The Preciousness Is the Making: IARC Native Artist Fellow Maile Andrade
Sarah Soliz, SAR Press Acquisitions Editor
I don’t think that all art should be hung on walls. I don’t think art for me is that precious either. . . . The preciousness is the process . . . the making.
—Maile Andrade, Indian Arts Research Center, May 29, 2012
With both Native Hawaiian and Chinese ancestry, Maile Andrade comes from a family of people who used their hands: her mother was a painter and a composer, her father a boatbuilder.[i] “I think being an artist is . . . a gift,” she says, and she has created art since she was a child.[ii]
Andrade believes that “we have to exist in the whole world, not in parts of the world” and that her interactions with other artists and Indigenous people spark dialogue—conversations with the world.[iii] In 2012 Andrade came to the Indian Arts Research Center (IARC) at the School for Advanced Research as the Eric and Barbara Dobkin Native Artist Fellow.
Originally from O’ahu, Maile Andrade is now an artist and a professor at the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai’i-Mānoa, where she developed and teaches in a Native Hawaiian creative expression program. She currently has an exhibition at the Honolulu Museum of Art entitled Ka ‘Opua Ā Hina.
A maker of kapa, a cloth formed from the bark of paper mulberry and other trees, Andrade found connections during her fellowship between Native Hawaiian textile traditions and those of the Southwest via an unusual medium: glass. After attending a workshop with a glass artist who created a series of pieces that looked like weavings, Andrade began to familiarize herself with the art of the Southwest and thought, “Maybe my first piece will really be looking at weaving because that’s my background as well.” As she explored the IARC collection, she was drawn to a Hopi wicker plaque from Third Mesa with a katsina design (view image here): “We don’t have this in our tradition, and I like the lines within it and the color. . . . It was just an interesting piece to me.” The past is meaningful to her work: “Some of these things, we believe they have voices. So when they’re used, each one has a different sound, and maybe their voices need to be heard again.” Objects are powerful, she implies. “When we start to look at [them] as reminders of who we are as people, then it starts to shift what these objects do for us.”
Finding balance, acknowledging change—these are some of the themes expressed by Andrade and the work she created during her time as an artist fellow. When asked, for example, if she would want her work repaired if it were to be broken during its time in the IARC collection, she said that she would want it left alone:
When my husband bought [gifts] for my kids, he sailed on a canoe [and didn’t] send them home. . . . And as we gift, we tell the story, how this thing moved, went, made, and all the people that touched it. So I think it’s important. . . . If there was an earthquake [and] it cracked, then it adds to the story, then I think that’s the valuable part, that’s the fun part. No, I’m not fixing nothing.
Untitled Woven Glass Plate
At the conclusion of her fellowship at SAR, Andrade donated several works to the IARC collection. In describing how she created the first of the pieces she donated, Andrade asks essential questions about the relationships between Indigenous peoples, between peoples and their artistic traditions, and between traditional forms and contemporary artworks. She suggests that Native artists must find a balance between referencing other and older traditions and creating something new. The challenge, she explains, “is to see balance at all times.”[v] And this forms the Native—and specifically Hawaiian—foundation of the work:
When I’m weaving or I’m making kapa, I’m understanding that material. I’m understanding the process. . . . It puts me in a space that better connects me to who my ancestors were. Not so much the physical part, but more about how those processes happen in your head and in your na’au, in your being. That understanding then allows you to take those same processes and conceptual ideas and move them to a contemporary material. You’re doing the same thing, and that’s what makes it Hawaiian.[vi]
According to Andrade, the work is only the first step in a procedure that involves understanding, thought, even being itself and that then allows the artist to come back to the work and create something that connects artists both ancestral and contemporary.
For this piece, Andrade took glass stringers, glued them onto a piece of clear glass, and fired the piece with stringers along the bottom to keep the shape intact. Then, she cut the sheet into widths of just over one-fourth of an inch and rearranged them into an alternating pattern. Every other strip had rods on top, and the alternating strips had rods on the bottom. This process gave the piece depth so that it looks like a weaving. Finally, Andrade placed the hot glasswork in a plate mold (a process known as “slumped glass”). She fired the piece three times altogether: once to attach the stringers, once to fuse the strips into one piece of glass, and once to slump it in the mold.
The first piece Andrade donated to the collection is a plate that appears to have been woven, which she made by twining strips of glass together and then firing them in several stages until they became one piece of glass.
I’m using a contemporary medium. I’m also referencing a piece that inspired the contemporary medium, and in some ways hopefully it still has that connection. It’s not totally disconnected, because I think that’s what the old things do for us.
Observation without Judgment
The second piece Andrade donated to the IARC collection is entitled Observation without Judgment. To make it, Andrade fused three layers of glass, each containing different images (dragonflies, leaves, and a woven pattern), as well as some text, into one piece that she then slumped into a plaster mold of her own face. She spent many hours creating and drying the molds, as well as carefully firing and fusing the layers of glass.
To create the three layers of this piece, Andrade screened glass powders onto sheets of clear glass and then tack-fused the sheets, which sealed the colors and images into the glass. The first layer shows dragonflies and the second plants. The third is made of strips of glass: one with text, one with a woven pattern, one that is clear, and one with a leaf pattern. All three layers were then fused together in a firing that took about twenty-four hours. Finally, Andrade slumped the solid plate of glass into a plaster mold that she made from her own face, for a total of five firings.
The images on each layer refer to Andrade’s personal and indigenous histories. Because she is half Chinese and was born in the year of the dragon, the dragonflies represent her. “For me,” she says, the dragon(flies) are “taking flight and they’re moving and they’re change. So I put that as my foundation.” Another layer, she explains, represents maile leaves and her ancestral name: “My name is Maile. My whole name is Hali’imaile, which means ‘the spreading of the maile leaves.’” Finally, the woven pattern, “because I am a weaver, and this plant here, the hala plant, is what we use for weaving.”
Andrade shaped this work by putting sheets of glass on top of it, and to the sheets she added pieces of cloth that she had cut into triangles, adding texture to its surface. The pattern of triangles represents genealogy, a bloodline. “So I guess each piece is kind of personal, right?” Even the split between the woven pattern on the right side of the piece and the pattern of leaves on the left represents Andrade’s overall concerns: “I was going for the same theme because this was hala in passing . . . and these things are woven with hala . . . there was a balance there.”
Although she used the same mold of her face to shape each piece in the series, Andrade wanted them all to be slightly different, too.
I changed the size because the idea or the concept behind this piece is it’s my face, and it’s all those things that make me who I am. And also those things I’m thinking about. So the different faces really represent the different sides or the different moods. We’re never the same. We’re always changing. We’re always in flux.
A large part of what makes these works significant to Andrade are the layers in the glass and the possibilities these layers contain:
For a certain audience it becomes just a pleasurable visual thing, then you have a layer for those who can read the code, and then you might have a layer for those that’s personal, and another layer for the kaona. . . . Like in kapa, why did they put a watermark there, they didn’t need it, who was gonna see it? That’s the kaona, all the layers upon layers upon layers. That’s how we view the world.[vii]
Glass enables overlay and provides depth: “It doesn’t block the view.” “When you’re doing 3-D,” says Andrade, “maybe the whole thing starts to become all the layers of the language. . . . So I’m going to experiment with that. I think that’s going to be interesting.”
Unless otherwise attributed, all quotations come from interviews with the artist at the IARC, May 29, 2012.
[i] See https://apps.ksbe.edu/kaiwakiloumoku/makalii/talking-story/maile_andrade.
[ii] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_63xDUOEUOk.
[iii] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_63xDUOEUOk.
[iv] Susan Brown McGreevy, Indian Basketry Artists of the Southwest: Deep Roots, New Growth (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2001).
[v] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_63xDUOEUOk.
[viI] See https://apps.ksbe.edu/kaiwakiloumoku/makalii/talking-story/maile_andrade.
[vii] See https://apps.ksbe.edu/kaiwakiloumoku/makalii/talking-story/maile_andrade.
Each year the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research provides three fellowships to Native American artists. The piece here is one in a new blog series, produced by the SAR Press acquisitions editor, Sarah Soliz, that will provide an in-depth look at a particular artist and his or her work produced while in residence with SAR. Learn more about our Native American Artists Fellowships here.
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