By Ryan Rice
Artist Anna Tsouhlarakis relies on art to speak a new language—a fresh vocabulary for a Native experience to flourish beyond the expectations, limitations and prejudices placed upon it. By drawing upon identity—personal, and public, historical and contemporary—Tsouhlarakis substantiates identity’s relevance, its impact for locating sovereignty and memory and its ability to deconstruct social conventions.
A Master of Fine Arts graduate (2002) of Yale University, Tsouhlarakis’s work consists of various media including sculpture, installation, video and performance art. In her solo exhibition/installation Clash Of the Titans (2007), Tsouhlarakis converges and collapses her lineage, the ancient heritages of Greek, Creek and Diné, as a hybrid form of intertwined knowledge systems, bloodlines and recognizable aesthetics and artifacts. Her artwork concedes to an ongoing shift in cultural revolutions. Tsouhlarakis employs the rubric of identity politics to make sense of contemporary issues of globalization and transnationalism in both a realistic and imagined way. By emphasizing a clash in cultures, Tsouhlarakis stirs the historical, political and philosophical remnants she has inherited—intuitively, iconically/symbolically, and at birth. For the exhibition, she fashioned sculpture, drawings and media within a classical Western genre and set them conscientiously within a “Native” determined space (American Indian Community House Gallery, New York, New York), boldly merging and challenging the invented dichotomy of the Old World / New World to construct a contemporary space. In doing so, she develops a discourse far from our ghettoized and stagnant (yet popular and relevant) mythologies.
In Travois (1999), a public performance/intervention, Tsouhlarakis takes the innovative Plains traditional technology of transportation ironically “on the road.” Dragging her loaded, two-poled and lash-constructed vehicle, Tsouhlarakis navigates the paved streets alongside wheel-based counterparts. Her intervention emphasizes, as well as challenges, the universality and necessity of transportation amidst modernism, economy and efficiency. Similarly, Tsouhlarakis relies on the performative element via video documentation as a means for negotiation of social presumptions and the complexities of culture in Let’s Dance! (2004). Shot within a thirty-day period, Let’s Dance! (exhibited in the touring show Remix: New Modernities in a Post Indian World) documents Tsouhlarakis’s attempt to learn thirty social, ethnic and popular dances such as the waltz, the Lindy, the Irish jig and the Hokey Pokey. Guided by instructors, she intentionally engages haphazardly with the steps and movement. In doing so, she almost mocks the expression (and/or the refinement) that continues to be diluted, ridiculed and entertained in popular culture by non-natives. In a similar manner in which Native American dance, ritual and performance has been understood as primitive, Tsouhlarakis playfully mimics “the other.”
Tsouhlarakis’s greater body of work (And They Said, 2004; Crossing, 2000) embodies an attempt to socially change signifiers that frame Native art and identity. She is driven to complicate matters further by addressing issues of representation and identity politics as they have been, and still are, framed by a Western perspective. Her work raises fundamental and profound questions and exposes the interface between the canon of art and cultural, racial and ethnic boundaries. Decolonization, reclamation and redefining are methodologies/strategies required to attend to the complex intercultural terrain she traverses. In her artist statement, Tsouhlarakis explains, “By reclamation, I mean depicting images of Indians in non-stereotypical ways as well as redefining what Native means. This redefinition includes breaking down the bureaucracy that has surrounded Native life, both personally and federally.” She is not alone.
 Anna Tsouhlarakis website, “Statement”, www.naveeks.com.
Additional Resources compiled by Students in the Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Spring 2013
“Anna Tsouhlarakis.” Naveeks. http://www.naveeks.com/
This is the artist’s official website that contains her artist statement, portfolio, resume, and contact.
“Anna Tsouhlarakis on Vimeo.” Vimeo. 2011. http://vimeo.com/user7590622
This website has digital videos of her artwork such as “Intervals of Pretense”, “Let’s Dance!”, and “Crossing”.
Gross, Rebecca. “Art Talk with Anna Tsouhlarakis.” Art Works. 2011. http://artworks.arts.gov/?p=10502#more-10502.
Read an interview by the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) with Anna Tsouhlarakis.
“Anna Tsouhlarakis.” Temporary Installations Made for the Environment. 2013. http://timenm.com/Artists/tsouhlarakis.html
Read an article by Temporary installations made for the environment (TIME) on her artwork installation, Edges of the Ephemeral.
Judkis, Maura. “Anna Tsouhlarakis: In Other Words: A Native Primer.” The Washington Post. April 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/gog/exhibits/anna-tsouhlarakis-in-other-words-a-native-primer,1245159.html
A written article by Maura Judkis for the Washington Post goes into detail about a text based installation and briefly explains the conceptual meaning of it’s purpose.
McNutt, Jennifer Complo, and Holland, Ashley. “We are here : the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, 2011 / edited by Jennifer Complo McNutt and Ashley Holland.” Indianapolis, Ind. : Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art ; Seattle, Wash. : University of Washington Press, c2011., 2011.
A book written by Jennifer Complo and Ashley Holland for artists that have been awarded the Eitejorg Contemporary Art Fellowship in 2011, it includes bibliographical references and index about the artist.