February 24, 2012

Before y'all Heard about it

Guest blogger I.D.K. returns for his second post on Beyond Buckskin: “Before y'all Heard about it.”

With the Heard Indian Market mania just around the corner, I wanted to take a few moments (paragraphs) to address the timeless topic of financial value in the art marketplace. No doubt, there are many distinguished artists who command a premium for their work. They've honed their craft, developed a consistent fan-base, and can stand alone in any situation that is required of them.

They make their living being a Native artist. Congratulations, this story isn't about them.

This story is about the other half, those of us who aren't commercially consistent, or who are still developing a voice and technical prowess... but refuse to get day jobs that interfere with the self-declared title of “Native artist.” Where do we belong? What is the value of our art, and how can we make a living at it?

There's been so much discussion about Etsy, and the craft marketplace as a place to start when spreading our creative wings, that I sometimes wonder if I'm missing something in translation. I ask myself, “Are we crafting? Or are we truly coming up with work that can be considered a stepping stone to future gallery shows, and intellectual respect? And is the market ready for the kind of art that we're hoping to achieve?”

It's obvious that a Native pop culture movement IS happening. It IS valuable. And it doesn't always look like the stuff at your local museum gift shop, or Santa Fe gallery.

But I guess that's the real problem, because, who's gonna buy it? What we're talking about is a learning curve, on top of an already long learning curve about Indians in general. This makes the problem of Native pop art value a compound equation. People don't want to collect paintings of Indian robots, when the 'Indians with Buffalo' painting looks better in their ski condo, and is of a known value. We're essentially banking on a market that doesn't exist yet. Or does it?

I recently took a stroll around Miracle Mile Shops here in Las Vegas, and saw the “Native” trend hasn't died down commercially. Urban Outfitters was still selling fully beaded moccasins for 50 bucks. Flimsy loom-beaded barrettes were 20 bucks. There were a few brands like Obey, who were using Native imagery and actually doing a pretty good job of making it fresh.

I was disappointed, and discouraged, and I asked my wife how I could compete with corporations using Chinese labor (or Vietnamese) to jack my culture, make it irrelevant, and in the process leave my pockets empty with lint?

She said, “Because you won't be competing with these guys. You'll be selling your stuff to people who care about buying original work.” Encouraging words. But in reality, the question still remains.

Can we create, and nurture a marketplace for contemporary Native pop artists, and reward their creativity enough for them to live reasonably? Rewarding creativity is the key question... because when carving out a pumpkin, it's a messy job. Who knows what we're gonna create? Skateboards, Video game backpacks, feathers out of plastic? Doesn't matter. What matters is that it's made by real Indians, from the roots of true Indigenous people, to share with the world. I then had a burst of confidence, and no longer felt punched in the gut when I passed the rack of “Native American” headbands at H&M.

I thought, “That's right our work is collectable.”

Our art is not a lie, perpetuated by millionaires, and wannabes who use our intellectual and cultural property for their own financial gain.

We are the children of the Indigenous people of America, still breathing. As Native artist Steven Paul Judd pointed out, “We lived in America before it was cool."

We are the Indians, not the objects that surround us.. and our story is worth paying full price for, every time. Who's gonna buy Native art? Everybody who truly cares about us will buy it. Hopefully, if your reading this, that includes you too.

Please support the Native Pop Cultural Movement.

Lut Stamp, aka I.D.K. (My Indian name means "I Don't Know") is from, and enrolled with The Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State. He is a writer, Indian-stuff maker, and overall muckrucker currently based out of the infamous Viva Las Vegas.