Speaking to past and present, Clarissa Rizal's Resilience Robe
Clarissa Rizal, Resilience Robe, 2014, merino wool, 64 x 53 inches (Portland Art Museum)
- Clarissa Rizal (the mother of Lily Hope, the speaker in the video) was a Chilkat weaver who was part of the Tlingit tribe of Southeast Alaska. Chilkat is a traditional form of weaving that originated among the Tlingit and other tribes in this area. Robes like this one are worn by high-ranking members of the community during important dances and ceremonies.
- The creation of a Chilkat robe requires many months or even years of labor. The wool is hand spun and then expertly woven on a loom where the threads are attached only at the top. The techniques used in Chilkat weaving are passed down through generations of female weavers.
- Chilkat weaving is traditionally done only by women, but it incorporates formline imagery (curvilinear shapes) that can also be seen in the Northwest Coast wood carving that is typically done by men. This particular robe incorporates both traditional and modern motifs (such as the important tribal symbols of eagle and raven, as well as European ships and museum doors) to express the resilience and continued strength of the Tlingit people.
More to think about
Chilkat weaving demonstrates how the Tlingit people preserve their cultural identity by teaching successive generations the traditional art of Chilkat weaving. What are some other examples of passing on traditions to maintain cultural heritage? How might this practice among different cultures in the United States reveal the nation’s historical shifts and changing notions of individual or national identity over time?
Wendy Red Star, 1880 Crow Peace Delegation
Wendy Red Star, 1880 Crow Peace Delegation: Peelatchiwaaxpáash/Medicine Crow (Raven), Peelatchixaaliash/Old Crow (Raven), Déaxitchish/Pretty Eagle, Bia Eélisaash/Large Stomach Woman (Pregnant Woman) aka Two Belly, Alaxchiiaahush/Many War Achievements or Plenty Coups aka Chíilaphuchissaaleesh/Buffalo Bull Facing The Wind, 2014, 10 inket prints and red ink on paper, 16 15/16 x 11 15/16 inches (each) © Wendy Red Star (Portland Art Museum)
- The Crow Peace Delegation of 1880 included Medicine Crow and five other chiefs who traveled to Washington DC to discuss land rights and negotiations over building the Northern Pacific Railroad through Crow territory.
- Although these are portraits of individual chiefs, the photographs reflect the deliberate erasure of Native American culture that served to dehumanize the Crow and other indigenous peoples in the U.S. The use of these images in popular reproductions today continues the practice of outsiders commercializing Indian identity.
- Red Star uses her artistic process to assert each man’s individual identity and accomplishments, as well as to learn more about her own culture as a Crow Indian and to share it with others.
More to think about
Wendy Red Star’s commentary on these images restore specific and personal details of Medicine Crow and his colleagues that were erased in both the original photographs and their reinterpretations in popular culture. She creates a fuller and more complicated history by adding information that an outsider may not know.
Think about photographs of your family that reflect your cultural heritage or personal stories. What details are excluded from the image, or might be unknown to an outsider? How might you annotate a document from your own history so that it tells a more complete story?
Reflecting on "We the People"
Nari Ward, We the People (black version), 2015, shoelaces, 8 × 27 feet (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)
- “We the People” is the introductory line to the Preamble of the Constitution that boldly declared the right of people of the United States to govern themselves. Still, when it was written in 1787, the “people” was narrowly defined and did not necessarily include women, African-Americans, Native Americans, or those who did not own land.
- Nari Ward uses a common material, shoelaces, to evoke the many different people who are today brought together in the phrase “We the People.”
- By using the draping shoelaces to define the old-fashioned calligraphic script, Ward obscures the words slightly. In this way, he encourages the viewer to pause and perhaps reconsider this familiar text.
More to think about
Nari Ward’s We The People demonstrates how contemporary art often asks viewers to think more critically about everyday things that we may take for granted. Can you think of another important icon of American culture that has become commonplace and taken for granted, and that should be examined more carefully?
United States Federal Building and Courthouse, Tuscaloosa
HBRA Architects, United States Federal Building and Courthouse, 2011, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
- Like many other civic structures across the United States, the federal building and courthouse in Tuscaloosa was designed in the neoclassical style, emulating the features of ancient Greek and Roman architecture.
- Neoclassicism was one of a number of architectural revival styles in Europe and the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. The renewal of the classical style, however, had particular importance in U.S. architecture as it was–and still is–seen to symbolize the values of democracy, which is believed to have originated in ancient Greece.
- In recent years, however, a debate has emerged about the use of the classical style in civic architecture in the U.S., particularly in response to a 2020 presidential mandate that all federal buildings employ a classical design. The issue has taken on a political tone, with critics of the mandate arguing that the exclusion of other architectural styles, especially those that represent the diverse cultural heritages of the American population, is undemocratic and alarmingly reminiscent of the rhetoric of totalitarianism.
President Donald Trump, “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture“, Executive Order, December 21, 2020.
Taylor Dafoe, “Joe Biden Has Revoked Trump’s Executive Order Mandating Classical-Only Architecture for Federal Buildings, Restoring ‘Freedom of Design’,” Artnet, February 26, 2021.
Michael R. Allen, “Trumpism, Neoclassicism, and Architecture as Propaganda,” Platform, May 17, 2021.
Learn more about the projects and history of HBRA architects.
More to Think About
What do you think about the question posed in the video: should the federal government mandate a style for federal architecture?
If yes, debate the merits of classical architecture as the prevalent style for civic architecture in the United States. If not, what criteria should be used to decide on the particular style of new federal buildings?