Monday, November 7, 2011

Oklahomans Abroad: Local Scholarship and Art Making in an International Context

Southern Cheyenne Mocassins.
Cowhide, rawhide, sinew, glass beads. Early 20th century 
Welcome to new contributor Samantha Still, the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition's Volunteer & Office Coordinator. 

Last May I completed my Master’s degree in Art History, with an emphasis in contemporary Native American art from the University of Oklahoma. Recently, I delivered a paper at the Native American Art Studies Association (NAASA) conference in Ottawa, ON Canada. At the conference I expected to meet other art historians from across North America. But what I didn’t expect was to meet an OU student with similar interests as my own, whose path I had never before crossed. John Lukavic is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology, who is particularly interested in the Cheyenne of Western Oklahoma. I learned that Lukavic is very much interested in applying art theory to his anthropological practice. How is Lukavic’s research relevant to OVAC? Well, Lukavic studies a group of art makers in Oklahoma, and is interested in developing a culturally specific art theory to the objects made by these fellow Oklahomans. So, OVAC blog readers, without further ado, meet John Lukavic:

SS: Why did you decide to study the Cheyenne of Oklahoma?

JL: Initially my research did not focus on the Cheyenne, but rather on the Indian art market in Oklahoma. I planned to study how non-Native consumer notions of tradition and authenticity differed from that of Native artists and Native consumers; however, as I focused my study, I limited my field site to western Oklahoma along the I-40 corridor and on the traditional arts for sale at tourist shops. I spent nearly a year collecting data on this topic, but once I began working with Cheyenne moccasin makers, my plans changed. The information I gathered opened my eyes to a complex system of cultural values in which Cheyenne moccasins circulate.

SS: In your NAASA paper you called for the development of a culturally specific art theory. Explain what you mean by this.

JL: I began my paper by explaining a deep connection between Cheyenne 'traditional' arts and orthodox Cheyenne beliefs. I argued that "in order to view it appropriately, one must understand the role of religious orthodoxy in Cheyenne arts," and that "any art theory that wants to claim authority in addressing Cheyenne arts guided by the views found in the communities from which they originate." One cannot view art without a lens of interpretation, and to use a lens that dismisses the culture from which the art originates misses an opportunity to engage deeper meanings and is frankly disrespectful to those who possess an ideological system outside of Western Enlightenment. The idea that all art should be viewed from a single lens is a product of colonialism. Western Enlightenment, as I argue in my paper, "is insufficient for the study of Native arts," and that "Native art theory must grow organically from Native communities and be guided by the role art has within each of these communities."

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