time over my break working with this idea.  Right now I’m thinking that it would be interesting to have artists create self-portraits and show those along with a historical object from the artist’s tribe.  What sort of dialogue might happen between the two?  I’m also really excited about the possibility of bringing established artists into the project alongside native youth.  Yet another great opportunity for dialogue! 


If I go in this direction, it could end up being a fairly ambitious project, but also one that I believe could actually be realized.  Just off the top of my head I’m thinking that I could likely bring Daybreak Star, Seattle Art Museum, and the Burke Museum into this.  I could also possibly apply for a grant from the National Museum of the American Indian’s Contemporary Arts Program if it is still going in 2011.  I’d shoot for 2010, but applications are due by January 15th and I don’t know that I could gather everything together that quickly?  Plus, I’d have to show that I have at least $7,500 in matching funds available!

Dear School Loans…


There’s only one week left in the semester and I’ve only got two more final projects to complete for next week along with a couple things to archive and turn in from stuff I presented this week.  Our group presented the “i am not a stereotype” project to our Studio class this morning and it seemed like it went really well overall.  Pretty much all of the response we’ve gotten to the installations around school have been really positive and I found out today that we managed to draw at least one theater student up to the fifth floor to see our exhibit there too.  Apparently he really liked the stuff on the first and second floors and wanted to learn more about the project.  One of our instructors also thinks we should pursue implementing the campaign further, which our group is interested in doing.  Oh, and there was a student in the same class who volunteered to help us with any web design we needed.  Things are good!


It was also really great today because since we presented this morning and went second, I was able to then relax and actually enjoy the other presentations I saw.  (I’m not fond of public speaking when I’m the one speaking.)  Same went for my evening Directed Studies class since I presented there on Tuesday.  The last person (Jessie) talked about her involvement with “Orion Out Loud” which was a collaboration between Cornish theater students and homeless youth at the Orion Center in Seattle last spring.  She intends on working on the project again this spring and one of the things she did was share a quick exercise with the class so we could see what types of things they did.  She told us to make a list of things we didn’t like about ourselves or our life, and then we picked one thing and had to write a letter to it, evicting it from our life, and then finish by writing a response from that thing back to us.  It was a really great way to end the day and the school week (no class tomorrow).  Here’s what I wrote:



Dear School Loans,


I regret to inform you that I will be graduating this spring and your services will no longer be required.  Additionally, since the economy has all but collapsed, I will not be paying you back.  It would be great if you could disappear and never contact me again.  Thanks so much.



Anthony Callaway




Dear Anthony,


Nice try, but we own you.



Your School Loans 

i am not a stereotype


I haven’t written as often as I’d like due to a variety of factors, the main one being time.  The semester ends in two weeks so there are a lot of projects wrapping up all at once!  For my Design for Complex Systems class (aka Senior Studio) we’ve been working on a project/campaign called “i am not a stereotype” that looks at race and color.  I’ve written about it on here before I think, but yesterday and today we’ve been putting up several installations here at school to demonstrate one way that our campaign can be implemented.  They look deceptively simple, but we’ve actually put a lot more time and effort into the concept than most people might think.  Three of our statements are now up on the wall (see below) and I’ll be at school late tonight with my group installing the fourth statement and our wall exhibit.  If all goes well, I’ll post a couple more pictures tomorrow!


i am brown   i am brown, some people think i am red


i am white

i am white, sometimes i wish i was red, black, or yellow


i am black

i am black, i don’t rap