Paintings by Wendy Red Star at 50 bus shelters around Boston
Twelve paintings by artist Wendy Red Star debuted at 50 bus shelters around Boston on August 10. Part of a multi-city tour of the artist’s work, “Travels Pretty” features new pieces specifically designed for the in-transit exhibition space.
Red Star’s artworks utilize designs from Apsáalooke (Crow) parfleches, carrying cases used by nomadic tribes of the North American Great Plains. Many parfleches are currently housed in museums. “Travels Pretty” takes these object outdoors and back into spaces that have historically been traveled by Native people.
“Standing as a metaphor for mobility and travel, the works draw associations between these suitcases used to transport goods and buses that transport people,” says Public Art Fund Associate Curator Katerina Stathopoulou. “Just as one travels by bus from point A to point B, the parfleches also traveled across the United States strapped to dogs and horses. For Red Star, reinterpreting the carrying cases and showcasing them along streets and avenues is a call to the resiliency of her community.”
Parfleches were handpainted cases made of rawhide and used to transport possessions of all kinds as nomadic tribes moved. They were typically made by women and served both a utilitarian purpose and as an opportunity for creative and artistic expression. In Red Star’s painting interpretations of these designs, bold acryllic strokes dominate the visual field. In the background of each work she has included handwritten phrases referencing the history of the parfleches.
“Showcasing them on JCDecaux bus shelters gives a presence to both me and my community in these cities. It gets back to the notion of collecting material culture of Native people and opens the conversation to that,” says Red Star.
Having these artworks in public spaces removes them from the context of Western art history and questions why Native objects are collected in Western museums and how that framework impacts the objects. Each painting is titled after women from the Apsáalooke tribe, whose names Red Star found in the 1885 Crow Census, for example “Paints Pretty” and “Brings Things Herself.” These titles pay homage to the women who historically painted the parfleches and were uncredited for them.
“Parfleche designs go beyond the idea of abstract painting which is a Western lens for looking at them,” says Red Star. “To me they represent a community of people immediately recognized as the Apsáalooke Nation. That’s a powerful portrayal of what a community stands for.”