Wendy Red Star is a multimedia artist of Crow (Apsaalooke) and Irish Descent who works across various artistic disciplines to explore Native American ideologies and colonialist structures from the past and present time. Her work is layered with Crow images, ephemera, and conjured histories – real and imagined. Red Star works with photography, fiber art, performance art, fashion design, and painting.
Wendy Red Star was reared on a Crow Reservation in Montana. She attended Montana State University and graduated with her B.A. in 2004. In 2006, she earned her M.F.A. from U.C.L.A. and now lives in Portland, Oregon.
Wendy Red Star uses humor and irony in her work to challenge stereotypical views of Native Americans. In her 2006 photographic series, “Four Seasons: Spring, Indian Summer, Fall, Winter,” Red Star lampoons the Western characterization of Native Americans as being inherently connected to nature. She portrays herself as an Indian maiden in each of the four seasons, wearing traditional Crow dress and sitting in front of studio backdrops of landscapes and surrounded by plastic props. She combines cultural and ceremonial objects with artificial landscape elements in a humorous way. She references dioramas, found in natural history museums, that depict American Indians only in traditional ways, and she pokes fun of the romantic notion of them being “one with nature.”
Red Star reveals the problems of such displays by incorporating manufactured elements such as Astroturf, painted mural backdrops, plastic snowflakes, and inflatable wildlife animals into her brightly colored photographs. This staged artificiality raises issues about authenticity in the visual representation of Native American people and their culture. Her own culturally mixed family speaks to the impossibility of singular representational accuracy.
Elements of traditional Crow culture can be found throughout this series, such as her use of bright, saturated colors and the wearing of an elk-tooth dress. “Indian Summer” stands out as it is the only page in which Red Star looks off into the distance rather than directly at the viewer.
Red Star’s work is research-based, an example of which is her research on the 1880 iconic photograph “Crow Peace Delegation to Washington.” She studied this photograph in detail to learn the symbolism attached to the clothing and the items held by members of the delegation in order to humanize Medicine Crow.
Red Star had a solo show at MASS MoCA, “Children of the Large-Beaked Bird,” that addressed the absence of stories of her tribe in American history and literature. Her “Four Seasons” series was included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2015 exhibit, “The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky.”
Currently her “This Is Not America’s Flag” can be seen at The Broad Museum in Los Angeles. She appropriated historic photographs from the Indian Congress of 1898 and cut away their backdrops, presenting portraits of many of the 500 Indigenous people who attended this Congress. She shows the portraits as silhouettes placed on a set of stepped shelves trimmed with red, white, and blue bunting.
Red Star has been honored with a Joan Mitchell Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship. Her work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Portland Art Museum, Indianapolis MOCA, Palm Springs Art Museum, and Smithsonian National Museum of American Indians. She has had collaborative shows with her young daughter at Tacoma Art Museum, Portland Art Museum, and Seattle Art Museum.
Her work is in the permanent collections of Smithsonian National Museum of American Indians, Portland Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Gorman Museum, and Minneapolis Institute of the Arts.