10Q is a new series on the Galería de la Raza blog profiling artists, performers, activists, and more who work with Galería in many capacities.
(Portrait provided by the artist)
A visual artist based in San Francisco and member of the Gabrielino Tongva Indians of California, Katie Dorame holds a Bachelors of Arts in Art from UC-Santa Cruz, and a Masters in Fine Arts from the California College of the Arts. She has been a teaching-artist-in-residence at The San Francisco Arts Education Project and recently attended the Vermont Studio Center.
Dorame is the main artist for Sifting Screens, Galería de la Raza’s current exhibition. “Having a mixed heritage and a partially erased cultural identity is a constant hunt for truth where my main clues are Hollywood and artifacts,” says Dorame, whose paintings seek to untangle the complexity of an ignored and fictionalized history. We interviewed Katie on her working style, opinions on Native Americans in the press, and what her next body of work is.
1. What initially drew you to painting as your preferred medium?
My early inspirations to paint were pulpy paperback novel covers, going to LACMA, and [these] two paintings in grandparents’ houses: one was a portrait of an uncle I had never met, and the other was a prop painting of a sailor for a play. Its eyes were crazy! My cousin says they were ping pong balls cut in half with lights behind them. I don’t remember the ping pong balls; just being completely sucked in to another world by one image.
2. When discussing the exhibition, you talked about your difficulty in finding source images of artifacts specifically related to the Tongva tribe, of which your family is a part. Can you discuss your experience in discovering these sources?
Tongva artifacts are not very visible to the public. When they are on display in museums or missions, there isn’t that big of a selection. I’ve seen a wider range because I have visited archeological sites, or my dad has been allowed access to the Smithsonian archives, for example. It’s funny because I’ve heard people say that the Tongva weren’t that advanced artistically compared to other tribes (funny how pinning one tribe against another is still a form of colonization from academia), but I’ve seen beautiful work, inlay, carving, and cogged stones! Check out cogged stones. Those are fun.
3. In some of your paintings, you incorporate symbols and imagery from other Native American tribes. Can you discuss your incorporation and combination of these different sources?
For this series the artifacts, or petroglyphs are primarily from California tribes. There’s such a vast, diverse network out there, and it’s interesting to me that specific Native American imagery and design is chosen over and over in popular media to stand in for all Native Americans. I have much respect for those images, but I wanted to link it geographically to Hollywood/actors in the paintings.
4. Sifting Screens comments on Hollywood’s role in shaping popular notions of Native and Mexican identity through the film. But at the center of the work are these actresses, mostly of Mexican background, who capitalized and were empowered by their acting careers, but also helped perpetuate certain stereotypes of Latino/ Native identity. What drew you to these women and this particular time in Hollywood’s history?
This era of Hollywood didn’t allow for much authenticity when it came to ethnic roles - this has changed very, very, very slowly. It’s still in progress. Also, these women found power where they could and weren’t given much. I admire that. Name one female Native actress today? A full name. I’m a big believer in looking to recent histories we don’t talk about in order to address the present.
(Work by Katie Dorame: “Lupe Velez and her Totem Ring” as featured in ‘Sifting Screens’)
5. Most of your pieces in the show are portraits, but some such as ‘Hollywoodland’ and ‘Paramount Pictures’ depict specific sites in Los Angeles. How much does Hollywood as a physical place and as a site of cultural production inform your work?
Hollywood the physical location is a continual fascination for me. Past, present, and future.
6. The show also features a video piece in which you transform into a wolf man creature, very much in the pulpy style of that time. Can you elaborate on the creation of that piece?
Video allows me to be a performer, to be a star! (Ha!) My sense of humor is a bit more direct in video than in the paintings. I also wanted to throw myself into a role I never would have received in those days…or today.
7. The appropriation and coopting of Native American iconography and culture by mainstream brands like Urban Outfitters and Victoria Secret (and the ongoing debate of sport mascots like the ‘Redskins’ and ‘Indians’) has definitely been a hot topic lately in the media. How do you think your work addresses the issue of appropriation? Or do you think it does?
Just the other day I saw a blog about “Native American wedding ideas” (this is a thing right now I guess). There were dream catchers, tepees, the bride had a headdress on, and the whole photo shoot was done in Malibu - this year, 2013. I don’t know why it was surprising, but it’s tiring to see such a shallow investment in a culture, to see a satisfaction with the surface of stereotype and no further involvement. People are obviously wanting to engage deeper if it is so prominent, so let’s open the floodgates. My work hopefully offers a different angle into this conversation which will allow people a space to think and talk about it.
8. An inherit quality of a film, that even if based on ‘true events,’ is that it is a fictional representation. In your artist statement, you discuss that your work seeks to create a ‘cohesive narrative out of disjointed parts’ in an effort to reclaim an eradicated past and history of the Tongva people, indigenous to Los Angeles. How much of a role does fiction or fictionalized histories factor into your work or process?
Storytelling is really important to my work. The past has been passed down but has missing parts, so storytelling is absolutely necessary. I have no devotion to facts. Ask my boyfriend.
9. How much does your Native American background and culture inform your work? Do you feel you are labeled as being a Native American artist and if so is that label something you embrace or reject?
EVERYONE’s identity and experiences inform their work, it’s just on various levels. If you’re a teenage female Cuban abstract minimalist, an elderly African transgendered figure sculptor, male Inuit performance artist, or a Danish female video artist, labels can inform the work and shed light, and/or they can trap the artist in an identity box like a Polynesian mime.
10. Prior to the show, you completed a residency in Vermont and worked on some pieces around Maria TallChief, the first Native American prima ballerina. Can you discuss that work, and did that serve as the departure point for the work in Sifting Screens? And, what are you working on next?
Maria Tallchief danced for the NYC Ballet. She was Osage and Irish I believe. My sisters and I grew up dancing, and we all thought she was Russian because she had changed her name from Tall Chief to Tallchief early on in her career. My sister Mercedes (who is also an artist) and I are collaborating on a project about her. We are very interested in her ability to shift identities, even being assumed Russian. That was the jumping off point for this Sifting Screens project because these actresses had that power to shift, but also were boxed into the “ethnic” roles. Mercedes and I were just talking about how on SNL there’s the one actor who plays all the ethnic roles…the Taliban, Obama, a Mexican, etc.
[Any new projects you’re working on?] Yes, but it’s more mysterious than this work.
Sifting Screens is on view at Galeria de la Raza until Saturday, December 21, 2013
Questions conducted by Adriana Grino, Curatorial and Special Programs Manager
Interview edited by Jenn Hernandez
Previous 10Q: Victor De La Rosa