I first saw Julie Buffalohead's (Ponca) artwork when I was in Minneapolis several years ago on a work trip. In general, I saw a lot of work at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts that I liked. Their Native galleries did a great job of mixing traditional and contemporary pieces in the same space. (I think that was also the first time I had seen one of Wendy Red Star's photographs too.)
Buffalohead's animals were finely drawn and I was fascinated with their actions and outfits. When I ran across an article this week about a show of her work in Albequerque, her work gained another dimension for me. "I grew up feeling I wasn’t good enough," says Buffalohead. "I’ve always identified with my Native side. But sometimes you’re not Indian enough and for white people you’re too Indian. It’s (about) my feelings of inadequacy."
I started to see her work through a different lens, one which I'm already familiar with. A lot of the work I do with Robohontas is a way for me to explore and experience my own "Indianness." And here is another artist acting through the characters she creates to examine and explain her own biracial life experiences, along with the larger issue of how Natives are depicted by popular culture. She says, "My imagery is so personal it’s hard to think about the viewer, but I try to be provocative. I use stereotypes because Indians didn’t have a hand in creating them. It’s my way of saying 'This is not who we are. This is your invention.'"
Her work may seem whimsical at first glance, but there is a great deal more happening when you look closely. Her use of animals as characters certainly feels traditionally Native, even if their attire and actions make them more modern. It also gives a sense of playfulness and humor, even when the themes of her work appear darker, as in Christina Fallin on a Stick, shown above.