Briefly describe the work that you do.
I respond to the world that I was born into and the one that is ever changing and constantly around me:
My ancestral memory, and the oral stories told to me by my family have imprinted my soul map and created who I am today. Learning to tan deer hides traditionally came from a place of wanting ancestral knowledge….learning to make coil pots came from the same yearning to recreate the past in order to grasp a sense of identity for the future. This work is about prolonging life….this moment…this breath…the eternal heartbeat….as even though I may not have those who have come before, I do have the continued remembrance of the words and the longing of what once was. You never lose the longing; it grows stronger and becomes like a heartbeat whose rhythm is a constant presence. For me this work is 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.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
I have been and artist and a creative thinker my whole life. When I was very young I would drawing and paint on walls and unconventional surfaces. In my twenties I thought I was meant to work in my father’s sporting goods retail store, but the yearning to be a professional artist was stronger than the need to stay in a career that did not suit me. My decision to get a BFA confirmed that I would be an artist for the rest of my life.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
In the drawings of my youth my Ojibwa grandfather saw a connection to our heritage. It was in viewing the connection that he opened up the past and shared with me his life experience and assimilation story of being sent to Carlisle Indian Boarding School. When I was an adult I went to the Maine College of Art for my BFA. The years in between childhood and adulthood were all about exploration of life and materials. In the years after my BFA and before my MFA at the University of Kansas, my studio process and ideas merged strongly into one.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
The forced integration of millions of natives is a truth that their descendants have come to know and deal with. My history of assimilation and my grandfathers forced boarding school experience at the Carlisle School is not unique. The feelings that have been passed down are now part of our genetic heritage. My current studio work deals with my ancestor’s many stories of assimilation. For this body of work, it was necessary to choose a new medium and material from which to begin to bridge these abstract ideas and bring them into concrete forms.
There are many Indigenous and assimilated people like myself making work and creating research right now. Post-Colonial discourses are everywhere. I take my research and my studio thesis project very serious as I am doing this not only for myself but for thousands of others who have a similar story to tell. In my studio process I am deliberately looking describe, enact, translate creatively what it looks like to be from a perspective of Indigeneity. We are as a people at the cutting edge of understanding what it means now to be of an Indigenous cultural heritage. I am attempting to think about these characteristics while developing my work: reclaiming history, renaming, educating, decolonizing, activating thought, recognizing perspectives from an indigenous center, and the recognition of indigenous pedagogy, and Indigenous intellect. I believe that we as Post-Colonial peoples have a responsibility to hear these ideas and move forward in creating an environment that leads toward a future that creates a foundation of respect and enduring understanding for all peoples. My research is Diverse and I intentionally lead by example for students and faculty where I teach and become part of the community. I also believe that all university settings should be the foundational place where we show the rest of the world that the discourse of diversity and hybridity is actively engaged in making change.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
I am motived by the individual and collective experience of my Native American and Immigrant American experience. Oral tradition and the emotions that are connected to assimilation stores told to me by my friends and family fuel my work. I want to create work that tells a story of a game changer and even a protagonist. I wish for the viewer to leave after viewing my work to consider the meaning and perhaps have a greater understanding of the true history of assimilation practices that occurred in the United States. I feel as an artist who has genetic and familiar roots in these practices, that it is my responsibility to tell these stories. Working hard every day is a given……the driving force that I have to do this work is my motivation.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
My greatest living mentor is my good friend George C. Longfish. He has given me guidance, and strength and mentored my artistic practice. I am forever grateful for his teachings of wisdom for they have taught me to believe in myself and given validity to my ideas and studio practice. I worked with Michael Mazur at Provincetown Fine Arts Studio and had breakthroughs in how I saw the world which affected how I approached drawing in my prints and paintings. I am forever grateful to Norman Akers, who was my graduate thesis chair and advisor for three years, for he helped to shape me into the artist I am right now. Elizabeth Jabar and Meg Brown Payson are talented artists as well as good friends who give merit to the feminine in my work as well as to my roots in Maine and my BFA education at the Maine College of Art.
For inspiration I look to artists such as Shahzia Sikander, Brian Jungen, Kent Monkman, Melanie Yazzie, George Longfish, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Brenda Garand, and writers such as Susan Power and Linda Tuhiwai Smith.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
I teach painting, 2D color theory, drawing and printmaking as an adjunct, and teach encaustic painting workshops in several venues in the United States.
I love working on my house and also find inspiration while cooking amazing meals for my family and friends, as well as sewing and gardening.
I love being in the natural world, taking hikes, exploring woods and fields, finding elders who have traditional knowledge, saving seeds, finding sheds, working with wild medicinals. Doing this fuels my world and feeds my artist practice.
Gina Adams spent her early youth in the San Francisco Bay, and then her adolescent and early adult years in Maine. Gina’s formal education includes a BFA from the Maine College of Art and MFA from the University of Kansas, where she focused on Visual Art, Curatorial Practice and Critical Theory.
Gina Adam’s cross,media, hybrid studio work includes sculpture, ceramics, painting, printmaking and drawing. Her work is exhibited extensively throughout the US and resides in many public and private collections. Most recent exhibitions include: “Stands With A Fist” from the MOCNA in Santa Fe, New Mexico; “Survival/Zhaabwiiwin” exhibited at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Portland, Maine; and an upcoming exhibit at the Heard Museum in December 2014.
Among her honors are a recent MFA from the University of Kansas where she earned the honorable Kelvin & Helen Hoover Award and the Daniel MacMorris Award in Painting. Gina’s studio practice is currently located in Lawrence, Kansas. Along with working in her studio, Ginatravels as a Visiting Artist to Universities and Artist’s Residencies, mentors and teaches college and youth Art Programs, and teaches encaustic at R&F Handmade Paint Workshops in the US.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.