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A Comanche-Kiowa Painter's Art Gets Big for Healthy Natives in Philly

A new painting by J. NiCole Nahmi-A-Piah will be projected on The Warehouse at EBE in Philadelphia to raise awareness of health insurance for Natives
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At 9 PM on Saturday, August 8, "Little Cheyenne Girl," a painting by American Indian artist J. NiCole Nahmi-A-Piah (Hatfield), will be digitally projected for the first time on a building in Philadelphia, PA. The artwork was selected after a national call for artwork on the theme of Native American health. 

It's an innovative way to raise awareness for a serious situation: uninsured Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Nationwide, around 30% of Natives lack health insurance, a troublingly high percentage in light of their health statistics. Twenty-eight percent of tribal people report poor health, compared with just 16% of the U.S. population. In Philadelphia, there are nearly 43,000 American Indian and Alaska Natives, and 14% of them are uninsured.

Philadelphians are encouraged to attend the unveiling at The Warehouse at EBE in Philadelphia's Center City, 1030 North Delaware Avenue, at 9 PM. A drum group will play at the event, and the digital projection will be visible in Philadelphia from 9 to 11:30 p.m. each evening from August 8 to 14..

Additionally, Natives all over the country are encouraged to sign up for health insurance -- visit the website NativeArtForHealth.org to get the ball rolling. Nahmi-A-Piah's painting will be projected in other cities going forward -- check the site or follow the hashtag #nativeartforhealth on Facebook and Instagram to find out where.

Portrait of Jim Thorpe by J. NiCole Nahmi-A-Piah.

For artist J. NiCole Nahmi-A-Piah, Comanche/Kiowa, it's a chance to have her work seen outside of the Native art world of Oklahoma and Santa Fe, where she is a rising star. Nahmi-A-Piah is based in Norman, Oklahoma, where she is a regular presence at the Jacobson house, hallowed ground for Native artists as the launchpad of contemporary Native art with the group known as the Kiowa Five. In just a few years, she's established herself as a favorite in Santa Fe galleries and the Indigenous Fine Art Market (IFAM), and her work has shown at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center as well as the Anadarko Southern Plains Museum.

Nahmi-A-Piah took some time to discuss her art with ICTMN.

ICTMN: How would you describe your art?

J. NiCole Nahmi-A-Piah: I would simply say my work is contemporary. I hate labeling anything -- art should be free, and whatever it wants to be!

'Camp' by J. NiCole Nahmi-A-Piah.

Where are you coming from, as an artist, and what is your perspective on the world we live in?

I draw my inspiration from historical photographs of my tribal people, in particular the women of the tribes. By painting them, I feel I am acknowledging them as well as honoring them, and also reminding people that they are the reason why we are here today. Remember your ancestors!

Unity, spirituality, and connection to the earth are at the center of my culture, and these are the teachings that I want to continue. Storytelling is the way that we keep these traditions alive. I frequently incorporate tribal language and traditional stories into my paintings with the hope of inspiring the Native youth to keep creating and continue our traditions of storytelling in painting.

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Do you see yourself as part of the tradition of Native painters, and particularly Oklahoma painters -- perhaps even stretching back to the Kiowa Five, as you've been active at the Jacobson House? 

I don’t even think I am worthy yet of answering that. I feel like I still have a long way to go but now that I am being represented by Jacobson House I can’t help but feel, humbly, a part of them. The Jacobson House has definitely been a big supporter, also the Kiowa Five have been a huge inspiration. Especially Lois Smokey, who was part of the original five. She was the only woman in the group of the Kiowa five being represented at the Jacobson House.

'Sacred' by J. NiCole Nahmi-A-Piah.

What other artists have influenced you?

When I was a little girl I remember seeing a few of my uncles painting, so I think they were my first influences. As I got older I realized I lived in an area full of artists, for instance Doc Tate Nevaquaya, Calvert Nevaquaya, Tim Nevaquaya, Quannah Burgess, Nocona Burgess, Rance hood, Robert Redbird, and TC Cannon were also a big influence just to name a few. They have all inspired my work.

What are the challenges or responsibilities facing Native artists in 2015?

I cannot speak for everyone, but one of the challenges I have faced was not being taken seriously as a Native woman painter. I noticed as a child that there weren’t too many women painters, just a select few in the Comanche and Kiowa tribes. It bothered me a lot, at first I was really scared to step into the art world just because I thought women aren’t supposed to paint. Then I thought, this feels good deep down in my soul and this is what I am meant to do, so I worked harder. I hope that I inspire and encourage more of our women painters of the tribe to step forwarded. Don’t be afraid to shine.

I think my number-one responsibility is to encourage our youth to continue this tradition.

Portrait of Frida Kahlo by J. NiCole Nahmi-A-Piah.

You've had great success in your career and you're still young -- what advice would you give young Native artists who'd like to get to where you are?

Never give up! Keep creating! You're our next generation of storytellers, we need you!

Will you be returning to Santa Fe this year?

Yes, I will be attending IFAM 2015, booth 130, August 20-22nd. I will have lots of paintings in many shapes and colors. Being there and being able to interact with other artist from all over the nation is awesome! Hearing and seeing their stories in their artwork is amazing.

'1865 The Closing Speech' by J. NiCole Nahmi-A-Piah.