Amanda Cachia, “Art History’s Co-Inhabitants: Disabled Artistic Approaches to Indigeneity” in Routledge Companion to Art and Disability edited by Keri Watson and Timothy W. Hiles, London and New York: Routledge, 2022.
What are some disabled artistic approaches to Indigeneity? This chapter examines the contemporary art practices of Oceanic artist Pelenakeke Brown, who resides in Aotearoa New Zealand, and Lenape and Potawatomi neuro-diverse artist Vanessa Dion Fletcher, who resides in Canada. Both artists have appropriated long-held and respected practices tied to their Indigenous heritage through tatau and quillwork respectively in an attempt to establish a sense of place, a sense of cultural affinity, and a sense of who they are. Both artists have also used their unique disabled embodied knowledge to activate production of indigenous traditions, customs and rituals, inspired initially through their mothers, and feminist guidance. They create their artwork through individual physical, cognitive and neuro-diverse capacities, be it through cerebral palsy or short-term memory loss, through choreography, space, time, and language, and approaches that posit disability as a methodology that frames the production of the work. In other words, disability is an integral funnel or channel in the path to executing a final product or object. Their intersectional identities as disabled, Indigenous women are inextricably woven together. Brown and Dion Fletcher draw on their personal ties to these histories through multidisciplinary art forms. Brown explores her intersectional identity through a practice grounded in the Samoan concept of the vā, which represents in-between space and/or spatial relationships within Samoan mythology and ideology. She has investigated hair, technology, Samoan tatau (tattoo), and the archives of her own medical files. Dion Fletcher employs porcupine quills, Wampum belts, and her own menstrual blood to reveal the complexities of what defines a body physically and culturally. Reflecting on her Indigenous feminist body and neuro-diverse mind, Dion Fletcher addresses the socio-political representations and implications of menstruation, reproduction, and the biological body.