I don’t understand. is a work created for a curatorial project called Re-Riding History: From the Southern Plains to the Matanzas Bay, organized by Emily Arthur, Marwin Begaye and John Hitchcock. The project retraces the imprisonment of 72 Indians that were captured in Salt Fork, OK and taken to St. Augustine, FL, from 1875-1878, by bringing together the works of 72 artists and educators that were made in specific response to this history.
As I did research for my piece, I became very frustrated at my inability and unwillingness to understand what the captured Indians went through. I could understand being taken away from one’s family, language, culture and land, but it was frightening to imagine what that would look like in my life. My work for the project is motivated by this struggle to deeply connect my current place in life to the reality of the prisoners and the frustration I felt at my own limitation. I studied the ledger drawings created by several of the prisoners and was visually inspired by the composition, pattern and repetition I saw in many of the drawings. I don’t understand. references many of the visual influences from the ledger drawings and explores how adopting a new visual language can connect the creator to the subject.
The text of the print is in two languages: Cherokee, a represented tribe of the prisoners, and English, my native tongue and the language of the United States. The middle line is the pronunciation key to the Cherokee phrase with the English being the translation. I created the print at Penland School of Craft in the Paul S. Duensing Print and Letterpress studio during one of the summer workshops. The studio has the Cherokee syllabary in lead type and I was able to borrow a basic Cherokee language book from Emily Arthur, who was also at Penland during my visit. As I read through the book, I searched for simple phrases that would capture my thoughts: I don’t understand why this happened in our history. I don’t understand how we can do this to each other. I don’t understand what being ripped away from my family, land, language and culture is like. I don’t understand.