Backstory: a few months ago, John Torres Nez stepped down from the board of Southwestern Association for Indian Art Market (SWAIA). In the wake of his departure, a new, Native-run art market as emerged, called the Indigenous Fine Art Market (IFAM). I sat down with one of my AZ loves Nanibaa Beck, one of the members of the artist advisory group for the market, to talk about what IFAM is striving to achieve, and where the roots of this movement lie. You know I’m all about Native representations, and IFAM represents a huge shift to self-control and self-representation in the Native Art world, so I’m happy to support!
Nanibaa and I push aside the remains of our breakfast at a cafe in Phoenix, and make a concerted switch from “friend mode” to settle into “business mode”—I pull out my notebook, a black artist’s sketchbook covered in stickers from Native companies and causes, and Nanibaa pulls out a small pocket sized notebook, edges worn and curling from use—where she has written down “key words” to prompt her as we talk about the origins and direction of IFAM.
Nanibaa comes from a family of artists, her father, Victor Beck, has been showing and selling jewelry in SWAIA for most of Nanibaa’s life, and it was through his jewelry her family makes their livelihood. She jokes that he “knew he had to sell at least two coral necklaces” every year at SWAIA to pay for his two daughter’s school tuition. This year would have been Nanibaa’s first year showing her own jewelry at the market alongside her dad, her budding company “NOTABOVE Jewelry” (a play on a mispronunciation of her name, but also a reminder to stay humble) has taken off in the last year, focusing on pieces featuring indigenous languages, at price points accessible to a wide audience. Today I’m sporting my “ha’átíí?!” necklace from her line, which means “What?!” in Navajo. I love it, because it represents my near-constant reaction to the stream of celebrity headdresses and cultural appropriation that I come across. But Nanibaa won’t be exhibiting next to her dad this year, she’ll be manning her own booth and chairing the fashion programming at a new Native art market in Santa Fe, the Indigenous Fine Arts Market (IFAM).
When Nanibaa learned of John Torres Nez’s departure from SWAIA, she bounded into action, starting an online petition to first support his reinstatement, but then shifting to support a new market, “for the People and by the People.” The petition outlines goals for the “new market”:
- To restructure how an organizational Board and the Native artist community work with one another. This would create a form of direct artist involvement in the decisions of the Board.
- To reorganize how the whole staff works with artists, changing the focus of the organization on the artists and not the organization’s own branding.
- To rework a Native arts market’s relationship with the City of Santa Fe that is benefiting for the artists
- To create an organization and market that is fiscally responsible and doesn’t take unnecessary risks with the generous donations of supporters.
- Ultimately, we want a new market that is stable in both organization and structure so that Native artists will have a livelihood for generations from now.
As supporters and artists began to discuss a SWAIA without Torres Nez, the goal moved from reinstatement to creating something new and completely different—an art market envisioned, designed, and controlled by Indigenous peoples. The last two months have been a whirlwind of planning, and the amount that the IFAM team has been able to accomplish is such a short amount of time is staggering. It feels like this has been something a long time coming—and Nanibaa affirms this. She tells me that there have been groups of people thinking about and pushing for something like IFAM for years, “but now social media has provided the vehicle for this to happen.”
In two months, the group has managed to secure dates (August 21-23, 2014), secure a location (The Railyard in Santa Fe), create a website (here), create a process for artist selection (artists already juried into SWAIA are automatically admitted to IFAM, others will go through an application process), create an artist advisory group, begin planning for concurrent youth programming (headed by Courtney Leonard), and involve other movers and shakers in Indian Country (Doug Miles of Apache Skateboards is on board, and Culture Shock Camp’s Brian Frejowill be running the performance stage, with more to come), and create a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the market.
I ask Nanibaa how IFAM is different than SWAIA, and she is careful to contextualize the relationship between the two markets. The dates overlap on one day (Saturday) yet artists and audiences can participate in both, and she feels they are reaching out to different demographics as well. She sees IFAM as a “challenge,” rather than “competition” to the current model. She says, “[This is] not a competition, it’s a challenge to ourselves to use our abilities we’ve been able to gather through the years as creative, capable, career oriented, connected people…not feeling like we have to resign ourselves to the status quo and current direction of what an art market should be like.” She also adds with a laugh, “It can’t be in opposition. It’s a way to push the younger generation, get a different demographic involved—not everyone can afford a $20,000 necklace.”
So how is IFAM different than SWAIA? Nanibaa turns to her notebook and keywords.
“Inclusion,” she begins. IFAM is open to citizens of tribal nations in the US, as is SWAIA, but they also are welcoming First Nations artists from Canada, as well as Native Hawaiian artists.
“The mission of SWAIA, historically, has focused mainly on southwestern art, so IFAM is seeking to expand that focus,” Nanibaa adds, noting how artists such as Kristen Dorsey (Chickasaw) who incorporates Southeastern Native designs into her work, and Courtney Leonard (Shinnecock), a ceramicist, have been on the advisory team from the beginning.
This leads to her second keyword, “diversity,” SWAIA has nurtured and supported southwestern Native art to be where it is today, and Nanibaa and the IFAM team hope that IFAM can provide that nurturing and support for other Native artists and art styles. Because of SWAIA’s prominence and influence, it can often feel that the Native art market is dominated by southwestern styles, so I think the goal of supporting and bolstering other regional styles is much needed. Nanibaa adds that they’re thinking not just diversity of styles and materials, but “also diversity of Indigenous knowledge from each of these artists.”
Her final keyword is “Indigenous knowledge,” and I think that beyond the sharing of traditional Indigenous Knowledges through art and expression, the goals and vision of IFAM truly support contemporary Indigenous knowledge—the business knowledge, the event planning knowledge, the networking knowledge—all the skills and knowledge we have in Indian Country. This is a chance to leverage all of that.
The staff of IFAM is all fresh off of SWAIA, bringing their experience from the years of working for the market. But the goal is not just a three day market. The goal is to turn the “M” in IFAM from “market” to “movement.” Nanibaa says, “Tradition is not static, it’s vibrant. If you think about ‘Movement’ like the movement of water, it’s going to move, adapt, and change…so we can think about movement as tradition.” The IFAM team hopes that the new market and movement can be forward-thinking, but not just in a linear, Western conception. Forward-thinking as fresh and contemporary, but with respect to origins and “where we come from.” This idea made me think of something that my advisor said of my Native students in my dissertation study, that they were “looking backwards into the future.” Native art has long been controlled by non-Native outsiders (though there are notable exceptions, of course), but I think it’s high time that Native folks carve out a space on a large scale that can be looked to as an example of the power of Native people coming together to challenge the status quo.
We have so many mis-representations and stereotypes to deal with, I’m all for Native peoples representing ourselves in ways that we design and have full control over. I think IFAM falls right into my campaign of #positiverepresentations!
So how can you get involved? Support the IFAM Kickstarter here, checkout the website here, and if you’re an artist, volunteer, or food vendor looking to get involved, look at this section of the IFAM website.
Update (6/13): The Kickstarter didn’t make the goal, but you can still donate via PayPal, and donations are much needed!
Lots of background press on IFAM for your reading pleasure:
IFAM on National Native News (at 2:00 mark)
IFAM Announces Santa Fe Railyard as Venue, Launches Website / Indian Country Today Media Network
Mavericks: Trio Founds IFAM to Challenge Santa Fe Indian Market / Indian Country Today Media Network
New Indian Market / KOAT Channel 7 News
Make Way for the Indigenous Fine Art Market / Santa Fe Reporter
Indigenous Fine Art Market announces schedule and plans for Santa Fe launch / The Examiner
Departing SWAIA staffers launch new market for Native artists / Albuquerque Journal
Ex-SWAIA leaders plan new market / Santa Fe New Mexican
(Much love and thanks to Nanibaa for sitting down with me!)