Crow Artist Challenges Erasure, Celebrates Culture at the NACC

by Alejandra Padín-Dujon

When Wendy Red Star (Crow Nation of Montana) discovered the cheesy, flagrantly offensive 1980s “White Squaw” adventure-romance novels, she glanced at the cover art and knew she could do better. The Portland-based multimedia artist swapped the heroine’s face for her own. The result? A series of hilariously irreverent covers—this time featuring a real, live Native woman.

On April 11th, Red Star appeared at the Native American Cultural Center to speak to a packed room about cultural pride, her tongue-in-cheek aesthetic, and indigenous art as resistance.

Reclaiming agency for Native peoples is at the core of Red Star’s work. Her most recent installation, showing currently at the Portland Art Museum’s exhibit “Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy,” takes aim at turn-of-the-century visual tropes depicting American Indians as a “vanishing race.”

Red Star’s piece cuts Crow men’s faces out of vintage photographs—“to give them a break,” she says—and then presents the vacant cutouts alongside 1908 wax cylinder recordings of men singing their death songs. In her work, Crow speak for themselves.

The installation also includes black and white photographs of Crow women in traditional dress, re-colored to restore the vibrant hues, and two-person portraits with her daughter Beatrice in tribute to the next generation of indigenous youth.

Though the artist peppered her talk with lighthearted, intertribal teasing (“The Lakota are weird!”) and pithy anecdotes about her father’s all-Crow rock band (“White people had the Beatles, Crow people had the Maniacs”), even the most playful moments asserted an unbreakable connection between her identity, her art, and her project of reclamation and resistance.

In the words of Katie McCleary ’18 (Crow/Little Shell Chippewa), president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale, Wendy Red Star “represents Apsáalooke [Crow] accurately in spaces where Native people are often misrepresented. Through her work, you can see the importance she places in helping and working with her community.”

Wendy Red Star was invited to Yale at the request of Anya Montiel’s class “Native American Art.”