Artist Statement | Native American Dream: Weaving of Two Cultures
by Amanda Frank
The print started in a comical way for me. I have this obsession with the term “American Dream.” The American Dream is this idea that if we can just overcome obstacles in life, then we can achieve overall wealth and prosperity. This is generally only possible for white, or white-passing, US citizens. As an Athabascan (Alaska Native), achieving this dream means giving up certain parts of my identity that are really important to me. The economy in my village is subsistence-based, meaning we live off of the land for many of our basic needs. There are few jobs available, either with the school, in the clinic or with the tribal government. For me to acquire the necessary skills to perform these jobs, I needed to leave. Since leaving home, many parts of my life have changed, and the hardest part is weaving these two parts of myself together. I’ve completely immersed myself in Western culture. When I go back home, I can instantaneously switch between languages, what I speak about and my perception of things. Sometimes I slip up and my Olympia self comes out in Alaska, or my wild Alaska side comes out in Olympia, and neither side understands what is going on with me.
When the Navajo girl’s head came together with the “American” looking outfit, I laughed at first. It was funny to me because a few days before, I was laughing to myself about how weird it would look if one of my ancestors was zapped to the future and saw all of their descendants dressed in Western clothing, speaking a foreign language and immersed in a culture that was completely unknown to them and forced on their descendants. The clash of cultures between my tribe and the US is still happening now and began as recently as my grandparents generation.
Within moments of this print coming together, I felt incredibly sad. Memories of my mother telling me about her boarding school experiences, memories of kids making fun of me at school for smelling like fish when I lived in the city, memories of seeing other Alaska Natives passed out drunk on the streets – all of them in “American clothing”– spilled into my mind at such a rapid rate that I found myself unable to speak about the photo and how it came together. I couldn’t look at the photo for very long after I created it without choking up and fighting back tears. I thought about the history of boarding schools and the phrase “kill the Indian – save the man,” which was used to justify the genocide of indigenous peoples. I thought about how I am constantly reminded of my “otherness” on a continent my people inhabited first.
I’ve had to think about racism all my life, even when I didn’t have a choice of whether I wanted to think about it, or a way to articulate what I saw happening around me or how to stand up to it. Now that I have ways of engaging with others about the concept of racism, it’s more frustrating to me when others don’t understand what is a simple concept to me. It’s frustrating when I see white and white-passing people appropriating my identity with fake dream catchers and wearing fake headdresses. So much of my identity was taken from me by white people, and it’s like throwing it back in my face that you took my culture, and now you are bastardizing it to the point that it is just some meaningless decoration to you.
This print is a way for me to say some things I couldn’t say before. I want white people to look at it. I want them to think about their privilege. I want them to think about why they think dream catchers are beautiful decorations and why their appropriation is offensive to me. I want white people to think about how awkward the Navajo girl’s head looks on that white body and to know what I feel on the inside. I feel like I’m forcing myself to be something I am not, and I have no other choice. I want white people to know what it’s like to be forced to change yourself into something you’re not. I want white people to, at the very least, recognize that November is Native American Heritage Month, a time dedicated to learning about and reflecting on the turbulent history between Native Americans and the European Colonizers.
Amanda Frank is from Fairbanks, Alaska. She is active on campus through the Cooper Point Journal, KAOS radio and the Native Student Alliance. Having not done any artwork before, Frank does not consider herself an artist and does not know where she fits in the world of art. Frank created “Native American Dream: The Weaving of Two Cultures” for a photography assignment using scanner photography. This technique uses a scanner as the camera to compose a photograph and utilizes unusual objects and layering in Adobe Photoshop. For “Native American Dream,” Frank scanned three objects— a weaved mat in a Coast Salish style, a bookmark with a photo of a young Navajo girl, and a cut out paper doll outfit from the “George W. Bush and His Family Paper Dolls” book— and layered these scans using Photoshop to make the final image. Frank also used the same technique when she came up with “How Should Bush Be Remembered?” She layered the background with a scanned copy of George W. Bush as a paper doll in his underwear and layered red and white dresses over him.
Frank is focused on finishing her bachelor’s degree this spring and wants to pursue work in the field of journalism. She also hopes to work with indigenous communities in some capacity.