By Sean Chandler
Sponsored by the Missoula Art Museum
I am honored to have my artwork featured in the Missoula Art Museum (MAM). I have visited MAM several times in my life; the first time occurred about 1998, when I was beginning my career. Of course, I said “one day” that I am going to have my paintings on the walls. Little did I know that it would take more than twenty years because of a little hiatus. I began teaching American Indian Studies and Aaniiih Language at Aaniiih Nakoda College in 2002. Currently I am working at the college in a leadership role.
Gathering up myself is probably the toughest task to begin the process of creating some kind of artwork. Not out of laziness, but to know that I am about to express some feeling or experience that I’ve kept inside, in order to hide from others, is the task that I tend to procrastinate. These experiences aren’t necessarily horrible or negative things, but they’re sometimes just things. Gathering up in this sense has to do with collecting my sorrows, happiness, frustration, hope and emptiness in order to arrange or control them all for understanding.
This expression or work takes me and the piece where we’re supposed to go. I think of my father’s art teaching and lessons of Aaniiih philosophy of being in control of my own destiny to be prosperous and generous. I also think of my mother’s lectures given to me as I entered kindergarten, on being an Indigenous person in the contemporary world, specifically about being a ’free’ Indian, whatever that means. I’m sure she was referring to the freedom to be whatever I wanted under someone else’s definition of myself. With that foundation, I try to communicate my own little life experiences and how they relate to the overall impact of a piece. I don’t want to be too committed to a certain part of the painting, as I may not want that part in control of where I need to be.
Ironically, very often parts that seemed to be the best expressions turn out to be better by covering them up. Who knows, maybe that’s part of me covering up me, layer by layer. Maybe with art I can hide among the images of men, women, and creatures and keep myself behind the masks. Maybe it’s a fear of judgement or a protection of expression or simply being too self-conscious. More likely, however, it’s a line formed by my own contemporary experiences in mainstream society connected to the years endured by ancestral experiences of dehumanization, racism, and cultural genocide.
Chaotic and unanswered as a painting may seem, it confirms the disorder and grim questions created by complicated relationships between two worldviews—Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Maybe it’s peace that is sought out for balance, but sometimes balance can be found in chaos.
I am not sure when I would or could have shown in MAM had I not taken a short break from art. Perhaps the timing is right for whatever reason to be seen. Nonetheless, I am very excited to be involved in this process. That “one day” is finally here. One thing I like to put in perspective is that a few of my mentors’ pieces have shown in the MAM. To be included in an outstanding place that they’ve shown is truly an honor.
Tour Schedule 2022 – 2024
- Danforth Art Museum, Livingston, MT – June 24 – July 22, 2022
- Schoolhouse History & Art Center, Colstrip, MT – September 23 – November 4, 2022
- Helen E. Copeland Gallery, MSU-Bozeman, MT – March 1 – April 15, 2023
- Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, Great Falls, MT – May 26 – September 20, 2023
- MonDak Heritage Center, Sidney, MT – October 3 – December 2, 2023
- Holter Museum of Art, Helena, MT – January 14 – April 5, 2024