Grantee: Anna Tsouhlarakis
In her creative process, Anna Tsouhlarakis has always liked to manipulate materials and build objects. She’s been captivated and fascinated by the outcome of constructing. And between her contemporary work and traditional upbringing, some have said that she may lack a connection to or understanding of her cultural background—nothing is further from the truth.
Tsouhlarakis describes her work as a continued interest in creating conceptual connections between seemingly disparate subjects and combining them to become the vehicle for deciphering and interpreting her own familial narratives. While on the surface such pieces may seem disconnected from traditional indigenous aesthetics, she explains that the foundation of her work remains rooted in Native beliefs and philosophies.
Anna’s artistic background is varied. Growing up she belonged to a dance troupe and danced at powwows. She also learned traditional silversmithing and beading. Tsouhlarakis went through the traditional Kinaaldá Ceremony (a Navajo celebration for adolescent girls entering into womanhood) and other traditional Navajo ceremonies. But she noticed that perceptions and understanding of Native contemporary life, experiences and skills were not accurately reflected or included in a modern world. She noticed how many continue to encapsulate and perpetuate the Native American history of the traditional and iconic past, especially through art.
After being exposed to new and different art forms and artists from around the world, past and present, rather than just contemporary Native art, Anna passionately decided to expand the concept and understanding of Native art and form with her own inventive and provocative voice in the contemporary construct. Her hope through her work is to help create a new vocabulary within the dialogue of Native American art and add fresh thinking that illustrates the modern Native’s engagement with society. She wants to help redefine what Native American art is and can be. The 2015 National Artist Fellowship is recognition to Anna Tsouhlarakis’s talent.
I have found that many people think that in order for something to be Native it has to use the same language that has been used for the past 50 years. We have been pulling from the same well of artistic language for so long. We need to add some fresh, new vocabulary to keep our culture strong and vibrant – Anna Tsouhlarakis