‘Made in Native America’: Gallery confronts authenticity in Native art
Karl Bautista, 48, curated “Made in Native America” at the gallupARTS ART123 Gallery located downtown to fight fakes produced by people claiming to be Indigenous.
The show features four artists, including Bautista, from Laguna Pueblo. The others are Mallery Quetawki, Zuni, Mackenzie Cheama, Zuni, and Jason Kinilcheenie, Diné.
“Made In Native America” shines a light on authenticity issues in Native art.
Bautista said he decided to curate this show because of his experiences with people claiming to be Native and selling Native artwork in the Albuquerque area.
“I’ll meet people who have Indigenous-looking artwork or like jewelry and stuff like that,” he said. “I’ll ask them (if they are Indigenous), and they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I’m Indigenous.’
“And I’ll be like, ‘Where are you from?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, well, I’m still learning and reconnecting. I got a DNA test that says I’m Indigenous from the Southwest.’”
He said the DNA test would not specify a tribe and give a general location.
Throughout these experiences, he said people claimed to be Native through DNA tests are exploiting the tests to use it for their advantage.
“A lot of them come from other states, and they’ll come to Albuquerque, and they’ll set up shop and start making leather bags with fringes and bow guards and stuff like that,” Bautista said.
“Like automatically just completely like clinging to it (Native results in DNA tests) and exploiting it almost,” he said.
He said in his studio, Rebel Prints, that he makes sure that the people vending or showing their work are “real Native American and not someone who is trying to be a Pretendian (pretend Indian).”
At the same time, Bautista said Native Americans are the only ones who must prove to every person that they are Native American.
“Native Americans are the only people that have to prove their pedigree or have some sort of documentation that proves how much they are Native and what tribe they are from,” he said.
Bautista said this goes back to the extermination of Native Americans.
“If you were so much Native American, they could bring your scalp in and get paid for it,” he said.
The issues of blood quantum and the descent rule get complicated, said Bautista.
While younger people are attempting to reconnect to their Native heritage, Bautista said, it gets even more complicated because it causes controversy between people on the reservation and those who are not.
“It just complicates everything even to the point where they had to create a Native American Arts and Crafts bill,” he said.
Quetawki, one of the artists who have work on display at the gallery, said this show was only the second time that she made a political piece throughout her art career and made blood quantum and the Indian Arts and Crafts act the center of her piece.
Her piece begins with a wood plank that looks like a blood bag from a blood transfusion.
On this bag of blood, Quetawki wrote about blood quantum issues and how she needs a census number to prove she is Native.
The bag also explains how the blood was involuntarily collected by the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.
“That (act) is both a safeguard for me as a Native artist that my work is authentic and by Native American,” she said. “The act that passed was great – a very good safeguard for us.”
However, as Bautista explained, she has some concerns with the act regarding people who may take advantage of it through proof of DNA tests.
“Now we have all these ancestry and DNA and my tests,” Quetawki said. “Even if someone has just a few drops of Native blood, they can go and start appropriating some of our work without ever having that Native experience.
“That also draws that fine line between having Native blood,” she said, “but also having and living that experience or not.”
She said the show “opens a whole slew of concerns about blood quantum and having mixed blood kids.”
She is afraid that further down the line of her lineage that her great-grandchildren will not be enrolled in Zuni because they might be marrying elsewhere.
“Those ideas are scary,” Quetawki said. “I’m very traditional from where I’m from in Zuni.
“I participate in ceremony, and my kids do too,” she said, “but their blood quantum might not be all the way there after a while, which would be considered when being enrolled in the tribe.
“Native Americans are the only ones who have to prove by our blood quantum that we are Native,” Quetawki said.