Inspired Natives, Not Native Inspired

Energizing the new generation of Native art.

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Inspired Natives, Not Native Inspired

Hannah Tacke

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Deep within the heart of Seattle stands Native-owned and operated flagship retail store Eighth Generation — a company that defies categorization. Located in the historic Pike Place Market, the store seeks to provide a platform in which local Native artists can showcase their creations, while emphasizing the existent relationship between contemporary art and long held tradition.

Before the store opened in August of 2016, Louie Gong, an artist, activist, and educator founded the project online to showcase his own art. Gong is known for merging traditional Coast Salish art with influences from Seattle’s urban environment to make strong statements about identity.

“[Gong] couldn’t find anything that represented who he was,” said Kendra Aguilar. Eighth Generation’s acting store manager. “People saw what he was doing and responded to it, and it grew from there.”

Gong’s shoe designs are inspired by Coast Salish iconography- swooping lines and bold black shapes.

Realizing the void in art representative of Native culture with utilitarian and traditional aspects, Louie began the creation of Eighth Generation. The project was first initiated in order to support a native wool business. Gong held a fundraising campaign for the creation of his first Thunderbird blanket, the first wool blanket ever created by a Native-owned company, and the feedback was so positive that he decided to expand the efforts to a shop.

“[Gong] wanted the store to be in the heart of Seattle to remind people to remember and honor the first peoples of this place and that they are still here.That they are not only successful artists but successful business people, modern people, who are participating in our contemporary urban society,” said Aguilar.

Though Seattle is a sanctuary city, the acknowledgment of the Native people is null. The city has taken part of an exploitative arts economy that dates back to the earliest days of white arrival in Native territory. White expansion has robbed Native people not only of potential profits, but also of the power to tell their own stories. Additionally, it has prevented Native people from living in the contemporary world.

In the gallery room hangs a striking painting by Gong. It is a commentary on the increase of gentrification and the little respect that is paid to the Native population, the original people of Seattle.

“This unique butterfly- composed of two abstract eagles on either side of the Space Needle – is Gong’s homage to a city undergoing rapid transformation. It stands as a reminder to both long-time Seattleites and recent transplants that the city’s character is rooted in its rich history and communities, and an understanding of this history should lead our decision making as we plan for the future.”

Photo by Freya Wiedemann

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