The Ucross Foundation artist residency program in northern Wyoming has announced the winner of its first Native American visual artist fellowship award. Sydney Pursel will spend a month at Ucross, receive a $1,000 stipend and show her work in their gallery.
Pursel is a member of the Iowa Tribe, and said a lot of her early work wrestled with tribal identity.
“I didn’t grow up on the reservation,” she said. “I grew up in Kansas City with my mom, not the Native side of my family, and was inundated with a lot of misrepresentation of Natives whether they were sports team mascots [and] Disney’s Pocahontas. So my initial projects were trying to combat these stereotypes of Native peoples.”
Pursel said she prefers interactive art to drawing or painting. For example, in one project she built a tepee, set it up in public spaces, filled it with both fake and real Native American objects and invited people inside on a scavenger hunt to find the real items.
In another, she gives audiences cards with English words to shout at her while she attempts to speak her Native language.
“Suddenly, everyone’s screaming at me so rapidly that I can no longer remember the words that I had memorized, and I just start repeating what they’re saying in English. Eventually, I have lost all of the Baxoje knowledge and I end by reciting the Lord’s Prayer in English.”
Pursel said she’s currently exploring issues of alcoholism from the perspective of both her Iowa tribe and the Irish side of her family.
Her work will be presented at the Ucross gallery sometime in 2019.