Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Jean LaMarr

By Dylan A.T. Miner, PhD

They're going to dump it where?!?, 1984, Etching, Mixed Media, 36 X 24 inches, Courtesy of the artist

They’re going to dump it where?!?, 1984, Etching, Mixed Media, 36 X 24 inches, Courtesy of the artist

My work focuses on pride in our heritage because the town I grew up in is very racist. I was proudof being Indian, but nothing was supportive of this. There was very little community activity, very little ceremony, very little traditional activity. But I knew something was there and felt something had to be done. (1992)

Using the visual arts to counteract centuries of anti-Indian repression, Jean LaMarr works in an emancipatory and critical manner. Born on the Susanville Indian Rancheria in California, the Pit River/Paiute artist works primarily as a printmaker, although she also engages in the practices of painting, video production, and installation. LaMarr is also active in working with local Native youth in the creation of community murals. Influenced by the Chicana/o mural movement (as well as Chicana/o poster production), LaMarr recognizes the power of art to organize communities and serve revolutionary ends.  Similar to her Indigenous Mexican-American relations, LaMarr evokes community-based art-making in a way that is not simply based in community, but is in fact transformed into art-based community-making, borrowing a phrase from cultural theorist George Lipstiz.[1] In this way, art becomes the actual vehicle for community or nation-building. One such piece that functions in this regard is her four-wall mural in Berkeley, CA: The Ohlone Journey (1995). This mural is located in a public park and narrates the history of the Ohlone people from pre-colonial to contemporary times. The mural serves to counter popular narratives of Ohlone disappearance from the region. By challenging Native disappearance in California, LaMarr works toward reclaiming Indigenous visual sovereignty.

LaMarr’s first foray into the visual arts occurred as a teenager when she was invited to create a poster for a Maidu Break Dance ceremony. When the posters began “disappearing” because they were being collected by community members, LaMarr realized that through the visual arts she was “bringing information to people, beckoning them into our world, and trying to make them understand our world.”[2]

Years later, in 1975, LaMarr received her first solo exhibition. With this commencement, LaMarr’s career spans four decades, including local, national, and international exhibitions at prominent cultural institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, Heard Museum, New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe’s Center for Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Southwest Museum, San Francisco Art Institute, Centro Cultural de la Raza, University of Oregon, Evergreen State College, Bowling Green University and State University of New York, Albany, to name only the most significant.  Since first exhibiting publicly, LaMarr has had no less than five solo exhibitions, including shows at both mainstream and alternative spaces, as well as at Native and Latina/o cultural centers.

In 1992, the quincentenary of Europe’s initial colonial intervention in the Americas, LaMarr recognized her own artistic power, stating, “As an artist, my work is my weapon and my solace in this struggle.”[3] Celebrating continued Indigenous resistance to capitalist and colonizing structures, LaMarr’s visual art speaks to both Native and non-Native audiences through the critical interrogation of American Indian stereotypes by calling them into question. In a series of box assemblages from 1994, LaMarr references fictional representations of Indigenous women drawn from centuries of Anglo-American popular culture. Figures such as Longfellow’s Minnehaha, the Knott’s Berry Farm Maiden, cartoons of sexualized “maidens” and Wild West “princesses” serve as source material. By recontextualizing dominant representations of aboriginal femininity, LaMarr re-asserts Native womanhood and reclaims Indigenous artistic sovereignty. Throughout this process of confrontation and reclamation, LaMarr “commemorate[s] the survival of the remaining Indigenous Nations” in the face of prolonged colonization.[4]

As an educator, LaMarr has taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts (1987-92), at various universities around San Francisco-Oakland, and in California Correctional Facilities (1986-94).  For nearly a decade, LaMarr directed the Native American Graphic Workshop (1986-94), a tribal print facility located on rancheria lands in northeastern California.

Dolly Digle's Friend, 1995, Mixed media box assemblage, 12 X 12 X 12 inches, Courtesy of the artist

Dolly Digle’s Friend, 1995, Mixed media box assemblage, 12 X 12 X 12 inches, Courtesy of the artist














[1] George Lipsitz, “Not Just Another Social Movement,”  in ¿Just Another Poster?: Chicano Graphic Arts in California, ed. Chon Noriega (Seattle: University of Washington, 2001),  84.

[2] Susan Lobo, “Interview with Jean LaMarr: Supporting Native Pride,”  Cultural Survival Quarterly 16, no. 3 (Fall 1992).

[3] Patrico Chávez, Liz Lerma, and Sylvia Orozco, eds.,  Counter Colón-ialismo.  (San Diego: Celtro de la Raza, 1992), 66.

[4] Ibid.