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Alumni Profile: Angela Two Stars Uses Art to Preserve, Educate and Empower

Posted July 24, 2019 in AlumniDrawing

Woman with black hair smiling into the cameracredit: Eric Papenfuss

Professional Artist and Curator
Director, All My Relations Arts
Minneapolis, MN
(’17, BFA Drawing)

During her time in KCAD’s Drawing program, Angela Two Stars found that the deeper she dove into her own creative practice, the more she understood how closely her artistic ambitions were intertwined with her identity as a Native American born into the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe. Now, as a professional artist and curator with a number of high-profile projects under her belt, Two Stars is working to widen the circle of understanding around the historical and contemporary realities of Native American experience. 

What led you to KCAD, and more specifically, to the Drawing program?
I’ve been creating art for as long as I can remember, so I thought, ‘If I’m going to invest time, effort, and money in something, shouldn’t it be something I’m passionate about?’ I toured KCAD, and just feeling the energy and seeing all of the incredible work everywhere, it felt like a place where I could become an artist.

I took some exploratory Drawing electives and became very interested in the process of considering what conceptual art could be, of thinking deeply about the meaning behind my work. The program wasn’t just about developing technical skill, but engaging myself and my viewers in critical thinking; the potential there was exciting.

How did your identity and experience as a Native American shape your journey as a student?
My identity is a lived experience that is part of me always, so it permeated everything I did at KCAD. I spent a lot of time contemplating my experiences and the oral stories I’d been told growing up on the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota, I even traveled back to South Dakota to spend some time on my reservation and trying to deepen my own understanding of my culture so that I could bring that into my work and communicate it to others.

I shared a lot in class, like how I got my last name and my grandmother's boarding school experience. I also incorporated Native American humor in some of my printmaking work, responded to the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy in an installation class, and in theory classes I presented on media misrepresentation of Native Americans and compared common stereotypes with more accurate portrayals. My professors and my peers were always very encouraging, and I always appreciated not just their support, but their willingness to listen and learn. My work is as much about helping others come to a deeper understanding of Native culture and lived experience as it is about my own identity.

Etching of a buffalo(aove and below): Work by Anegla Two Stars (images courtesy of the artist)

Etching of an animal in concrete

How did your time at KCAD help you grow professionally as well?
KCAD inspired me to invest in my future, and there were so many opportunities to develop professionally, from learning how to apply for shows and foster relationships with curators and venues, to helping me build my own brand, to networking with all of the guest speakers that came to campus.

Hearing professional artists talk about what they do on a daily basis helped me understand how important the critiques in my Drawing classes were as well. In talking about the concepts in my work, explaining my process, and defending my decisions, I learned how crucial it is to get outside of you own perspective and be intentional in how you present your ideas to others.

You also focused on involving your tribe’s Dakotah language in your work. What did that entail?
I wanted to use my creativity to raise awareness of the Dakotah language and why it should be preserved. A connection with the Dakotah Language Institute led to a series of works in which I paired Dakotah phrases with artistic and English translations of the phrase.

The Institute used the work as educational resources, and by exhibiting it at various places, I was able to connect people from all walks of life to this language and culture. People would often bring their own unique experiences with language and culture to my work, and the conversations that unfolded made me want to take it further.    

In your senior year, your career really started to gain momentum. What was the catalyst?  
It started with an opportunity to exhibit my work at All My Relations Arts, a Native American gallery in Minneapolis. During the closing reception, I learned that the City of Minneapolis was looking for artists for a project to infuse Bde Maka Ska—a large and hugely-popular lake just outside the downtown area—with art that reflects the site’s Native heritage.

When my proposal was selected, I was overjoyed. I was able to work with a great group of organizers, artists, and Native representatives to bring my Dakotah language works to the site in the form of animal illustrations and Dakotah phrases that are now a permanent part of the walking path around the lake. Over 5 million people visit Bde Maka Ska each year, so to know that all of those people will see my work and hopefully gain a deeper understanding of this place and the culture that has shaped it is an amazing feeling.

Metal sculpture of an animal(above and below): Two Stars' installation at Bde Maka Ska—featuring animal illustrations and Dakotah phrases—help visitors connect to the site's Native heritage (images courtesy of the artist)

Etchings of animals on a cement walkway

All My Relations Arts recently invited you to curate your first exhibition. What was that experience like?
It’s titled Bring Her Home: Stolen Daughters of Turtle Island, and while it’s focused on the largely unnoticed issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, it’s not about victimhood; it’s about Native women being strong, resilient life-givers in spite of the constant threat of violence.

I was struggling with how to handle such a heavy topic, so I leaned on my network, especially everyone I’d worked with while interning at UICA [KCAD’s Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts] as a student. Their support gave me the confidence to draft a call for proposals, come up with a compelling exhibition statement and title, and not only go after big name Native artists like Shan Goshorn and Luzene Hill, but land them, too.

My grandmother was kidnapped and murdered when I was young, so I brought my own experiences into it and encouraged the artists and the viewers to do the same, and this powerful collective narrative has emerged. The initial exhibition has since turned into a traveling exhibition, and I’ve been able to travel with it, hearing along the way all these stories that come from the intensely personal connections people are making to the work. It’s been a deeply rewarding experience.

Work on display in an art galleryBring Her Home: Stolen Daughters of Turtle Island, an exhibtion curated by Two Stars, on display at All My Relations Arts (credit: Rory Wakemup)

You must have made quite an impression on the gallery, because you were recently named the Director of All My Relations Arts. What do you hope to accomplish in this new role?
It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity to be able to serve the community and continue supporting the mission of the gallery by promoting Native American artists and making their work accessible to a broader group of people. With everything we do as an organization, I want to make sure we’re highlighting a historical appreciation and understanding of Native American art while recognizing the strength of contemporary artists.

Three people posing together in an art galleryTwo Stars with Native American Community Development Institute President Robert Lilligren (left) and Minneapolis City Council VP Andrea Jenkins (right) at the opening reception for Bring Her Home (credit - Rory Wakemup)

You were just recently tapped for another big public art project in Minneapolis. What can you tell us about that?
I’m one of 15 artists selected to create work for new public service building containing the police station and other public works departments. My proposal is to create a mural that helps viewers understand Native American culture in the contemporary moment, rather than always approaching it through a historical lens. It’s an opportunity to interface with both the police and with the local Native population, and I’m very excited to see how that conversation unfolds and influences the piece.

You’ve accomplished so much already, and your career is really only just beginning. Where do you hope it takes you in the future?
I’m always looking for new opportunities to be more engaged and involved with how an institution or organization interacts with its surrounding community, or how I can do the same as an individual and an artist. Now that I’m in a position to pursue more curatorial work, especially to be able to give emerging artists their first opportunity to exhibit, I want to empower others the same way I’ve been empowered.