Raven Halfmoon On Toeing the Line Between Her Caddo Heritage and TikTok
The artist's new show is now on view at Ross + Kramer.
Raven Halfmoon, Quarter Horse, Quarter Indian, 2020, Stoneware and glaze. Photography by John Berens, Courtesy of the artist and Ross + Kramer, New York
For the past year, Raven Halfmoon has been hard at work exploring The Duality of Man. Well, not every man; but specifically Halfmoon, who belongs to the Caddo tribe of Oklahoma and is a young woman in the 21st century; separate aspects of her identity that are frequently at odds with each other. She’s been sculpting her way through those dueling parts of herself as a way to help tease them out. Her most recent work, completed during a recent a residency at the Archie Bray Foundation (colloquially nicknamed the Harvard of ceramics), is now on view at her show Okla Homma to Manahatta with New York’s Ross + Kramer.
The large-scale works in the show depict mainly native women, whose faces are stacked and replicated in a way that reinforces the idea of multiple identities existing within a person. Her works rendered mostly in black, white, and red paints, are stark depictions of what a modern Caddo person contains today. Halfmoon herself is interested in the different ways she connects to her identity as a woman, as a millennial, as a Native American person, and as an artist; and above all, how all of those separate identities can create a conflicted, complex, and intricately singular person. Curious to learn more, GARAGE gave Halfmoon a call.
I read that pottery and ceramics is really important in the Caddo tradition, is that right?
Yes! We were revered for our ceramics. With our ceramics, it was [about] the form. So we had very intricate tripods and bulbous forms. And then with the firing, a lot of our pottery was in raku, so you put it in the fire and then pull it out when it’s still scorching hot, and it gives it either this really dark chocolate or black surface. Then from there, you can carve in. So the forms and the imagery on the pots are really intricate.
So have you been working with ceramics for pretty much your entire life?
Actually, I wasn’t! Which seems crazy, because I feel like I’ve already lived a lifetime working in this material. I had my first experience with clay when I was maybe 13 or 14, and I went to an Elder’s house, [who's] of the only two people in my tribe that make traditional pottery. That was my first experience touching clay, and I fell in love with it. A lot of Native—or more traditional—potters use everything from the clay, to the shells that you use as a binder, in the clay. Nothing is contemporary with how it’s made: there’s no wheels, it’s all coil-built and clay found from the area.
Your current work has a lot of yourself and a lot of modernity in it. I wonder what the experience of building that style was like for you?
When I was in college, I was an arts major and studied painting and ceramics, but I was also an anthropology major. I went to the University of Arkansas, which has the Arkansas Archaeological Survey, and is one of the few places in the world that has Caddo pots that my ancestors made. So during my undergrad, I was able to interpret these ancient Caddo vessels, and from there I was able to go to my contemporary art classes and form my own language and really my own voice. Being in these anthropology and Native studies classes, a lot of the research I was doing started to inform what I was making in my art classes. I was able to manifest these ideas and concepts of identity. When you go to college, you really learn what you stand for. And that’s where this language and my work was born out of.
The language that you built can have pretty political tones to it, right?
It can be. Within my work, I’m taking inspiration from experiences living not only as a Native American, but a woman, and also a millennial. So I’m drawing influence from my cultural heritage and history, and that’s always tangling with what’s happening. So a lot of the work can be political. It can be about the social political and how that ties with history. I’m always riding this line of understanding traditional tribal knowledge, and representing that, versus the pressures of the 21st-century mindset and the fast-paced materialistic world. How do I continue to represent my tribe, but, I also like TikTok! And Chanel! And fashion! And Megan Thee Stallion! I’m always straddling that.
Yeah, I wanted to ask about your use of the Chanel symbol, and one work is titled Caddo Culture, and I’m inferring that’s what the double-C’s become?
Again, I’m talking about this idea of traditionalism versus materialism, and trying to balance everything I’m learning from my tribe culturally, and also being in this fast-paced world. I’m trying to strike a balance between representing tribal identity and trying to be relevant in today’s society and culture. I really like Chanel. So I use it as a reference to my generation, and the things that we value. I think these pieces are kind of a physical representation of my struggles and my reality of living today. I try to use craft as this manifestation carrier of culture, riding a balance of maintaining Caddo heritage and at the same time wanting to spend all my money on a bag.