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  • Reading Beneath the Surface:Joe Feddersen's Parking Lot
  • heather ahtone (bio)

Indigenous Aesthetic

Every time an Indigenous artist creates an object that reflects concepts rooted within her culture, this same artist is perpetuating that culture one more day as an act of self-determination. This is done every day, as artists across the continent participate in the creative process that has served as a cornerstone within Indigenous cultural communities. While every effort of political and religious assault has been made historically to subdue these same cultures, their survival can be partially attributed to the continued production of visual and performance arts. As long as Indigenous people continue to use the arts to reflect unique experiences within a contemporary society, they are fundamentally breathing life into these cultures. Because the vitality of these cultures is so closely tied to the creative process, it is important, therefore, that work by Indigenous artists be considered within a framework that incorporates Indigenous epistemology. Analyzing the arts from a cultural perspective will reinforce these acts of self-determination, both bolstering how we understand these individual artistic expressions and expanding our capacity to understand and share this Indigeneity.

The methodology employed here is based on research involving the analysis of cultural materials, including how these materials were constructed, the traditions involved therein, and their function within a traditional Indigenous community. What I hope to offer is an example [End Page 73] of the value of applying an Indigenous-based methodology as a basis for interdisciplinary research. Ideas about what might constitute an Indigenous aesthetic are still in their infant stages of development, and should not be assumed to reflect a comprehensive or thoroughly vetted methodology. There are flaws, as there will be with this kind of exploration. But the need to develop a framework that centers on Indigenous cultural values and beliefs bolsters my courage, and so I offer my ideas here for consideration.

In order to develop a language addressing this cultural perspective, one must acknowledge that Indigenous epistemology does not coalesce with Western epistemology. Perhaps this is self-evident, but it must be stated in order to allow for the discussion that just as they do not coalesce, nor do they run parallel or perpendicular. This distinction between "ways of knowing" is important, as it allows that bodies of knowledge reflect the cultural values and beliefs on which they are grounded—there does not exist a universal measure. Thus one cannot imagine an Indigenous aesthetic while using Western cultural standards. If we allow that this shift from a Western to an Indigenous paradigm is possible, then we must look to the cultural source in seeking a foundation.

The framework needed to analyze an Indigenous aesthetic must come from within the cultures themselves. Each tribal culture has local ideals, values, and beliefs that necessarily require consideration. These can be incorporated into a larger framework that allows for discussion of the art in a broader continental manner, which I assert can be useful in understanding the Indigenous aesthetic. Through careful consideration of an object's materiality, the artist's use of metaphor and symbolism, and the role of cultural reciprocity, it can be placed within a context that will lend a fuller understanding of the object as contemporary art.

Joe Feddersen's Parking Lot

This essay will focus on Parking Lot by Joe Feddersen (b. 1953, Colville Confederated Tribes) to explore how this methodology can reveal the cultural context of an object that might otherwise be unavailable. In Feddersen's case, it is relevant to consider an author who has proven insightful and intuitive in his approach to contemporary Indigenous art. Jackson Rushing delivers a sensitive review of Joe Feddersen's Plateau Geometrics in his essay "Sacred Geometry," writing:

The "Plateau Geometric" prints are "open" and accessible to a modernist reading based on formalism and the linear logic of "advanced" art. But contained within them are kinds of knowledge—personal and tribal—that are no less codified but are based on poetic responses to living [End Page 74] in a particular place. Access to this information is, if not "closed," then certainly experientially restricted. By way of his homesickness, Feddersen gives a glimpse of that...


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pp. 73-84
Launched on MUSE
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