Artist Ernest M. Whiteman III talks about Native American art, contemporary identity


Caroline Megerian/Daily Senior Staffer

Ernest M. Whiteman III. Whiteman is a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe and spoke about challenging understandings of Native American art.

Matt Marth, Reporter

Artist, filmmaker and educator Ernest M. Whiteman III discussed his work and his relationship to his Native American identity in a talk at the Evanston Public Library on Tuesday.

Several of Whiteman’s works, including drawings and digital art, are on display at the Evanston library in his show entitled “ICONOCLAST: Or How I Stopped Worrying About ‘Native American Art’ and Just Be Northern Arapaho.”

Whiteman is a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe and grew up on the Wind River Indian Reservation located in central Wyoming. He now lives in Chicago, where he practices art and has taught classes in Chicago Public Schools and at the University of Wisconsin on film production and Native media representation.

Throughout his talk, he discussed his upbringing on the Wind River Reservation and his complicated relationship with Native American culture and representation. Whiteman also described some of his past work, including “The Final Meeting,” a short film that centers on an Arapaho superhero.

Whiteman talked about how his work exists outside of popular representations of Native Americans in history and media and challenges popular notions of what constitutes “Native Art.”

“We’re all stuck in this mindset of Natives being historical,” Whiteman said, highlighting how the existence of Native Americans in contemporary society is often erased.“I do my best just to keep all of it grounded in the contemporary because my philosophy always has been start now and work your way backwards. Because even students, even Native students, have a tendency to forget that Natives still exist.”

Whiteman also described his ongoing work, like the production of a film adaptation of “Hamlet” set in contemporary society and featuring an all-Native American cast.

After the talk, Halka, the Exhibits and Creative Programs Library Assistant at the EPL commented on the role that institutions like the library have played in excluding certain perspectives like Whiteman’s.

“We are very aware of the history of libraries and public institutions in general being complicit in white supremacy and not amplifying all voices in our community,” Halka said. “Ernest’s perspective on the entire art world is really unique and powerful for a community like Evanston where art is very important.”

Halka added that Whiteman is the director for the First Nations Film and Video Festival, a celebration of Native American films, and in May, EPL will serve as a host site for the event.

Mary Jon Girard, an arts educator living in Evanston, said she found Whiteman’s work interesting and commended his efforts to challenge popular understandings of what constitutes Native American art.

“Major art movements from the mid-1800’s forward were always done through artists that were willing to deconstruct a preconceived idea of what art should be, and that’s how new movements got started.” Girard said. “And that’s what I think he’s doing.”

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