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Kahnawa’kehró:non visual artist Skawennati was just named one of the 2020 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellows, adding another incredible honour to her notable and impressive 25-year career.
The artist will have the opportunity to travel to the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum and research complex.
“I feel happy that I get to go into that amazing archive,” said Skawennati.
“When I applied, I thought that I would be going in October then, but that will not be happening. I feel disappointed but I believe that I will be going sometime in the future,” she said.
The artist is one of 16 other recipients that were selected this year, out of more than 70 worldwide.
Through her research, Skawennati hopes to uncover the origins of the ribbon shirt, an item of traditional clothing that she has incorporated in many of her machinimas and other works. This includes her clothing collection Calico & Camouflage, which was recently featured on Vogue. com.
Her machinimas explore what Indigenous life might look like in the future while addressing Indigenous history.
She credits Lauren Osmond, who is a 2019-2021 Andrew W. Mellon Postgraduate Fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, for her support during the initial process.
“She thought I would be a great fit for this. Somebody who was already a researcher there had to nominate me, and she (Osmond) said that there was someone at the Smithsonian who already liked my work, so I was very flattered,” said Skawennati.
Applicants have to be nominated by art curators, scholars or former and current fellows as part of the application process.
That person turned out to be Rebecca Trautmann, who is the assistant curator of contemporary art at the National Museum of the American Indian and now her program adviser.
“She and I emailed and also talked, and she already knew my work. We talked about what my intention was, and we talked about whether it made sense or not, and it totally made sense. There are a lot of things for me to look at over there that could give me the answer to the question,” said Skawennati.
The artist said she invested a lot of time in writing and working on her application.
“I will do this research, but it is not going to be just for me. It’s for us. And then the other part is to make an artwork that is in relation to this,” she said.
In addition to her research on ribbon shirts, Skawennati will also be exploring the various wampum belts that are part of the Smithsonian’s archive.
“My intention is to find out what they have in their collection that is Haudenosaunee and ours. I don’t know what my artwork is going to be. I make machinimas, and I put ribbon shirts on my characters, and they hold and look at wampum belts, so I think that is probably going to happen,” she said.
Last November, her exhibit called Skawennati: Avatars, Aliens, Ancestors was displayed at Canada House in Trafalgar Square in London.
“Oh my god! The response was overwhelming. It was all so positive, and I was so excited to see all the likes and the shares. I got a lot of friend requests from Kahnawa’kehró:non, and I don’t normally accept requests from people I don’t know unless they are Kahnawa’kehró:non,” said Skawennati.