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Zhaabwiiwin – Weaving the Past into the Present

Posted on February 8, 2016 by in The OFI Blog

Gina Adams at CAA, Feb 2016, Washington DC

Gina Adams at CAA, Feb 2016, Washington DC

This year Washington D.C. hosted one of the largest international events for professionals in the visual arts – the 104th annual conference of the College Art Association (CAA). One of the recently appointed Smithsonian Artist Research Fellows (SARF), Gina Adams, was invited to speak at the session dedicated to the Indigenous American cultural representations.

Adams, a contemporary artist of mixed Native American, Lithuanian and Irish Immigrant descent, has been creating artwork charged with deep appreciation of her ancestral heritage. Through reinterpreting mythology and generating creative response to the history as well as current sociopolitical issues faced by the Indigenous American communities, the artist embarks on a spiritual journey in search of her individual voice. In her manifesto Adams defines her work as being “about survival of the spirit, of my spirit and that of my grandfather’s people and their heartbeat that beats within my own body, mind and soul”.

Gina’s relationship with the Smithsonian go back to 2002, when she discovered the old photographs of her great grandfather, of Ojibwa nation, in the SI Archive Collections. As one of the students of Carlisle School in Pennsylvania, the notorious boarding school established for the “forced assimilation” of the native population, her grandfather was removed from his homeland never to see his family again. It took two generations before he was able to share and pass down his memories to his granddaughter, Gina.

A Navajo boy named Tom Torlino as he entered the Carlisle Indian School and a short time after the "reforming" process had begun. SI National Anthropological Archives [#53,599 and #53,599-A]

A Navajo boy named Tom Torlino as he entered the Carlisle Indian School and a short time after the “reforming” process had begun. SI National Anthropological Archives [#53,599 and #53,599-A]

Ever since the artist has been striving to reconnect with her roots, embracing all facets of the Indigenous culture from the oral history teachings and her native language immersion programs to learning beadwork, lacework and quilting.

During her fellowship Gina will be incorporating the artistic research with creative endeavors. With the support of the staff of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) she will study the SI collections of images documenting life at the Pratt Carlisle Indian School as well as Buffalo Bill Cody’s photographs made by Gertrude Käsebier in the early XXth century. Her objective is not confined to reconstructing the historical context and integrity, but also entails drawing inspiration for her ongoing artistic quest.

If you want to learn more about Gina Adams’s story and vision watch a short documentary by Dylan McLaughlin below or visit her official website.