I first met Yatika Starr Fields in 2016 on the Standing Rock reservation, which straddles the states of North and South Dakota, to witness what was the biggest Native American protest motion in a technology. There, I found the Oklahoma-based artist, who’s a part of the Cherokee, Mvskoke (Creek) and Osage nations and is constant a household custom of up to date artwork and activism. His father was on the occupation of Alcatraz, and the Fields household additionally had pals on the 1973 occupation at Wounded Knee. This mixture of artwork and lived political realities seems to have taught the youthful artist to welcome the elision of life and artwork.
Throughout an exhibition again in 2011, the artist’s father, photographer and artist Tom Fields, defined his personal inventive philosophy: “To precisely painting Native folks, one should perceive the soul of what makes them persevere. For me, it’s having the ability to expertise the depth of the tradition, which is extra than simply artifacts, artwork, or dance; it’s the on a regular basis actions of life such because the dinners, adoptions, naming, and household ceremonies.” That inclusive vocabulary appears on the core of the work of Yatika Starr Fields, and it’s a world view that he seems to share together with his mom, Anita Fields, who works in textile and clay. She explains it in her personal phrases this fashion: “The work I wish to specific comes from a large number of locations. It may be primarily based on childhood recollections, experiences, desires, social points, and on a regular basis encounters.”
That extra versatile angle towards the fabric and merchandise of artwork — one which rejects the categorization and stigmatization of assorted varieties of artwork and tradition, primarily based on what are sometimes classist and racialized hierarchies — is clearly part of the youthful Fields’s inventive outlook. He combines conventional representational types with dynamic and progressive modern ones, mixing freely and refusing to stylize or calcify his work into one factor. My expertise with Fields’s work is commonly one in all shock at his surprising instructions.
Whereas at Standing Rock, he painted a big picket panel, for no different cause, as he defined to me, than feeling compelled to create one thing. The panel was later utilized by a household of water protectors as a door. When the household realized that Fields was created the piece, they burst into expressions of pleasure at assembly the artist and thanked him profusely for his present to the group, which they have been having fun with. Fields stated he was content material with the place the work ended up, and felt no obligation to protect it as an alternative of letting it journey by a group he felt deeply linked to. He later confirmed me a banner he painted for Standing Rock, which echoed the protests’ standard “Water Is Life” slogan, in addition to the image of the black snake (meant to characterize the oil pipeline) being lower by a coup stick, which is commonly used to mark acts of bravery. These two uncommon works have been my first publicity to his artwork, which prizes readability in some situations, whereas in others it recedes into worlds of fantasy, whose density can appear overwhelming. That oscillation between legibility and cosmic chaos seems once more in his present exhibition, Worry Not at Garth Greenan gallery in Manhattan.
Within the our bodies of labor on show, Fields has revisited that tumultuous interval of Standing Rock. For his Tent Metaphor collection, he salvaged the tents destroyed in raids by the authorities and pipeline safety groups. He turned varieties which might be clearly marked with their historical past into hanging geometric sculptures that evoke hides, carcasses, and even flags or pennants. These works are showcased like trophies symbolizing accomplishment, not remnants of a disaster or violent invasion. The work within the exhibition principally deal with a more moderen political historical past, the January 6 riot, highlighting the savagery of American settlers in opposition to not solely Indigenous teams however even their very own state when it questions what they understand as their rights. In each our bodies of labor, Fields makes use of the varieties and symbols of the Oklahoma flag and its related Native American imagery to string a connection between all that we see.
On the heart of the Oklahoma flag is a round Osage Nation buffalo-skin defend with seven eagle feathers set in opposition to a Choctaw blue sky; each photos are from Indigenous teams that have been forcibly eliminated and settled in what was as soon as referred to as Indian Territory earlier than being renamed Oklahoma in 1890. Throughout the defend is a Plains-style ceremonial pipe and an olive department: the previous is supposed to characterize Native People, whereas the latter is an nearly ironic image of European People who have been, on the time of the flag’s creation, engaged within the lively dispossession of Indigenous peoples. That image of statehood, because the artist has identified on Twitter (the video has since been taken down), was one of many first banners to enter the Capitol constructing when January 6 insurrectionists stormed it in an effort to overturn the outcomes of the 2020 US election. The symbolism was clear to Yatika Starr Fields, who noticed a unbroken cycle of violence that appropriates Native American imagery, whereas dismissing the sovereignty of assorted tribes and nations that have been granted rights in treaties with the US authorities.
In “Osage Defend: Horizon, Tethered Nations” (2021), Fields has turned the Osage defend right into a ball of vitality, because the feathers hanging from the defend seem to swirl uncontrolled. The olive department has disappeared and the peace pipe is wrapped in barbed wire. Within the background is a glowing cityscape at sundown; energy strains crisscross above, slicing by the readability of the sky. The pipeline protests are steered within the energy strains, which have been constructed to quench the persevering with thirst for extra vitality to gasoline cities and trade throughout the USA. Fields turns to abstraction on the backside of the work, as the material of the constructed world under is tumultuous and unstable. Is the central kind trapped within the energy strains? Is it reworking into one thing new?
The oil trade is instantly referenced in one of many present’s largest work, “Untitled (Extraction)” (2021), by a pump jack proven in movement. The illustration remembers the aesthetic methods of early modernists such because the Futurist or Vorticists, who aimed to point out motion in phases, like stop-motion images. Right here, the oil-like black paint is extra apparent, as jagged strokes streak by the underside half as if Franz Kline was tagging a wall.
In her e book Artwork for an Undivided Earth: The American Indian Motion [AIM] Technology (2017), Jessica L. Horton writes concerning the relationship between Native People and house, quoting Standing Rock Sioux scholar and activist Vine Deloria Jr., who theorized pan-Indian politics through the early years of AIM. Horton writes, “Indigenous folks have interaction in what Deloria referred to as spatial considering, anchored in particular locations both repeatedly inhabited or collectively remembered. Greater than an empty container for human actions, house refers to complicated, reciprocal relationships between people and other-than-human entities, together with the land itself as a life-shaping drive.” She explains how Deloria contrasts this with the European episteme, which privileges scientific data: “Colonial societies grant primacy to progress, envisioning historical past as a teleological conquest of empty house by people advancing by phases of civilization….”
This passage appears related to Fields’s artwork. Whereas the varieties are grounded in particular areas and issues (Standing Rock, a flag, a panorama, the pump jack), they don’t seem to be merely vessels of that means, however moderately appear reworked by all the pieces round them. Varieties float and transfer, however they don’t break away or out of their rigorously organized house, all receding from the sting of the canvas and revealing one thing within the background. This brings up one other side of lots of the works on show, which is the centralized imagery within the work and the ubiquity of circles or round movement. Is the Osage defend the idea of those varieties? Do they characterize one thing else? In “Tent Metaphor (Ellipse)” (2017), the salvaged tent hangs in the course of a round body, with one flap outstretched past the circle, like an overambitious Vitruvian Man.
Final yr, Fields defined to the Osage Information why he selected to journey to Standing Rock within the first place: “There was a chance to go, not simply as a spectator, however to be a believer for who we’re as a folks and to battle for our rights similar to my ancestors did. It was very highly effective.” His artworks reveal the same engagement. They don’t seem to be merely observations, or renderings in paint or nylon, however data and retellings of a historical past and current, and even imaginings of latest futures. Horton mentions in her e book that after the nightly information stopped broadcasting the AIM and its varied occupations and actions, Native People “retreated” to marketplaces and museums, which was “maybe their most enduring interface with a wider public because the nineteenth century.” In these areas, the displacement of Native People continued, as objects have been faraway from their on a regular basis contexts and fetishized in shows promising authoritative data about “Indians.” Fields’s objects and pictures refuse to be didactic. The hanging Tent Metaphors, for example, refuse to disclose their secrets and techniques. In that method, they’re extra akin to things such because the Boli of the Bamana peoples of Mali or an icon within the Jap Orthodox religion, that are symbols of nice powers and data. The objects are shards, just like the remnants of a broken clay pot.
The tents from the Oceti Sakowin campsite convey up bigger conversations concerning the nature of “camps” and what they imply in his work. Camps have been reworked into websites of modernity, notably into less-than-ideal manifestations, together with websites for refugees, internment, occupation, and the like. Thinker Giorgio Agamben has appeared on the thought of the camp, the focus camp, specifically, because the “nomos of the trendy.” (Nomos is the traditional Greek phrase for legislation, however in sociology it’s usually seen as a behavior or customized of social and political habits.) Is Fields exploring the campsite as a mirrored image of modernity? Is the positioning, whether or not in the best way Deloria or Agamben conceive of it, a spot of rivalry the place the artist is wrestling with all these sides? Does the camp, just like the one at Oceti Sakowin, break with the modernist thought, very like the camp at Zuccotti Park (previously Liberty Plaza Park), and herald a brand new sort of house, one in all new prospects?
After I requested Fields at Standing Rock what he thought have been a few of the strongest symbols and pictures to emerge round him, he defined: “I feel it’s about drive, it’s about breaking, that’s what I feel it’s. It’s about making the USA have a look at themselves and see what’s occurring … it’s about standing up, breaking, separating, and unifying.”
Fields has assimilated the world round him into these work, which convey a way of urgency and directness, whereas the sculptures step again into an area of contemplation and opacity. Between these extremes he situates his function as an artist and his personal company to wrestle with the constructed surroundings, each as an alien factor that mars the panorama and as a web site for reinvention. He builds from his expertise however refuses to precise it as classes.
Within the gallery’s again room is a triptych by the artist, “Chasm of Hope” (2022), which he painted over the course of some weeks in New York Metropolis. It mashes collectively the town’s Central Park horses, sewer grates, graffitied partitions, Wall Avenue bull, and different oddities right into a brash and colourful collection of works that remind me of Max Beckmann’s most bold triptychs. Like Beckmann, Fields seems not solely to be rendering the world by metaphor or symbols, however to be creating a brand new cosmology that feeds his artwork. Beckmann as soon as stated, “Artwork is inventive for the sake of realization, not for amusement: for transfiguration, not for the sake of play. It’s the quest of our self that drives us alongside the everlasting and unending journey we should all make.” Like Beckmann, Fields doesn’t conflate artwork with leisure. He additionally refuses to choose what it’s, preferring to speak in confidence to the likelihood that our lived experiences will remodel what we see, whereas acknowledging that the journeys we take are by no means alone, even when the by strains are typically laborious to pinpoint.
Yatika Starr Fields’s Worry Not continues at Garth Greenan Gallery (545 West twentieth Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan) till March 12. The present was organized by the gallery.