WHAT IS YOUR NAME, BUSINESS/COMPANY/ARTIST NAME, AND TRIBAL AFFILIATION?
My name is Marlena Myles, I’m enrolled at the Spirit Lake Dakota Tribe in North Dakota (my mother’s tribe). I’m also Muscogee Creek and Mohegan from my father’s side of the family.
WHAT KIND OF ART DO YOU DO?
I create digital vector art using Adobe Illustrator. I hope to use art technology to modernize and showcase Native art and cultures in a new and interesting light.
WHEN AND WHY DID YOU START CREATING ART? WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
I was always talented at drawing, it was just doing something that felt very natural to me. It wasn’t until I created a piece about the Dakota 38 + 2 executions that I really found a purpose for my art. That I could tell Dakota history and stories.
DESCRIBE THE GENERAL PROCESS YOU GO THROUGH TO CREATE YOUR WORK?
With a very vague idea, I start my pieces by choosing 5 colors. It’s also important for me to have the right music as I’m working. I must have a bit of a Synesthesia when I listen to music and create art at the same time. While I was in high school, I spent most of my time studying classical music and playing the flute; art was just a hobby then and I really wanted to be a professional musician of some sort. I think the hundreds of hours learning and making music used the same part of my brain that creates art, so now the two disciplines are forever linked in my mind.
HOW DO YOU PUMP YOURSELF UP WHEN CREATING WORK?
Besides finding the right music, it’s also important to have exercise too! Creating digital art means a lot of time spent staring at a computer scene, so I really make a solid effort to play tennis or go running. One of the best ways to find the energy to create is by simply going on a walk. Minneapolis and Saint Paul have the nation’s best parks and I’m fortunate to live by the Mississippi River, so it’s never too far for me to find inner peace among nature while in the cities.
WHAT OR WHO IS YOUR INSPIRATION?
Sunsets are forever an inspiration, I think they’re the most beautiful things we’ll experience. Because they’re so commonplace, perhaps a lot of people don’t pay attention to them. Not to me, though. Many of my pieces have gradients and color schemes drawn from sunsets in a way.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST CHALLENGING PROJECT? WHAT MADE IT CHALLENGING AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN IN THE PROCESS?
Starting a new piece is always the most challenging, I think. There are a lot of conditions that I prefer. A each new piece is created from a positive mindset, so if I’m feeling frustrated with how the world is going, it can be sometimes difficult to clear my mind of that energy. Sometimes it leads me to isolate myself from people too — their drama and stresses are not what I need at those moments.
One thing I learned though, is to always have absolute love for the piece I’m creating — it’s usually the piece I love the most — if someone asks me what my favorite piece is, I’ll tell them it’s the one I going to create next.
DESCRIBE YOUR GOALS AS AN ARTIST?
To create new art that draws on the past, but doesn’t purely mimick the past. I study the old ways to better understand the meaning of Native art. There isn’t a word for Art in the Dakota language; however, just as there were warriors societies that taught men how to be better hunters and providers, there were also art societies for women to learn ways to better express themselves through the designs they put into the everyday objects. I think that energy they put into their projects also comes from a similar positive mindset that I use in my art. That’s my goal — to come from the same foundations, but also build something new on that foundation using the modern technology in our lives.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM PROJECT?
My dream project is to create animated versions of my art that will teach the Dakota language and culture. I don’t think there are many Native animators out there, and I don’t think there are many Native animated films. Sure there are movies and TVs shows that are translated into Native languages, but they’re not our stories… they’re American pop culture.
WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
I’m currently working on Dakota language materials and learning the animation program that I hope to use to reach my dream.
WHAT ROLE DOES ART PLAY IN SOCIETY?
On an individual level, art is the way the artist is confronting the problems they see. They are asking questions, they are seeking a new way of thinking. As I mentioned before, there was no word for Art in the Dakota language, what people created then was like creating a prayer through their designs. I’ve been told that one of the things that was wrong to steal was the designs of another person — these were family heirlooms. While owning land and possessions wasn’t a priority back then, having a vision and a dream meant so much more to a person. So I think today, art is a prayer or energy that society needs to listen to.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO YOUR NATIVE IDENTITY AND HOW IT MANIFESTS IN YOUR BODY OF WORK IF AT ALL?
Working as a Native artist on Native art has given me a purpose. I always had talent, but no ideas of how to use it. My identity is who I am and it’s something that will always be with me.
WHAT DOES NATIVE ART MEAN TO YOU?
Native art is continuing my ancestors prayers.
I had a dream a long time ago where I couldn’t understand how the people had hope for the future when they were forced onto reservations, seeing the culture and way of life changing dramatically, I couldn’t understand how our ancestors had the strength to continue on…
In my dream, there were thousands of monarch butterflies: I was asking how they traveled on their long journeys — where do they find the strength? I thought how Monarch butterflies never tire or worry on their migration journey, and that I envied them…
My dream answered with something along the lines of “envy the perseverance and faith of life, then, realize, we have the same potential.”
And to me, that’s what Native art allows me to do — to use my potential to create a better future that reclaims and remembers the past.
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF TO BE A NATIVE ARTIST? WHY OR WHY NOT?
For sure, it gives me life to create art that speaks of my ancestors.
WHAT ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT (IE. HOBBIES, POLITICS, SPORTS, MUSIC, ETC)?
I am a big fan of the Timberwolves and tennis. Mozart is my favorite music and reading Russian literature and French philosophy help expand my mind.
WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT PEOPLE DON’T KNOW, BUT SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YOUR TRIBE/HOME COMMUNITY?
They should know that living in the Twin Cities, they are on Dakota land. Treat the earth and water with respect.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN IN THE NATIVE ARTS COMMUNITY IN MINNEAPOLIS? AT TWO RIVERS?
I love when the art exhibitions connect and reflect the Native Community. We have a unique opportunity to showcase and highlight our voices and we should empower and embolden ourselves using Native art. Also I hope Two Rivers continues keeping the youth connect with art.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THERE IS ENOUGH SUPPORT FOR NATIVE ARTISTS IN MN? WHAT ARE YOUR NEEDS AS AN ARTIST?
First Peoples Fund has given me a lot of support to take the next steps as an artist. They provide grant money, business training, but most of all, they offer support like a family would. With the proper tools and community support, we can all find ways to succeed and thrive as artists. Maybe one of the problems is firstly finding emerging Native artists and letting them know the door is open to them — that’s something I never realized when I was just first starting out.
WHAT ARE FIVE VERY RANDOM AND INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT YOU?
- I was born in Connecticut and had a strong New England accent when I moved to Minneapolis as kid. The school system made me take speech classes to get rid of it though!
- Don’t have a middle name!
- I was a pretty talented flutist (still play, but don’t practice nearly as much) and wanted to play in an orchestra. I think I can use those years spent as a musician to create the music for the animated films I hope to create, though.
- My obsession: I own hundreds of nail polishes and I keep buying more every month.
- I love snail mail and writing to my international penpals.
PLEASE LIST THREE SHORT PHRASE RESPONSES FOR EACH.
Heroes: My ancestors, Albert Camus, the Moon.
Favorite Artists: Oscar Howe, Keith BraveHeart, Pablo Picasso.
Music: Mozart, The Wallflowers, The Cure.
Food: Korean cuisine, artichokes, coffee!
Films and Vids: The Pianist, Le Samourai, The Emperor’s New Groove
In Print (books, magazines, etc.): New York Times, Crime and Punishment, The Stranger
Spirit Animal (please include a drawing or a photo)
A few words of advice: “With effort, intelligence and consideration, nothing is impossible.”
Fav place to be: By any waterfall!