August 27, 2012

Beyond Buckskin Boutique Features Chickasaw Artist Who Creates ‘Statement’ Jewelry

I am very excited to announce that the Boutique will be featuring Chickasaw artist Kristen Dorsey August 27-September 2, 2012.

Dorsey is a metalsmith artist who seeks to bring the power and beauty of ancient Southeast Native American symbols to the present through her exquisite jewelry collections, and she has created all new items to feature during this special week.

I've written about her before here, and her latest work reflects the rich history of Southeastern Native American adornment and jewelry traditions, as well as Chickasaw cultural values and history, especially since she specializes in free-hand relief sculpture, a technique used by Chickasaw ancestors in creating objects of adornment and ceremony.

Throughout her collections, Dorsey references the three worlds that are at the core of the ancient Mississippian cosmological belief system: the upper sky world, the lower underwater world, and the middle world of the earth’s surface.

Four Directions Loksi Earrings

Representing the Earth, she brings forth Loksi, the turtle, which plays an important role in Chickasaw culture. For example, Loksi is a central aspect of the Native American southeastern Stomp Dance. Shells are filled with pebbles and bound together on leather. Women wear them on their legs as they dance, creating and reinforcing the rhythm of the music. Dorsey keeps with the tradition of respecting turtles with her Loksi collection.

Sky Serpent Cuff

Representing the Sky, Dorsey evokes the powerful Sky Serpent with bracelets, pendants and earrings that feature hand-sculpted scales in cloud-like formations that reference this timeless being. The winged serpent occupies the sky world and is commonly found on engraved shells from old Native American southeastern cultures. Each piece in Dorsey’s Sky Serpent collection is adorned with a raised scale texture as a nod to her Chickasaw ancestors who also wore references to this being on their bodies as signs of deep respect. 

Last but not least, representing Us, The Human Beings, Dorsey brings a new item to our jewelry boxes: Blood Quantum earrings. These all new earrings comment on the current system of ‘counting’ the ‘degree of Native American blood’ that someone ‘possesses.’

Race and culture have both been subjects of Dorsey’s jewelry designs in the past, and she has stated,
Blood Quantum Earrings
“Internalized racism is an epidemic for many Native peoples of this continent (and other continents with similar histories), particularly for those Native people who are labeled as ‘mixed blood’. As author Devon Mihesuah states, ‘culture does not follow blood.’ Through the adornment I create, I seek to foster intelligent discussions about issues of race and identity in Native America while creating awareness of how specific historical events are often the triggers of our current perceptions of Native identity.”
She has also commented on the play of superficiality and weight that Government Issued Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood Cards carry. She explained,
“An individual in possession of one of these cards is deemed a ‘card carrying Indian.’ The irony of this is that no other ethnic or cultural group must apply for membership to the United States Government. The controversial cards are both a tool of power, yet are deemed necessary for Native Nations to identify true members.”
Dorsey's new Blood Quantum earrings give us the opportunity to speak back about these colonial systems and to participate in discussions about our contemporary understandings of what constitutes Indian identity in the 21st Century.

Click here to see more of Dorsey's work.