Wendy Red Star debuts new works that transform Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe carrying cases

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Wendy Red Star debuts new works that transform Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe carrying cases
Wendy Red Star created for JCDecaux bus shelters in New York City, Chicago, and Boston.

NEW YORK, NY.- On August 10, Public Art Fund will debut Travels Pretty, an exhibition based on 12 new paintings by artist Wendy Red Star created for JCDecaux bus shelters in New York City, Chicago, and Boston. Continuing her practice of mining museum archives and collections that house Apsáalooke (Crow) objects, for this new series, Red Star has explored parfleches, the “suitcases” of the nomadic tribes of the North American Great Plains. These hand-painted rawhides—used to store and transport food and personal possessions—were traditionally made by women and served as a compelling means of both self and tribal expression for those who created them. They constitute one of the great traditions of imagery created by Native artists. Red Star’s 12 detailed and vibrant paintings celebrate the communal knowledge of Apsáalooke parfleches, which were unique utilitarian containers instrumental to nomadic life. By taking the parfleches outside the museum walls, where many are currently housed, and reinterpreting them for the city streets, Travels Pretty makes these objects newly visible and accessible, sharing Indigenous cultural perspectives with a broad public audience. Travels Pretty is Red Star’s first public art exhibition and will be on view from August 10 to November 20, 2022 on 300 JCDecaux bus shelters across New York City, Chicago, and Boston.

“Visually weaving together stories across landscapes and generations, Wendy Red Star created this new dynamic body of work specifically with JCDecaux bus shelters in mind,” says Public Art Fund Associate Curator Katerina Stathopoulou. "Standing as a metaphor for mobility and travel, the works draw associations between these suitcases used to transport goods and buses that transport people. Just as one travels by bus from point A to point B, the parfleches also traveled across the United States strapped to dogs and horses. For Red Star, reinterpreting the carrying cases and showcasing them along streets and avenues is a call to the resiliency of her community.”

Raised on the Apsáalooke reservation in Montana, Red Star is known for her works in photography, painting, sculpture, and performance that reshape historical narratives through candor and a feminist Indigenous perspective. To develop Travels Pretty, Red Star studied the collections of major museums that house Apsáalooke objects across New York City, Chicago, and Boston, where the exhibition will be presented. Engaging with the American Museum of Natural History (New York), the Brooklyn Museum (New York), the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (New York and Washington D.C.), the Field Museum (Chicago), and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University (Cambridge), she focused on researching the history, design, and making of the parfleches housed in these archives.

For Travels Pretty, Red Star has created a series of brilliantly colored acrylic paintings in which the artist's hand can be seen through each brush stroke. The background of each work includes handwritten texts with phrases referencing different aspects of parfleches, such as their history (“visual language of the Apsáalooke", “handed down from one generation to the next", “greatest numbers made in the late 1750s to 1880s”, “found in nearly all museum collections that have Apsáalooke cultural material”), how they were used ("meat bag", "hung from horse", "far west trade”), descriptions of the designs (“diamond represented sand lizard / protection for the owner”, "dreamed parfleche design", “simple design so it stands out from a distance”), information on how they were made ("mother taught her daughter", “rawhide considered women's craft", “two weeks to complete”), and what the pigments are made from ("pounded fine berries", "green from fresh algae", “shin bone of an elk”).

"Parfleche designs go beyond the idea of abstract painting which is a Western lens for looking at them," says artist Wendy Red Star. "To me they represent a community of people immediately recognized as the Apsáalooke Nation. That’s a powerful portrayal of what a community stands for. Showcasing them on JCDecaux bus shelters gives a presence to both me and my community in these cities. It gets back to the notion of collecting material culture of Native people and opens the conversation to that."

To celebrate the thousands of women who painstakingly created the parfleches but are not credited with the craftsmanship, Red Star has titled each of the 12 paintings after women from the Apsáalooke tribe, whose names she found in the 1885 Crow Census. They include “Paints Pretty”, “Brings Things Herself”, and “Makes The Lodge Good”. The exhibition spotlights in large format how the Apsáalooke (Crow) Nation continues to thrive, animating the significance, history, and makers of the parfleche.

Wendy Red Star (b.1981, Billings, MT) lives and works in Portland, OR. Red Star has exhibited in the United States and abroad at venues including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, both of which have her works in their permanent collections; Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris, France; Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Bignan, France; Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR; Hood Art Museum, Hanover, NH; St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN; the Frost Art Museum, Miami, FL; among others. Red Star holds a BFA from Montana State University, Bozeman, and an MFA in sculpture from University of California, Los Angeles. She is represented by Sargent's Daughters.

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