Indigo extends a hearty congratulations to author Jessica Mehta, recipient of the 2022 Indigo Author Diversity Scholarship. Jessica will receive $1,000 toward Indigo services to help her launch her latest book, Tradish-ish: Call Me By Your My Name. Meet Jessica Mehta!
Jessica (Tyner) Mehta, PhD, is a multi-award winning Aniyunwiya interdisciplinary poet and artist. As a native of the occupied land of what is often referred to today as “Oregon” and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, space, place, and de-colonization are the driving forces behind her work. She recently completed her post-doctoral fellowship as the 2022 Forecast Change Lab fellow and is now undertaking her Fulbright Senior Scholar post in Bengaluru, India, where she is curating a poetry anthology in the colonizer’s tongue. Learn more at https://thischerokeerose.com/.
Tradish-ish: Call Me By Your My Name explores the verbiage used—almost always exclusively in the colonizer’s tongue (English)—in open calls for so-called Native American and/or Indigenous artists. These calls were published in the past six years and open to those located in the occupied lands of the “United States.” As an Aniyunwiya (citizen of the Cherokee Nation) artist myself, I have noticed an increase in these calls in recent years. Some may see this as a positive, and yet the language used in these calls are seemingly not evolving in any discernible or progressive format. Instead, much of the language appears stagnant, jumbled, and at times confusing. As Adrienne Keene (who comes from the same band of “Cherokees” as I do) says, we “live in an active settler colonial society … colonialism isn’t in the past; it’s current and ongoing” (Notable 29). What exactly are the curators (who are usually not Native in my findings) looking for with these calls, both in terms of the types of artists they are seeking and what they hope to achieve by showcasing them and their works?
In addition to the language of the calls, I will also address the inherently western system in which the vast majority of calls require submission, such as email and popular platforms like Submittable. Open calls are, by nature, a competition, which requires judgement. Who is judging which Native artist “deserves” to be supported? How does competition and judgement play a role in authentically “tradish” Native cultures? How does the language inform such a colonized system? Who does it leave out? In what ways, if any, are elders who may not have had the same western “education” as younger generations be ignored in these calls—and how is the residual effects of the “Indian” residential boarding “school” system still prevalent today in such calls, if at all?
The heart of my project comes down to this: What is the purpose of an open call for Native artists, how is it evident through language, and how it is lacking Indigeneity? Who is at the helm? Who is being helped? Hurt? Who is being assimilated? Erased? I have yet to find a single open call that is strictly in a Native language, and there is no call with both a Native and English language in its entirety. Open calls are usually the first step in curating a showcasing of Native art (save for word of mouth, which would be the more truly traditional approach) and yet they begin in the depths of colonization by choice of language. It is time we take a closer lens to what this language entails, particularly as the demand for Native art continues to climb. My hope is that Tradish-ish will encourage cultural exchange, spark discourse on what it means to be a Native artist today, and provide a framework for how curators and organizations can better create these calls through an Indigenous approach.
Indigo is honored to help Jessica Mehta work to bring Tradish-ish into the world.