KEARNEY — Native American artist Dwayne Wilcox uses his artwork to explore tough subjects.
“It tackles issues of homosexuality, PSD and issues that take place in any society, but primarily he’s looking at issues that took place on the reservation and in the Native American communities in the wake of decades of displacement and colonialism,” said Teliza Rodriquez, curator at the Museum of Nebraska Art.
Wilcox, a resident of Rapid City, S.D., uses ledger paper as a background for his two-dimensional work.
“He’s referencing 19th-century ledger art traditions,” Rodriquez said. “There was a resurgence of that in the 1960s with the beginnings of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Native Americans started looking at the work they did and the validity and importance of it the United States.”
“Dwayne Wilcox: Visual / Language,” an exhibition of work by Wilcox, continues on display through Sept. 15 at the Museum of Nebraska Art. Admission to the museum is free.
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In a paper written on the subject, Rodriquez explained the history of creating art on ledger paper:
“The significance of 19th-century ledger work is that it captured the history of the Plains Nations from a firsthand perspective. Ledger art, as Lakota artist Arthur Amiotte states, “…is a sort of bittersweet notion — the whole idea of ledgers and ledger art, and accounting for what has been taken and what we are given in exchange.” According to Karen Miller Nearburg there was a resurgence of interest in ledger art in the 1960s. Ledger artists of today incorporate a ‘wide variety of perspectives, materials, techniques and aesthetic choices and…employ visual narrative as a means of exploring both their cultural heritage and issues of present-day Native experience.’”
That choice of using ledger paper began in 1875.
“The most well-known ledger drawings were those created by men from the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho and Caddo nations imprisoned at Fort Marion in Saint Augustine, Fla., between 1875 and 1878,” Rodriquez wrote.” The warden at Fort Marion, Richard Henry Pratt believed in ‘civilizing’ the men through assimilation and providing opportunities to ‘teach them a trade.’ Pratt’s ambitions led to the creation of the Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Some of the Native prisoners, along with more than 10,000 other students, eventually attended the school in the push for assimilation.”
In addition to the historical aspect of using ledger paper, Rodriquez understands the importance of the connection that artists maintain with their materials.
“There’s a tactical quality that happens with the experience and the actual work getting that and working on that paper,” she said. “If he just got a white piece of paper, do you think it would change the context of these pieces? It would not reference the westward expansion that was happening at that time.”
As a curator, Rodriquez sees the connection of artists and their materials.
“You will have artist after artist after artist state that; the process is so important,” she said.