“Apsálooke Feminist #3” (photo courtesy of The Newark Museum of Art, purchase 2018 Wallace M. Scudder Bequest Fund, Emma Fantone Endowment Fund for Contemporary American Art and Louise Bamberger Bequest Fund 2018.26.3)

‘Wendy Red Star: A Scratch on the Earth’ at Columbus Museum of Art

Mixed-media artist Wendy Red Star addresses long-imposed narratives about Indigenous people. An exhibition of her work is on display April 21 through Sept. 3.

A Native American woman in a vibrant outfit sits in an idyllic nature scene. Foliage is reflected in the water behind her and spring blossoms bloom on shore. Look closer, however, and you notice that the bright green grass is clearly fake and the animals surrounding her are two-dimensional cutouts.

The woman is mixed-media artist Wendy Red Star, and the image, titled “Spring,” is from “Four Seasons,” a 2006 self-portrait series that inserts Red Star into vivid settings that evoke stereotypes found in vintage displays featuring Native people.

“It contemporized this old narrative that has been promulgated in museums across decades,” says Deidre Hamlar, the in-house curator for “Wendy Red Star: A Scratch on the Earth” at the Columbus Museum of Art from April 21 through Sept. 3.

“Spring” is one of more than 40 works in the traveling exhibition organized by The Newark Museum of Art. It’s the most comprehensive survey of the artist, who is a member of the Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe. Exploring themes of colonialism, indigenous feminism and the history of the Apsáalooke tribe through a contemporary and sometimes humorous lens, Red Star’s art turns stereotypes of Native people upside down.
      “Spring - Four Seasons” (photo courtesy of The Newark Museum of Art, Gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D)

Wendy Red Star’s “Spring - Four Seasons” is one of the works featured in the exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art. (photo courtesy of The Newark Museum of Art, Gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D)

For example, the artist writes with red pen on a series of prints of historical photos of Apsáalooke tribe members to call out facts like the subject’s name and age, their family lineage and even the meaning behind their dress or moccasins.

“It serves to humanize the story of Indigenous people, particularly from the Apsáalooke point of view,” says Hamlar. “She deconstructs the narrative that’s imposed by the original narrator.”

Other works in the exhibition include a series of photos depicting everyday life on the Apsáalooke reservation in Montana, where the artist grew up: churches, cars, homes and signs. Another series includes images of Red Star and her young daughter in Native dress posing in front of a graphic, pop-art background. Also displayed are Red Star’s take on traditional elk-tooth dresses, handmade using reproduction elk teeth. An installation titled “Monsters” invites visitors to sit inside a simulated sweat lodge to watch a short film directed by Red Star and Amelia Winger Bearskin about the mythology constructed around land masses on Crow land.

“In such an elegant way [Red Star] has introduced a part of herself as a way for us to understand a larger culture that we may have been historically confused about,” says Hamlar. “You can look at her art on many different levels: aesthetically, historically, or as a conversation that’s ongoing.”

480 E. Broad St., Columbus 43215, 614/221-6801, columbusmuseum.org