Art as Decolonial Discourse

Project Overview

A series of book, research, and performance projects to decolonize perceptions of gender and indigenous rights.

Identifying the Problem

As a member of the Catawba Indian Nation and as a non-heterosexual person, Roo was acutely aware of the problematic ways in which both of these identities are addressed in literature. The socio-political and legal history of the Catawba Indian Nation has never been told from the perspective of the Catawba themselves. Similarly, stories considered part of “the Cannon” that are in the public domain rely on gender assumptions that are rarely addressed or challenged within the stories or through the way in which the literature is taught. 

Roo was inspired by the idea that the magic of art and practice-based research is approaching a problem or topic with a personal lens to shine a light onto aspects generally unconsidered. He wanted to use this approach to address how we tell stories that involve indigenous people, and how literature addresses gender.

Creating A Solution

Roo’s project was divided into two primary art pieces: Histories, a performance and research piece that addresses indigenous rights issues, and Regendered Reading Room, an ongoing collaborative book project that addresses gender and storytelling.

He began Histories by conducting oral history interviews with Catawba Indian Nation elders and then transforming these stories into artistic and performances materials. He then transformed the materials into an hour-long, multi-media event at the College of Charleston, open to the public. Roo’s research was also transformed into a lecture on the history of the Catawba Indian Nation, which was delivered through the College of Charleston's First Year Experience Program. By bringing these stories to the forefront of our understanding of South Carolina/Catawba relations,  Roo believes that society at large can begin to unpack and analyze the general and specific misunderstandings around indigenous history and the power dynamics that control those narratives. Histories will continue to be transformed and performed as Roo’s research continues and performance venues become available. 

Roo’s second art piece, Regendered Reading Room, seeks to problematize gender-assumptions at the point of consuming a story by switching the genders of nouns and pronouns throughout the book. This project began by securing artistic collaborators who choose which texts should be regendered and provided artistic material to adorn the cover of the book. Roo then performed the labor of regendering these books by retyping the entire text with the freshly changed nouns and pronouns. The books are printed on-demand through an online publisher and the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in Washington, D.C. Since beginning the project , Roo has spoken at several gatherings and conferences to promote the project, including the Sparkplug program at the DC Arts Center, the New York Conference for Radical Educatorsm, and Ithacon 3.0: "Pippi to Ripley"- a conference about women in sci-fi. A PowerPoint presentation of his workshop can be viewed here. Regendered Reading Room is an ongoing project and will continue into the foreseeable future as more collaborators join the project.

Lessons Learned

The most important advice Roo has for others is to be bold. Through the development of both of his projects, he learned that it is crucial to look for opportunities in unexpected places. He also encourages others to refrain from pursuing projects that can be neatly wrapped up. “Instead, find those projects that will never be quite finished and can become part of your ongoing practice,” he says.

Funding

By charging speaking fees and soliciting donations from patrons and artist organizations, Roo raised $1,500 for his project. Much of the funding covered the equipment to perform Histories and the fees to establish a website for Regendered Reading Room, while the remaining amount will cover the cost of printing copies of the books created as part of Regendered Reading Room.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

Denmark Denmark 2014

Developed by:

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