As part of We Are Still Here—a multiyear collaborative partnership between Native American Community Development Institute [NACDI] and Hennepin Theatre Trust—from November 2020 to May 2022, Ray Janis, Sheldon Starr and Missy Whiteman participated as mentees in a cohort of Native artists led by Jonathan Thunder.
The purpose of an artist cohort is to identify and work on achieving professional goals by learning from each other. Historically speaking, many great art movements, for example, the Renaissance and Impressionism, occurred with a concentration of artists learning from each other.
Much of the art created by the We Are Still Here cohort was displayed on digital billboards. The medium challenged the artists to work on a massive scale (14 feet tall by 48 feet wide) and with a concise message (5 to 10 seconds viewing time).
Ray, Sheldon and Missy also took the tools and skills honed during the program to create solo capstone projects. Ray painted a large-scale mural on a coffeeshop in his hometown. Sheldon used his graphic design skills to create a booklet for his audience about a form of depression he was experiencing. Missy collaborated with a rapper to make a music video melding tradition and contemporary Native culture.
Mural (pictured above) description: Pour Out Your Coffee House is a Lakota-owned business in Kyle, SD. I approached them with this fantastic opportunity that benefited both their business and myself as an emerging artist creating a new mural in their shop. Wec collaborated on what images they wanted to have represented in the shop. We chose the golden coffee mug overflowing with coffee. This overflowing cup denotes how when you ask God for what you need; he overfills your cup with blessings. I added four horses to represent our Lakota culture and our town culture of Kyle, SD, aka Little Wound, SD. It is known for its school mascot, the Mustang and the many horses roaming around our town. We kept the backdrop similar to how the plains fill with rolling hills, beautiful blue skies and fluffy white clouds. I also added a traditional Lakota geometric shape. The cylinder represents your vision, your path to talk to God. This mural would and is a great addition to Pour Out Your Heart Coffee House.
The Cloud Series: This is a take on the warm summer nights plastered with stencil 8bit styled Lakota heroes such as Chief Iron Cloud, Chief Red Cloud and Touches the Clouds. All great leaders in their communities and what I want our Lakota youth to aspire to be like when they grow up. I continued to use the cylinder shape to represent prayer, traditions and adaptability to the western world.
Missy Whiteman (Northern Arapaho and Kickapoo) understands her work to be a voice for her ancestors to foster deeper understanding and to cultivate positive change. While based in part on traditional cultural ways and ideas, her work also addresses themes of loss in relation to larger cultural forces and the rebirth process of healing and redefinition of cultural identity. Learn more about Missy and her work.
From December 2021 to the present, I have been experiencing Depersonalization and Derealization (DPDR), they are not their own diagnoses, but are symptoms of a number of mental health issues. In October 2021, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the symptoms that came with it were Depersonalization and Derealization. This exhibition is composed of designs and images that I created throughout my experience with DPDR. There were so many symptoms and sensations that I could not express or explain a lot of them with words, so I turned to my creativity as another outlet. Regardless of my negative mental health situation at the time of their creations, my color palette kept its presence within these pieces. My art is more than my stint with this mental health struggle, and I hope the viewers will enjoy this portion of my journey enough to want to view the rest of my portfolio.