By Staci Golar
Not much makes us pause and stop scrolling on social media these days, but Animkeewa Aankwad White Eagle’s illustrations do. Informed by anime, racial injustice, pop culture, history, politics – and everything else an American Indian teenager observes in his day-to-day life – the work White Eagle posts is highly narrative, conceptually complex, and masterfully illustrated.
After seeing his artwork it may not be as much of a surprise to learn that the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa/Kiowa youth hails from a creative, socially conscious family. His parents are the talented Kiowa beadwork artist Teri Greeves (who also served as co-curator of the recent Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists traveling exhibition), and painter and fine woodworker Dennis Esquivel (Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa). Growing up in a culturally rich environment with professional artists for parents has exposed White Eagle to big ideas and creative possibilities from day one. He sees the art world in a different way than those who aren’t exposed to it until they are adults.
Though only a junior in high school, White Eagle has already garnered several awards. His piece Appropriation won Best of Show at the Heard Museum Student Art Show in 2019. Another digital illustration, Made from the Two, won the youth Art of Technology Award at Santa Fe Indian Market in 2018. Two years earlier he received the Special Award for a piece about Don Quixote in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes at the Instituto Cervantes at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in 2016.
Animkeewa made some time – after his online schooling and homework were done, of course – to answer a few questions for FAAM during this strange time:
How did you come by the style of work you’re doing right now?
Both of my parents are artists, so I’ve been surrounded by the art world my entire life. Being creative myself, I found interest in the arts at a young age. My artwork is layered with my experience and observations of the world. My own identity as a Grand Traverse Band Ottawa and Kiowa teenager, and how I’m learning to see the world is inevitably fused to my artwork.
I’ve been taking an AP [Advanced Placement] art course at my school and creating a portfolio for when I graduate. I’m focusing on Native Americans and our existence in this world, illustrating the flow of events from past into the future. I’ve begun a few pieces already, the latest being a piece on Native American boarding schools.
Can you share a little about your artistic process?
I’ve been developing my drawing skills since I was eleven, when I was introduced to anime, the Japanese art form of animation. A lot of the processes I use to create my pieces have been carried over from when I used to do fan art of anime characters.
Most of my current pieces involve the use of an interactive digital display and art software. These allow me to use a range of techniques from simple color blending (with the digital brushes) to things like layer manipulation. I’ve been working digitally for about two years now.
Who or what inspires you and what do you hope to communicate with your work?
By the time I took my first art class in ninth grade, I wanted my pieces to have more meaning. My piece Appropriation depicts two white men, one in blackface, the other in redface. This was a statement I wanted to make after my brother got hassled by two of his classmates during Halloween. They thought dressing up as a Native American wasn’t offensive. I wanted to show them exactly why they were wrong. I knew if I related my perspective with an example they could understand, i.e., blackface, I could get my point across. Conflicts like these are where I acquire a lot of my inspiration.
I get a lot of motivation from my parents, as well. Their decisions to pursue art careers on top of finding success in it has made me apply myself that much more to my artwork. They’ve both given me so much; I’m not sure where my work would be if I didn’t have them as parents. I’m grateful for all the things they’ve taught me.
And, being well educated at my high school, I’m not completely blind to the issues we are facing today. I’m still very young, however. But, my perspective as a young person is unique in the fact that it’s new. Us young people have been nurtured in our current environment so we’re used to it. But many of us are watching, and we’re questioning our situation.
As a younger artist, do you think experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic will affect your work now or maybe later, and if so, how?
Events like the COVID-19 quarantine will have an impact on everyone worldwide. The order of things is shifting. This is not a static time. I hope to pull from the change and use it to fuel my work as an artist. I hope to move people with my work, causing acknowledgment and awareness, and in turn, a better future for the ones who come after me.
Follow White Eagle on Instagram @kid_antithesis.