Faculty Spotlight: Bobby Martin

Faculty Spotlight: Bobby Martin

By Julie Gumm
7/1/2020 5:00:00 AM

Bobby Martin, professor of visual arts and Windgate Art Gallery director, is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma. He grew up in Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, so he’s been around Native culture, language and values his entire life. His great-grandfather was a Baptist preacher who spoke no English, only Mvskoke (his tribal language), so his family history is deeply connected to Indian churches and the practice of Christianity. He joined JBU in 2008 and teaches printmaking and other studio art courses.

Bobby Martin Native American artworkWhat influenced your inspiration to produce Native American art?

Well, I guess mainly the fact that I’m Native American! When I first started getting serious about my art as an undergraduate student at Northeastern State University, I didn’t set out to create something that was specifically ‘Native’ or Indigenous, and I still don’t define my art as ‘Native American art.’ I think of my work as ‘art made by a Native American,’ and my inspiration flows naturally from ideasand issues that are important to my identity as a Native person.

How much of your art comes from your family inspiration? What are some of the subjects and themes you represent in your artwork?

I think almost all of my art is inspired by family and our personal history, which actually is a shared history with many people of Native descent, especially in Oklahoma. I’ve been blessed to have a rich supply of old family photographs taken by my aunts and my parents, which I have used as my visual inspiration for the last 25 years of artmaking. These images provide a connection with my past, a way to remember and honor the generations that have come before—a way to commemorate our family heritage. I’ve been even more blessed to have grown up surrounded by strong, loving and protective Native women—grandparents, aunties, mother—who were continually looking out for my physical and especially spiritual well-being, whether I knew it or not. The consistent and continuing theme in almost all of my artwork is “identity,” which can get pretty complicated for Indigenous people. Personal, political, spiritual—all these varied identities are layered into the work to try and relate a complex history of being Native.

Are there any specific works you have created that carry more personal meaning to you?

I lost my mother earlier this year, and she was a major force and source of inspiration in my life. I have done several works featuring her, and those have become special and more meaningful to me since her passing.

Tell us about your 7 Springs Studio in West Siloam Springs, Oklahoma.

I have operated 7 Springs Studio since 2010. It is primarily a working studio, but [before the COVID-19 pandemic] I often host studio visitors and collectors at my little hilltop retreat.

What would you like to communicate or bring awareness to through your art?

One of my main goals has always been communicating the importance of family and community. I have been blessed to have been able to visit with many viewers of my work about how it reminds them of their own granny or favorite aunt and brings back good memories of their family. Even though my art is based on specific images of my family members, it often strikes a universal chord of recognition and remembrance of everyone’s family history. That appreciation of personal history and grounding in those who came before us is an awareness I hope my artwork inspires. Are there any particular Native American narratives and stereotypes your artwork addresses? There are numerous stereotypes of Indigenous people, mostly perpetuated over the years by Hollywood depictions. While I’m not trying to specifically dispel any stereotypes in my work, I do try to show that Native people are not some monolithic group with the same language or culture. There are 39 separate tribes in Oklahoma alone, each with its own history, culture and language. I’d like to be able to help viewers of my work to see the humanity and common ground that all peoples have as God’s handiwork.

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