Athena LaTocha:

Buffalo Prairie (Slow Burn), 2019

sumi, walnut and powdered inks, shellac, steel belted tire shreds,
local earth and grass on paper
Plains Art Museum purchase


artist site

Video interview with Buffalo Prairie (Slow Burn), Plains Art Museum

“Athena LaTocha: The Presence of Monumentality,” Anya Montiel, National Museum of the American Indian Magazine

A 2019 residency brought Athena LaTocha to Plains Art Museum, and led to the creation of the monumental ink wash drawing Buffalo Prairie (Slow Burn). During this time, LaTocha reflected on her ancestors who walked on these prairies, and on the alarming fact that due to colonial repurposing of the land, there is less than ten percent of the natural prairie left in the Great Plains. LaTocha’s piece communicates her interest in deep, interdependent root systems, a quality evoked in the renewal of the buffalo on the plains, in the heritage of the peoples who relied upon them, and the survival and renewal of indigenous cultures across this region.

During her residency, LaTocha traversed the natural landscapes at Buffalo River State Park in Minnesota, Sica Hollow and Nicolette Tower near Sisseton, South Dakota. Additionally, she often visited local industrial sites around West Fargo such as earth moving and reclamation sites, landfills, and oil storage arrays. The movement and materiality of these sites of industry and extraction met with the unique stratification of color within the forest environment at Sica Hollow, providing the beginnings of a layered visual response. In that spirit, its spatial presentation was informed both by Jean-Nicholas Nicollet’s 1845 map of the Upper Mississippi River basin, as well as a grounding of the local terrain through the generational knowledge of Indigenous Nations.

Using the prairie as metaphor for change, transformation, and renewal, LaTocha juxtaposed her experience of natural spaces with that of local industrial sites—examining the complex relationships humans have with their cultural and environmental ecosystems. Elements of those landscapes then informed her creative process, with materials including sumi, walnut ink, a variety of powdered inks, water soluble shellac, local earth and grass, with steel belted tire shreds utilized in lieu of brushes. In a video interview with the Plains Art Museum, LaTocha discussed this balancing process in Buffalo Prairie (Slow Burn):

“Here the earth is being preserved, and here it is being traumatized…Nature transforms itself, and humans go and transform nature. By looking at spaces like that, it inspires my own work and how I go through and navigate the spaces that I am creating. What’s interesting about the work is that a lot of times I don’t go into it with preset conditions or expectations other than size. I never intended to go out and do large-scale work, but I noticed early on that when I’d begin to make things, they always had a tendency to grow bigger than me. It got to the point where I stopped trying to limit those ideas of trying to control the image.”

A Hunkpapa Lakota/Keweenaw Bay Ojibwe artist raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and now residing in New York City and Peekskill, LaTocha’s trans-continental journey is matched by a wide range of galleries and institutions across this space who have featured her work, including the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, and the New Orleans Museum of Art; she has held residencies with the Joan Mitchell Foundation and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

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