University of South Florida

College of The Arts

University of South Florida

"Native America: In Translation" at USF's CAM - Forbes

Artists have favorite artists too. Artworks they encounter and connect with deeply same as those of us who can’t draw a circle.

Such was the case for Wendy Red Star (Absáalooke (Crow)) with the photography of Kimowan Metchewais (1963-2011; Cree, Cold Lake First Nations). Red Star, a celebrated contemporary artist, first came across Metchewais’ work when friend and Tlingit photographer Larry McNeil posted a remembrance of Metchewais on Facebook.

 “I was really intrigued because it sounded like this person was very special,” Red Star told “I looked at his page and his Facebook is like a memorial. I started looking at his posts and his photos and found that I liked what he was doing.”

Kindred spirits.

Native photographers who grew up on reservations in the western part of the continent before going off to college and studying fine art.

Both using historical photographs of Indigenous people in their artmaking.

“There were so many things he was doing (that) I was interested in my own work,” Red Star said. “He had a (series) of Indians and eyewear, and a lot of those photos were of Crow people, I think even my great great grandfather was in there. I thought that was kind of funny for him to focus solely on cataloging different historical pictures of Native people wearing eyewear. Certain things like that, I could tell he was coming at things at a different angle that was refreshing and looking at details within photos the same as I do.”

When Red Star was undertaking a Smithsonian artis’ts research fellowship at the National Museum of the American Indian in 2018 and 2019, she serendipitously came across part of Metchewais’ archive housed there on one of her final days. She dug through many of his pictures and some of his journals, exploring his work in depth for the first time.

“From there, it became kind of an obsession,” Red Star admits.

She subsequently met more people who knew Metchewais, saw his work popping up more and more, more people told her what an amazing person he was.

“We probably would have been big nerds together because we're both looking at ledger drawings, or the way that he talks about North America being a crime scene; he investigates, I call what I'm doing ‘researching,’” Red Star said. “Also for me, I've always felt like an outsider, I've always been the only Native person in art programs that I've been in and knowing that there was another artist out there–that we would just get each other–would have been incredible for me. That does happen, I have other artists I do find that, and it's an awesome feeling to have people where you don't have several layers to get through before you're speaking the same language.”

Martine Gutierrez, 'Queer Rage, Dear Diary, No Signal During VH1’s Fiercest Divas,' from the series Indigenous Woman, 2018.COURTESY THE ARTIST AND RYAN LEE GALLERY, NEW YORK

Red Star’s efforts to raise up the lesser-known First Nations artist comes via “Native America: In Translation,” an exhibition she curated assembling the wide-ranging work of nine Indigenous artists, including Metchewais, who pose challenging questions about identity and heritage, land rights, and histories of colonialism.

The presentation can be seen at the USF Contemporary Art Museum in Tampa August 25 through December 1, 2023.

Read the full article on - Wendy Red Star Introduces Kimowan Metchewais Through Indigenous Photography Exhibition