Designing Against Seminole Cultural Extinction

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Indigenous American artists have gained attention for their work through discourse that has primarily discussed the historical, political, formal, or innovative qualities of their work within a very Western perspective. The works included in this discourse are largely created for market or collection purposes. This cooptation of certain Indigenous creative products as “art” lends towards the dismissal of other forms as “ethnic crafts,” materials that are limited to discussion within an ethnographic framework. This dismissal lends towards the continued categorization of Indian arts as a single cultural genre. However, through development and use of a framework giving consideration to the unique cultural environment within which an object is created, it is possible to critically analyze the art, including its production, message, and audience from an Indigenous perspective.

From this perspective, the perpetuation of traditional arts can be considered an act of artistic self-determination. Within these tribal communities of the United States, these traditional arts take on a role no less necessary for the community as an expressive message. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith remarked, “Dying cultures do not make art. Cultures that do not change with the times will die.” It is paramount to gaining a greater appreciation within a multicultural global community to recognize how these marginalized communities use art, especially for retaining their own unique identities and creative voices. By using a singular example of the creation of a complete dance outfit for a Seminole girl, the article will present the role that the arts play from an Indigenous perspective. This example provides an opportunity to explore how the transition of patchworking, a cloth-based patterning process, and related designs translated into a Fancy Shawl dance regalia represents artistic evolution while perpuating traditions of social value within this intimate community whose language and cultural traditions are at risk for being lost.


Keywords: American, Indigenous, Seminole, Tribal, Framework, Methodology
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: , , , , , Designed to Last


Heather Ahtone

Adjunct Instructor, School of Art and Art History, University of Oklahoma
Norman, Oklahoma, USA

The primary focus of Ahtone's research and writing has been to place contemporary Indigenous art within the context of American art history. This has included curating contemporary art exhibits with historic didactic materials, documenting the evolution of tribal design usage and materials – pre-contact through removal and post-colonial production, and developing an interdisciplinary approach to analyzing Indigenous art, especially related to the history of tribes currently present in Oklahoma. Recent exhibits include “Art from Indian Territory 2007: the state of being American Indian” (American Indian Cultural Center & Museum) and “Looking Indian" (Untitled Artspace, Oklahoma City, OK). Based on research, she is currently developing a framework that incorporates an Indigenous perspective on the production and purposes of art to provide a more deeply-rooted inspection of how the arts serve a community whose history and literature are embedded in oral history and art. She draws from her own experience as a tribal person (Choctaw/Chickasaw Nations) and as a scholar.

Dr. Mary Jo Watson

Director, School of Art and Art History, University of Oklahoma
Norman, Oklahoma, USA

Dr. Watson currently serves as the Director of the School of Art and Art History at the University of Oklahoma. In addition, she serves as Curator of Native American Art for the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. She has served as a curator, juror, and a lecturer for numerous art exhibits throughout the state of Oklahoma and with national traveling exhibitions. Dr. Watson developed the Native American Art History program at the University of Oklahoma. Additionally, Professor Watson participates as a faculty member within various other departments at the University of Oklahoma, including the Native American Studies program, the Women's Studies program, the College of Liberal Studies and the International Studies program. Dr. Watson has received numerous awards, including the College of Liberal Studies Kenneth E. Crooks Faculty Award, the University of Oklahoma Regent's Award for Superior Teaching, The College of Fine Arts Outstanding Faculty Award, the Oklahoma Governor's Art Award and the Marilyn Douglas Memorial Award from the State Arts Council. She received a second State Arts Council Award for Contributions in the field of American Indian Art and was also an Inductee into the Seminole State College Hall of Fame for Outstanding Alumni.

Ref: A09P0085