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WWU / Fairhaven College of Interdiscipinary Studies

The Connection: March 2009 Alumni Newsletter

Trespassing: Fairhaven Professors Highlight Contemporary Native Art

tres·pass·ing
1. To commit an offense or a sin; transgress or err.
2. Law; To commit an unlawful injury to the person, property, or rights of another, with actual or implied force or violence, especially to enter onto another's land wrongfully.
3. To infringe on the privacy, time, or attention of another.

 

Tanis S'eiltin
Tanis S'eiltin

"The goal was to bring cutting edge, contemporary Native American art to the public," said Tanis S'eiltin (Tlingit), Fairhaven professor and co-curator of an exhibit at the Whatcom Museum, "because many institutions exhibit our artwork solely based on its connection to our identity and its aesthetic qualities, without regard to its subject matter, cultural context, or the fact that it has evolved. In many cases our art becomes just a commodity and is presented without reference to what is signified."

 

Along with fellow Fairhaven professor John Feodorov (Navajo), and five other area artists, a collective exhibition entitled Trespassing recently adorned the halls of the Whatcom Museum sponsored by Allied Arts of Whatcom County. Featuring a selection of provocative works by Native American, Native Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian contemporary artists, through a variety of media, much of the work deals with issues of colonization, identity, tribal, state and governmental relationships, land rights, as well as spirituality.

 

John Feodorov
John Feodorov

"When we sat down and thought about a title for the show, we came up with Trespassing, and we did so intentionally because we wanted to try and confuse the notion of who is actually 'trespassing,' explained John Feodorov, who says his work in the show is perhaps the least specific because it doesn't deal strictly with Native American issues. "Is it the non-natives onto the lands of the indigenous people, or is it us natives into society, and more specifically in this case, into the art museums."

 

"This exhibit, and its title, encourage without direct reference to indigenous people, an examination of culture," Tanis elaborated. "The struggle for sovereignty can mean multiple things…we are not beyond it, but instead taking it head on with the title Trespassing."

 

Hit - photo by Tanis
"HIT" by Tanis S'eiltin

In addition to their role in the art world, both John and Tanis happily greet the throngs of college-age students that bounce between their offices and the art studio that rests in the middle, each finding time to sit down with their students to talk about the world beyond art. "I don't have as much time to do my art when I am teaching," said John. "But teaching is an art itself…it's another form of art I can do beyond painting or a sculpture."

 

"At Fairhaven, we talk about these issues, the political and the cultural concerns we deal with daily; we try and make our students aware of how everything is related, from Art to Political Science to Anthropology," continued Feodorov. "Our goal is to make sure students understand art has a much wider context, it exists as a catalyst for change…it can be thought of as showing your work in a math test, its how you do it that matters."

 

Temple, by John Feodorov
"Temple" by John Feodorov

"You must enjoy and embrace the creative process, it is an important part of teaching," said Tanis. "In many cases the future goals of our students don't necessarily involve the fine arts world; but here, they can enjoy the creative process and incorporate a multidisciplinary perspective. I think we provide a very nurturing and a much less competitive atmosphere than many other traditional art programs…we find out students leave here with a renewed confidence."

 

With this confidence Fairhaven students are finding an avenue through which to express their views, realizing art doesn't exist in isolation, and it can help them better understand the world.

 

Written by Jeremy Mauck