Richard Ray Whitman

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Richard Ray Whitman (born 1949) is a Yuchi-Muscogee Creek multidisciplinary visual artist, poet, and actor. He is enrolled in the Muscogee Creek Nation and lives in Oklahoma.

I spent some time at Wounded Knee in 1973. That influenced my art and my role as an artist, a culture worker, and a tribal citizen. I had left Santa Fe for Cal Arts and then went to Wounded Knee and never returned to art school. I began to see the artist's role in the context of the struggles at that time, and when I look to Central and South America at the indigenous cultures there, the artist, the poet, the writer, were always in the forefront and part of the larger vision for the people, and, of course, they are the ones who are usually assassinated or who become the political prisoners. I don't see enough artists in North America who are doing the real work that has been assigned them. Rather, the artist seems to do marketable work of safe images to hang on the wall, not work that is engaging and saying something about how it is with us today. So going to Wounded Knee had a very strong impact on my life. It changed my life completely. That experience still sheds light on what I do today.

I've always admitted openly that my influences have been non-Indian as well as Indian artists, because the non-Indian experience was part of my experience, too. I like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, probably for putting text into paintings. I was influenced by my own people, artists like T. C. Cannon, more for his writing than his art, as well as by my grandmother and other people who were remembering the future. When I was in Santa Fe for those years, you could go to the honors collection or the storage gallery and see all the early works from '63 and '64. I liked the idea of text and image, the play of moving paint and colors and moving text around. I did abstract work. In '73, my work in Santa Fe was destroyed in a fire. That was the work from the early '70's, so I have no reference to the paintings from that time. I had another fire a few years ago that destroyed much of my work up to that time, so that's been kind of a cleansing for me and I've started new work.
IAIA Vision Project Profile by Jennifer C. Vigil