http://sarahsense.com/

Grandmother's Stories

 

Choctaw Irish Relation

 

Like photographs, stories are a recorded history, merging time and memory repeatedly both orally and visually. These works from "Grandmother's Stories" focus on history of family and the placement of self in a community and as an outsider. An architect once told me, “always be an outsider,” I thought that this was his way of understanding international socio-political circumstance when creating community dwellings. I understand it now as a way to think differently, to understand something that may not be within reach emotionally. My journey in the last five years has lead me through thirty-five counties, originating as a means to learn of international Indigenous arts. It was a bold and at times lonely path, but as my steady determination to meet Native artists and learn though my own “field-search” about constructs of colonization in the Americas, I began to live the art. Life changed constantly and the one thing that remained the most consistent was family and land. Going home was unlike any other joy in my life, except for engaging with nature. Trekking and diving became an inspiration for creating and living, and photography became a record of beauty in the landscapes that I encountered. My weaving practice which begun with Chitimacha reservation landscapes (2004), evolved into interpretations of Hollywood appropriation of the Native experience, most simply explained, the real with the fake, most accurately explored with my personas of the Cowgirl and Indian Princess. Such images were also intermixed with familial archives and movie poster, commenting on reality and misconceptions of idealizing culture. As my travels began, landscapes grew into my work beginning with the Weaving the Americas series (2011), mostly landscapes of deserts, mountains and jungles; then with Weaving Water (2013), underwater scenes, the sun and the moon. While meeting with Indigenous communities I became intrigued with my own family again; in many ways, being that outsider encouraged me to grow closer to my origins. As travel and life merged into one, making connections between family, research, and landscape became more natural.

 

In 2013 I was invited to have an exhibition in Bristol and stayed. Stories were unfolding to me while circumstance created new realities. When I realized that Europe would hold me for longer than I would want, I begun to consider various relevant research, the most exciting was an old story that my Grandma Chilie told me long ago about the Choctaw Irish relationship and the Choctaw community gifting money to the Irish during the famine in the 1840s. My Grandma Chilie is Choctaw and grew up in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. She is a nurse, storyteller, photographer, world traveler, basket collector and writer. She told me a few years ago, “Sarah, you are living the life that I always wanted.” I told her a few weeks ago, “Grandma, I am more like you than any one I have ever known.” She agreed. Just then she pulled out a document that she had written in August 2014, called “The Choctaw Irish Relation.” I moved to Ireland in November 2014. At ninety-one she is recording her stories of family, traveling, love, and disappointment. The text that you see in this series is her words, re-written by me. I recount history in two different countries and different communities to bring perspective to an old story, turned legend, which still holds social relevance with compassion and empathy. The story goes: shortly after the Choctaw were removed and displaced in Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, word reached the community that there was starvation in Ireland. The Choctaw gathered funds and sent the money to Ireland as a gift to help. This gift had such a profound impact that the story lives strong in Ireland today. In telling one Irishman that I was Choctaw he got tears in his eyes. It is a recent past and still remembered. Learning of this story from my Grandmother, and to then move to Ireland feels like a closed circle. To re-write and re-record her experience is like breathing her life into her old home of Oklahoma. The Choctaw basket patterns are from the two baskets that she gifted to me in the summer of 2012 and the Chitimacha basket weave is consistent to the one that I bought from renowned basket maker, John Paul Darden. Weaving has been my most natural process of communication. While my grandmother was never a weaver, and I never knew my Grandfather, I am grateful that my Chitimacha community has given me the blessing to weave. In this series of work I am showing my gratitude to my ancestors for guiding my journey, bringing me to Oklahoma and for giving my grandmother an opportunity to share her stories.

 

March 2015

"INTERTWINED, Stories of Splintered Pasts"

Hardesty Arts Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

"Choctaw Irish Relation 1" 

2015

22" x 30"

bamboo paper, rice paper, collagraph print, inkjet print, wax, tape

 

PRICE ON REQUEST

Please email sarah@sarahsense.com 

 

The large landscape in the background is of the Killary Fiord, in the Delphi Valley. The small image is of the Atlantic Coast, between Louisburgh and Westport woven together with a Choctaw pattern from a basket that my Choctaw Grandmother gave to me a few years ago. When researching the Irish Famine and the Choctaw donation, I was learning about the stories by traveling around northwest Ireland and talking with people. The photographs in this series are of these travels and mostly of the Connemara and County Mayo areas. On the day that I took these photos, we were traveling to the Delphi Lodge to learn about the Doolough Tragedy.

The Doolough Tragedy story goes: there were several hundred people that walked from Louisburgh to the Delphi Lodge, which is about eleven miles away, so that they could request food vouchers from the British landlords. The landlords collected the rent from the Irish poor and were the only people who could help them with food during the potato famine. The potato was the only food that the Irish poor were allowed to eat, all other food was marked for export. When the potatoes were diseased in the 1840s, they Irish poor were left with nothing to eat. When the group arrived to Delphi, the landlords refused to open their gates and turned them away. Many died in their walk back to Louisburgh in a winter storm.

I was drawn to the story as it reminded me of the Trail of Tears, and the displacement of the Choctaws. My husband and I drove to the Delphi Lodge to learn about the history. When we arrived we met with the manager and learned about the story and he shared with us information about the memorial walk that they do every spring. The manager, Michael is the first manager to open the gates to the people who participate in the walk, whereas in the past, the owners didn't want the negative publicity associated with the history of the Lodge. After talking with Michael about this for about an hour, we had a tour of the lodge and he offered my husband a job. We now live at the Delphi Lodge. It's a beautiful lodge in the mountains in the northwest coast of the Republic of Ireland and has been an incredible place to make the work for this series.

"Choctaw Irish Relation 2"

2015

22" x 30"

bamboo paper, rice paper, collagraph print, inkjet print, wax, tape

 

PRICE ON REQUEST

Please email sarah@sarahsense.com

"Choctaw Irish Relationship 3"
Bamboo paper, rice paper, pen and ink, inkjet print, wax, tape
22" x 30"
2015

 

SOLD


This piece, like the first two has a landscapes from Ireland, but also includes a landscape from Montenegro. The image with the cow is from a drive that we took from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher. This was the first journey that we took in Ireland and on the journey we met a pub owner who suggested that we go up to Louisburgh to see a Irish Hunger memorial. The two images woven through the left and right are of Montenegro. We were in eastern Europe before traveling to Ireland. The text is my grandmother's story about traveling titled, "Trekking in Paradise." She was a world traveler in the last third of her life and an international basket collector. She had a huge influence on me. All the writing in this show is her words re-written by me. I re-wrote three stories of hers: Choctaw Irish Relationship, Personal History of Marriage, Disappointments, Divorces and Re-Marriage, and Trekking in Paradise. This piece speaks of our journeys, family, marriage, and search. My grandma worked with me on this show until passing away in early March. She is Choctaw from Broken Bow, which is where her memorial was held in May a week after this show opened in Tulsa.

"Choctaw Irish Relationship 4"
Bamboo paper, rice paper, pen and ink, inkjet print, wax, tape
22" x 30"
2015

 

SOLD

 

This piece is Irish landscapes with my Grandmother's stories. The writing that is exposed is her describing the happiest time in her life.

Choctaw Irish Relationship 5
Bamboo paper, rice paper, acrylic, inkjet print, wax, tape
22" x 30"
2015

 

SOLD

"Choctaw Irish Relationship 6"
Bamboo paper, rice paper, pen and ink, collagraph print, inkjet print, wax, tape
22" x 30"

2015

 

SOLD

 

This piece is Irish landscape of a bay off the Atlantic Coast, between Louisburgh and Westport in Mayo County. The text is about the Irish famine and the gift that the Choctaw gave to the Irish. The two images are of the location, in one image the lens is facing west and in the other it is facing east.

"Choctaw Irish Relationship 7"
Bamboo paper, rice paper, collagraph print, inkjet print, wax, tape
22" x 30"
2015

 

SOLD

 

This piece has two photos from Ireland. The simple angled weave that is repeated in a few of these pieces is from a basket that my grandmother gave me. This piece has the collagraph print of a Chitimacha weave printed on the front, making it more visible than the other pieces that feature the collagraph.

"Choctaw Irish Relationship 8"
Bamboo paper, rice paper, inkjet print, wax tape
22" x 30"
2015

 

SOLD

 

This is one of two pieces in the series that has a portrait. This is my Great-Grandfather, who is Choctaw. My Grandma was very proud of him and his work for the Tribal Courts. He spoke all five languages of the civilized tribes of Oklahoma, English and Spanish. I was hesitant about using the portrait in the work, but I love this image of him. This is two layers of rice paper, which gives the effect of water over his face; rather than layering in photoshop, these are layers of wax and rice paper for the transparent effect. On the left side of the image is the Chitimacha weave and the the simple Choctaw diagonal weave comes through at the bottom, where I have cut away strips from the Chitimacha weave to expose the Choctaw. For me, this has a lot to do with me making work about my Choctaw ancestry, which is not necessary my culture, but it is my Grandmother's. The slight exposure of this is a mirror of my experience with coming to Oklahoma and making work about being Choctaw, by way of family, not experience.

This is a portrit of my grandma and my mom, just five days after she was born. I finished the piece on my mom's birthday this year and just as I was finishing it, my grandma called. It was the last time we spoke.

 

"Choctaw Irish Relationship 9"
Bamboo paper, rice paper, inkjet print, pen and ink, wax, tape
22" x 30"
2015

 

SOLD

"Choctaw Irish Relationship 10"
Bamboo paper, rice paper, collagraph print, inkjet print, wax, tape
22" x 30"
2015

 

SOLD


This piece has a more personal story, which is in a lot of my work, but not always visible. The image of the sunset is in Croatia. Just before coming to Ireland, I was in Croatia with my husband to get married, we then traveled to Monenegro and drove through Bosnia on our way to the Zagreb airport, where we caught a flight to Dublin. My time in Germany and Eastern Europe is all a part of this journey that got me to Ireland, it's the more personal details that lead me to living there with my husband and allowed for this research, so in the spirit of the journey and traveling, I have snuck in a few of these images from other countries that I visited in September and October before arriving to Ireland.

"Choctaw Irish Relation 11"

2015

22" x 30"

bamboo paper, rice paper, pen and ink, inkjet print, wax, tape

 

PRICE ON REQUEST

Please email sarah@sarahsense.com

 

This piece was used in the video that I had made for the exhibition. The narrative in the video is my grandmother reading her story about the Choctaw gift to Ireland. The text is written on the strips and then with stop motion it shows the piece being woven together. The blue image with the trees islands is the image that I used for my print, "...and then the bamboo wove itself," which inspired this materials and process for this series. This image is also repeated in the large installation piece.

"Choctaw Irish Relation 11" detail

"Choctaw Irish Relationship 12"
Bamboo paper, rice paper, inkjet print, wax, tape
22" x 30"
2015

 

SOLD

 

I made this piece at Delphi Lodge. These images are of local landscapes. I love the colors; this is the color palette of Connemara. I particularly like how the texture of the grass comes through the Choctaw weaving on the left and the Chitimacha weaving on the right, reminding me of the material that is used to make traditional baskets.

"Choctaw Irish Relation 13"

2015

22" x 30"

bamboo paper, rice paper, inkjet print, wax, tape

 

PRICE ON REQUEST

Please email sarah@sarahsense.com 

 

This piece is about the journey and time. The two roads extend into the distance, one a paved road with power lines and the other a dirt road with a cow and an abundance of trees. Both of these roads are in Ireland The image woven through the top is an image of a reflection in a pond in Germany. I traveled through Germany in September to search my father's ancestry.

"Choctaw Irish Relation 13" detail
"Choctaw Irish Relation 14"

2015

22" x 30"

bamboo paper, rice paper, pen and ink, inkjet print, wax, tape

 

PRICE ON REQUEST

Please email sarah@sarahsense.com

 

This piece has the Choctaw weave from my Grandmother's basket and her words written on the bamboo paper which is woven through either side. I really like the detail on this piece, and have included a detail of the Choctaw weave with the text.

"Choctaw Irish Relation 14" detail
"Choctaw Irish Relation 15"

2015

22" x 30"

bamboo paper, rice paper, inkjet print, wax, tape

 

PRICE ON REQUEST

Please email sarah@sarahsense.com

 

This piece has an image of the Killary Fjord in the Delphi Valley. The image woven through it is a repetition of the same image several times, which includes Thailand, Chile and Ireland.

"Choctaw Irish Relationship 16"
Rice paper, inkjet print, wax, tape
22" x 30"
2015

 

SOLD

 

This piece is the final one that I made of this series. The image is of the Croatia-Bosnia border, on the Bosnia side. This was taken the night that we left for Ireland, October 30, 2014. I was drawn to the image as a reminder of a more recent tragedy of national borders and conflict. While the UK repression of Ireland is for the most part historical, there are still more recent histories of such tragedies such as former Yugoslavia. The image woven through it is of a water reflection in Germany from September when I was there researching my family. My Grandfather's family had to leave Germany because of WWII. This is the most conceptually devastating piece, as it speaks of war and reminds of the tragedies in North America, Germany and Bosnia, but it is probably my favorite of the 16. I like how the pattern becomes a camouflage and that a peaceful weaving brings together populations of people from different time periods and regions of the world.