Interview with First American Art Magazine's America Meredith by Dr. Dawn Karima, Native American Culture Editor
Q) It's great to visit with you!!! What are some of the facts you'd like us to know about you?
A) I’m still an idealist. I believe art needs to change the world in positive way. Art allows us to experience each other’s perspectives, in ways beyond language. Sometimes words can be polarizing, so art allows us to bridge divides when words fail.
Q) What is your Native heritage? Tell us some of the things that mean the most to you about being Native and a member of your Tribe?
A) My tribe is the Cherokee Nation, but when I was a child my family belonged to a Natchez-Cherokee ceremonial ground, and I’m humbled and grateful to have recently been designated an artisan of the Natchez Nation.
A Cherokee friend described the Cherokee Nation as being “very litigious.” It’s true, we have used to the court system to fight for our rights—mostly famously in Worcester v. Georgia, which confirmed the rights of Native Nations in the eyes of the US Federal Government back in 1832. A little more recently, I’m proud of the Cherokee Nation for using the court system to successfully shut down Sequoyah Fuels, a uranium processing plant that was polluting two major rivers.
Through centuries of warfare and forced relocation, Cherokees have lost a lot, but I’m proud that the Eastern Band once again cares for the Kituwah Mound, our Mother Mound, where God gave us our laws. Despite all we’ve lost, every Cherokee stomp dance begins with the Friendship Dance, with the first song God ever gave the Cherokee people.
Basically, every tribe is a different expression of ways to be human. We’re not all supposed to be the same. Indigenous peoples have invented the best governmental systems in the world that maximize personal freedoms, community well being, and sustainable development. The extended family is so important to a person’s development, and a tribe is basically an extended family times a hundred. In a healthy tribe, every single member is important and has something to offer the whole.
Q) When we look at the magazines out there today, it seems as if none of them truly focus on Native Americans. How did you decide to create a magazine that makes us the focal point?
A) Ironically, there was an explosion of new Native American magazines last year; I believe, in part, because of what you are alluding to—that Native Americans are being ignored by the mainstream press.
The time is absolutely right for First American Art Magazine. Native arts are vibrant and flourishing. More scholars from Native communities are earning advanced degrees; however, our magazine’s goal is take the academic writing and make it accessible to any interested adult. Many people are turned off the contemporary art world because of the impenetrable layers of art jargon and theory. We want to break it down and bring more people into the conversation. Frankly most Native artists don’t have the luxury of attending art school—they have responsibilities—so FAAM wants to expand the conversation and bring it to the communities.
Native artists are participating in the international art scene. We believe that Indigenous artists don’t have to give up their values to have a global voice. Native American artists have a voice that needs to be heard in the global art world, so FAAM aims to make our art accessible to the art world and make the art world accessible to the Native community. We want to open doors.
Really, I want to see Native artists change the entire art world. Once you leave the United States, the dialogue between artists makes so much more sense, and so many people worldwide are also concerned about maintaining their lands, their cultures, their languages.
Q) What can we expect from a typical issue? What do you think are some of the most important ideas and insights that your magazine promotes?
A) First, you are going to see some exquisite art and meet interesting people. In every issue, we hope to give the reader a taste of the breadth and depth of Native art. What’s happening now? What happened tens of thousands of years ago? What happened in between?
Feature articles often cover historical art; artists’ profiles let readers know about brilliant artists working today. We review art shows and art books. What is most important about these are the common threads that the different writers from different regions are picking up.
We have a graphic design column, since we interface with graphic arts every single day, but Native graphic design is underexplored. Our memorials let us celebrate the lives of those who walked on; the people who paved the way for the opportunities we have today. The news section covers happenings in North and South America. We want give readers a map of the complex and rich world of Native art. Hopefully every issue will give at least one thing you’d never previously considered.
Q) What are some of the lessons from your Tribal heritage that keep you spiritually centered? How do those internal ideas appear in your magazine?
A) Humility. I think as Native artists, we understand we can’t be in it for ourselves. The first grain of spirituality is thinking about someone else. It’s inappropriate to brag on yourself, BUT you can brag on others. So First American Art Magazine gives myself and all the other writers a change to brag on all the artists, writers, scholars, and curators of which we are so proud.
Q) What are some of the obstacles you had to overcome in order to move forward with your magazine? How did you know that this was what you truly wanted to do?
A) Accounting! I spend so much time trying to figure out how much I owe in gross receipts tax. And contracts. Infrastructure. Time management. Business plans. Budgeting. Trademarks, copyrights, and lawyers. Interpersonal logistics! I’m not good at any of this, but I better figure out how to be. Last year this time I was waking up at 5:00 a.m. with anxiety attacks—wondering what I got myself into. But I’ve found my niche because it’s so interesting. Completely compelling, fulfilling work. My mother, my sister, and my aunt Barbara—my uncle Carl too—help me out; there’s no way I could do this without their support.
Q) How can we find, order, purchase your magazine?
A) FAAM is in bookstores thanks to our distributors, but the easiest way to get a copy is order it online at: www.firstamericanartmagazine.com. The magazine is available in print, or in digital form for people on the go. If you have a retail outlet and would like to carry the magazine, drop us a line at [email protected]
Q) What do you think distinguishes your magazine from the other magazines in its category?
A) We’re willing to take the contemporary art world head on, and we have the tools to do so. I did not enjoy graduate school. San Francisco Art Institute is extremely theory-based, but it taught me the enemy’s language.
Our core writers and advisors all have different backgrounds, but they have strong roots in their tribal communities and a strong vision of the art world. Ironically, we are based in Santa Fe, but we very deliberately want to cover Indigenous American art from all regions.
Art markets are the most visible aspect of the Native art community, but our writers and advisors know that some of the most important artists have never shown in a gallery or museum. Some of the best Native artists’ work never leaves their community, so we want to reach out and recognize these people that mean so much to their own tribes. While the mainstream art world is very urban, we understand that some of the best Native artists live in remote, rural areas.
Also, our writers know art theory well enough to critique its limits. We don’t need to define “art” through a European lens. So we are completely open to different artist expressions, be that comics, computer animation, birch bark biting, relational art, video, graffiti, skin-sewing, body art, or porcupine quillwork.
Q) What do you think your magazine will teach its readers? What do you hope that they will discover about Native People and Culture?
A) Hopefully readers will see something of themselves. Art is about being human. It’s important for art to not get too self-referential or esoteric. We need to keep it connected to the fabric of our lives.
My parents were curators when I was a child; I grew up in the Native art world. At the Institute of American Indian Arts, I got the opportunity to teach Early Native American art history, and I caught the bug—there’s so much fascinating early artwork and Native artists that just kicked ass during the worst times in history.
I’m always curious about the regions and peoples that isn’t written about enough. What’s going on in the Colorado River? What are the Great Basin people up to? What did precontact art in the Gran Chaco look like?
When teaching I couldn’t find anything about Greenlandic art, so I became obsessed, poured over a lot of Danish texts, and for the pilot issue wrote a feature article about contemporary Greenlandic art. You have an entire country with a population smaller than Rapid City, South Dakota, yet it is 89% Inuit, Kalaallisut is the official language, and an Inuit woman is their prime minister. Greenland has some of the smartest, funniest, most talented artists in the world.
Q) Powwows are an important part of life for our audience. Do you ever attend or participate in powwows? What do you think makes a powwow a good one? What are some of your favorite powwows!
A) My parents took my brother, my sister, and me to all sorts of powwows in Oklahoma back in the 1970s. I remember my folks help organize one in a semi-derelict high-rise hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. In the late-70s/early-80s, we lived on Bacone College campus, so I grew up in a very intertribal environment. But I’m still the worst dancer in the Universe. I always think of Steve Martin in The Jerk, where he couldn’t stay in rhythm to save his life. But my dad always got on my case; that it didn’t matter how bad of a dancer I was, it important to get out there and participate. We had a little, tiny Native student group at the San Francisco Community College, and I got to be princess… There was not a lot of competition.
I’ve never been to Gathering of Nations, but I’ve been to Denver March Powwow and Crow Fair, and there is no comparison. There’s nothing like being outside with thousands of Native people. But I love Southern Plains powwows the most. One of the most enjoyable powwows I’ve ever attended was Pawnee Homecoming. Everyone was so nice, and Southern drummers are the best!
Northern Plains friends and I have argued about who invented powwows, because I grew up thinking Ponca people invented them. Now I realize that they have far older roots and probably did begin on the Northern Plains.
Powwows are important for bringing generations together. They are especially important for teenagers to meet new people and have fun and challenge themselves in a positive way. Powwows are the most exciting events that alcohol-free and drug-free. I miss Oklahoma City’s Good Medicine Society Sobriety New Years Powwow. I used to do a booth there when I was starting out as an artist and still tried to do beadwork.
Q) What do you wish we knew about you that we don't already know?
A) My dad is the only reason why I’m an artist. He passed on in 2003, and I miss him every single day. He learned from elders of every tribe—I swear he must have visited every community in the country—and he learned from Western academia. He understood the underpinnings of logic, philosophy, and diplomatics and could explain on no uncertain terms how Native American tribes had figured it all, and the rest of the world was waiting to catch up. I tried teaching, and, frankly, I cannot do what he could do, but I think I can write, and I believe I can present a forum, in which others—the many, many talented Native art writers—can freely express themselves. Here in Santa Fe especially artists self-censor themselves to a frightening degree. FAAM provides a safe place to have dialogue. We can disagree; it’s okay. We’re all going to learn something.
Q) Mvto…thank you for your sharing with us! We sure do appreciate you!
A) Wado, ginalii. Osiyu! Keep up all your great work!