HASINAI (Caddo): Our People, 2021 (L) and Flags of Our Mothers (R). Photo: Nitin Mukul

Raven Halfmoon commands the room. 

The artist’s massive sculptures define and dominate the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, right now. The space is about a 90-minute ride from New York City and it’s a small museum without a permanent collection. Halfmoon’s works alone are well worth the journey; they will be up until January 2024. A descendant of the Caddo people, Halfmoon draws inspiration from diverse Indigenous pottery  and statues. The exhibition, throughout, proffers contextual information on the Caddo, a group of about 25 Native tribes who lived along the Red River in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, and the process of the work itself. Don’t miss the video where Halfmoon talks about the generations that propel her work and depicts the laborious process of molding thousands of pounds of clay into these towering sculptures. 

Born and raised in Norman, Oklahoma, Halfmoon also credits eclectic influences, from graffiti to fashion designers, for her work. I spoke to her about her process, identity, the exhibition and what’s next. 

Edited excerpts: 

Epicenter: I was at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum last weekend, and I was so struck by your work. Can you tell me how that exhibit came about? 

Raven Halfmoon: It started with them seeing some work on social media. Then they came out and visited my studio and saw my work in person.

Then we started a conversation of building out a really large solo show…my first traveling institutional show. It’s pretty major for me. 

This is a joint traveling show so after the Aldrich, it will travel to Omaha, Nebraska and show at the Bemis for about six or seven months. 

Caddo Woman Warrior, 2021, Stoneware, glaze, 64 x 32 x 62 inches. Photo: Nitin Mukul

Epicenter: The video in the exhibition shows your work with clay and I wondered how you came upon sculpture. Was it always clay? Did you start out in some other way? 

Raven: I have always wanted to be an artist… like out of the womb. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been drawing, painting- I always had markers or colored pencils in my hands. I have notebooks that my mom  saved of all the work that I did when I was little.

When I got older, it turned into graphite and using charcoal and oil pastels. Then I started getting into acrylic painting. When I was about 13 years old, I had my first hand in clay with the elder in my tribe named Jeri Redcorn.

She actually revitalized traditional Caddo pottery. It was with her that I first touched clay and we made traditional tattoo pots that were then pit fired. From there, I went to school at the University of Arkansas and that’s where I took my first clay class, a more contemporary clay class, like wheel throwing, hand building, slip casting. When I was a sophomore in college, I was painting and using oil paints and at the same time doing clay. That’s where the sculpture blossomed.

I combine painting and sculpture on my surfaces. To me, they are large-scale paintings or like painting in 3D. I was also super influenced in my cultural anthropology courses; I have a double degree in cultural anthropology and art and I was always studying the large-scale earthworks that were here in America.

The Caddo ancestors were mound builders and this idea of community and building large was always a huge factor that inspired me. So that’s where the work keeps getting larger and bigger.

My piece “Flag Bearer”was the flagship of the show. It’s the largest I’ve built, with more people involved in building my work than ever. It took a year and a half to see that piece finished and it was definitely a journey. 

Weeping Willow Women, 2022, Stoneware, glaze, 72 x 70 x 46 inches. Photo: Nitin Mukul

Epicenter: You talk a lot about the collective nature of your art, the people who help you build, the generations before you, your ancestors. 

Raven: The work is really born out of living in two worlds. My family always taught me that it’s important to be involved in community, and culture is hugely important in my family. Both of my parents are Native. 

My work is this continuum of pushing that traditional knowledge and sharing history while at the same time living in a different new world that includes social media and branding and pop culture.

The work is really at this crossroads of sharing that traditional knowledge and history and then being relevant to a fast-paced, materialistic world that we’re now in. That’s why sometimes you see really iconic Chanel logos on my pieces or Louis Vuitton. Some of my figures will have Ray Ban glasses on. But then I still think about where they’re coming from. Generationally, I’m talking about my grandmother, my mother, and their personal experiences and what has been passed down to me through their stories.

I always talk about my work as always looking back, but then pushing forward. Native people have always been very adaptive. People have this maybe romanticized idea of what being Native is, maybe what Native art is, and I’m really challenging that. I’m flipping that on its head.

Epicenter: I love that aspect of it. Can you talk more about what’s expected of Native artists and also the very real boundaries you are trying to push? 

Raven: There’s definitely a movement happening. People want to hear a different narrative and so kind of are craving that story.

It’s a good thing. It’s a time now where we have a moment. This moment isn’t going to last forever; let’s be real. Let’s get that information out there because with how fast everything moves, in a couple of years, it will be a totally other movement that’s happening.

Indigenous artists, we play a big role in our community. Not only are we selling art, but we’re also selling culture, you know? It’s so much more than just the art, we’re sharing history, we’re sharing culture. In the art world, people are trying to buy that. That’s something I’m trying to balance. 

Epicenter: One question we always ask as a community media outlet is what do you need? 

Raven: What I need most is the space and to be supported. There’s definitely institutions and museums doing a good job of that. There are others that aren’t. Give us the space to share but also at the same time do not extract. Let us breathe and make the work and share the work and then not have so much taken out of us.

You know when institutions or museums invite you to these things, sometimes that can be also like an extraction. These are spaces that there’s a lot of whiteness and white communities, which is okay because I feel part of my job is to educate. That’s part of the job. That’s my responsibility.

S. Mitra Kalita is a veteran journalist, media executive, prolific commentator and author of two books. In 2020 she launched Epicenter-NYC, a newsletter to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic. Mitra...

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