Museum goers in Kansas City have had multiple opportunities to see Crow artist Wendy Red Star’s “The Four Seasons” photographic self-portraits in exhibits at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, each of which acquired a print of the work for its permanent collection.
Red Star, now based in Portland, Oregon, grew up on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana. She earned a BFA from Montana State University, Bozeman, in 2004 and an MFA in sculpture from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2006, the same year she created “The Four Seasons.”
The images play off historical dioramas, depicting the artist surrounded by kitschy trappings — plastic flowers, artificial leaves, inflatable animals — intended to satirize idealized views of American Indians as one with nature.
Red Star aimed her commentary at the dark side of American history in another 2006 photograph, “The Last Thanks.” Recently re-released by Haw Contemporary, it features the artist’s take on Thanksgiving as an American Indian “Last Supper.”
Denise Neil, a specialist in American Indian Art and a key contributor to an upcoming book on the history of art on campus at Johnson County Community College, discerns allusions to both personal and Native history in “The Last Thanks.”
“Flanked by skeletons wearing paper feather headdresses, the photograph calls to mind the stereotypes perpetuated in elementary schools each November,” Neil said in a recent email. “The Thanksgiving meal has been replaced with processed food, including bologna, Kraft singles, Wonder Bread, and oatmeal creme pies, representing the food Red Star ate when visiting her grandmother as a child. The image is complex in its use of humor laced with religious iconography, and allusions to the tragedy that befell Native Americans after the first Thanksgiving in America.”
Appropriation, in this case of a Da Vinci masterwork, becomes a powerful tool in Red Star’s hands, pushing viewers to take a broader and more critical view of this traditional American holiday.
Wendy Red Star will speak about her work Nov. 19 as part of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art’s Third Thursdays program, which has moved to an online format during the pandemic, www.nermanmuseum.org/calendar.
Above: “The Last Thanks” (2006), by Wendy Red Star, archival pigment print, 24” x 36” (edition of 15) (Haw Contemporary)