Language, by definition, is a body of words and systems for their use common to people who are of the same community, geographical area, or the same cultural traditions. It is a tool through which to communicate thoughts and emotions. Native American languages are regional entities that identify specific tribal nations in respect to their people, culture, stories, and ceremonies. With the undeniable presence, actions, and effects of assimilation, boarding-school trauma, and incomplete generation-to-generation learning of Native American languages, the potential loss of these languages is imminent and deserves immediate revitalization efforts.
My work explores the native language of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, a federally recognized tribe in South Dakota, of which I am an enrolled member. Currently, there are less than 70 fluent Dakota speakers and the average age of those speakers is 78-years old. My desire is to raise awareness of the endangered status of Native American languages. My work acts as a learning tool meant to engage a younger audience who are the potential future of our language. I employ an interactive element to my work to address how learning a language requires active participation. By interweaving the English and Dakota language, I address the duality that Native Americans experience, one side honoring traditional values and culture, the other adapting to Western civilization.
Text as art juxtaposes the need and desire of the mind to read the written words as text and the visual process of viewing the artwork. A person looks and reads with the same two eyes, yet the mental operations involved are radically different. Neurologists have identified that the process activates separate regions of the brain. Language has a way of capturing the viewer and acts as a lure. By using text within my artwork affects the way the viewer responds and receives the work. What is communicated as text versus what is communicated visually are different yet similar and both convey information. It is up to the audience of which aspect to interpret.