Art and Activism in Modoc Point

Ka'ila Farrell Smith on receiving a 2019–21 Fields Artist Fellowship

Sam Gehrke

I started this fellowship by building Modoc Point Studio in my ancestral homelands of the Klamath tribe. My plan was to build a painting studio and mentor youth in my community. The Fields Artist Fellowship supported my studio practice of abstract landscape painting, writing for multiple book projects, interviews with Oregon Arts Watch, mentoring Klamath tribal youth on their senior projects, and teaching youth art workshops. The financial support and time to focus on my studio art practice benefited my professional development, culminating in solo exhibitions and group exhibitions at the High Desert Museum and the Portland Art Museum (“MESH,” opening November 2021).

The biggest unanticipated challenge was the COVID-19 pandemic. This did not alter my studio work or writing, but it had a major impact on my art exhibitions and mentoring Klamath Tribal youth on their senior projects. The silver linings of the pandemic and societal lockdown were the amount of time I had to work in the studio, write, read, and contemplate the heaviness of my research topics. I was able to get into a routine of research, hiking, land work, writing, and painting. The work with youth in my community pivoted to cooking weekly meals to support families juggling the complexities of the health crisis and lockdown. On top of the pandemic we lived through a terrifying wildfire in our tribal community, leaving people without power, water, and many needed to evacuate. As a wilderness first responder, I naturally pivoted my work to mutual aid support.


Solo exhibition and ‘Land Back’ series

My solo exhibition, “Ghost Rider: Performing Fugitive Indigeneity,” was scheduled for November 2020 at Ditch Projects in Springfield but was postponed until August 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Project Gallery will be curated by Klamath Tribal members and Water Protectors fighting to protect the endangered C’waam and Koptu (Lost River and shortnose sucker fish) threatened by low water levels in the Upper Klamath lakes during this severe drought year

"Off the Ground." Acrylics, Painted Hills wild red, Klamath charcoal and white chalk, aerosols, graphite, oil bars on wood panel. 60” x 48,” 2021. Photograph by Mike Bray, 2021.

This exhibition features my 2019–21 Land Back series of twenty-seven abstract landscape paintings. The paintings were created at my studio in Modoc Point and consist of wild-harvested pigments from Klamath lands and aerosol stencils of metal detritus found on the ranch land at Modoc Point Studio. The metal stencils consist of shot-up cans, bullets, fencing, barbed wire, and parts of farm machinery. The different layers of paint and mark-making create the basis of abstract exploration and composition, additional layers of thicker paint utilize text and imagery cited from my research.


Addressing the opportunity gap through mentorship

I mentored two students on their senior projects during my fellowship. Ashia Wilson (Klamath Tribal Youth Council member) is a Ford scholarship recipient studying at the University of Oregon. She worked on a research project tracing familial lineages, interviewing Klamath Tribal members about historical traumas from colonization, boarding schools, and the impacts of sexual and substance abuse in our community. She concluded her project by creating a historical abstract collage painting. 

Hannah Schroeder (Klamath Tribal Youth Council member) focused her senior project on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) in relation to man camps and fossil fuel extraction projects. Hannah is a student at Klamath Community College and works in her tribal community. The entire Klamath Tribal Youth Council participated in activities to stop the Jordan Cove LNG (liquefied natural gas) energy projects threatening our tribal community, waters, and ancestral homelands. Her project concluded in organizing a MMIW event at their last basketball game of the season. Community members wore red NO LNG t-shirts, jingle dress dancers danced in honor of those missing and murdered, tribal members spoke to the families attending the game about the epidemic in Native communities. Both the Chiloquin women’s and men’s teams won their final games of the season. 

During the summer of 2019, I taught art workshops for the Klamath Youth Summit that took place over one week at Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT). I set up a stamp carving station and taught tribal youth how to carve their own stamps and make graphic designs for their flags. The youth made cotton flags using fabric markers, fabric stamps from the stamp collection that has been created over seven years of community stamp and flag workshops across the state of Oregon.

Community Flag installation at the High Desert Museum. “Water in the West,” 2019.

I’ve been a role model to the youth in my community. The success of my art and writing practice inspires the youth I work with to launch into adulthood with excitement. I’ve witnessed them excel in college, learn to cook well for their families, be all-star players on sports teams, and travel around the Nation and world. I understand that my work as a Fields Artist Fellow is to support and teach our next generation of leaders, our next Tribal Councils, our artists and philosophers, our Land and Water protectors. This is a serious, profound, and fun job to have. I work hard to be an example of a successful Klamath woman, award-winning artist, published writer, Land and Water protector.


Building connections with the cohort

The connections and relationships made with my cohort are deep, healing, and one of the highlights of the Fellowship experience. The unique and powerful work they are doing in the world is inspiring and reflective of my own practice and community work. I realize how much I learned about my own growth, healing, and processing of trauma from each of their personal journeys and formats of creative expression. Joe said that it was like finding new family, and I agree completely. I know that we will support each other in our future dreams, fights, ceremonies, and celebrations. Mic and I want to start a consultation business together, and we’ll see how that comes to fruition, as we are both busy with the success of our careers at present. On the last night of our Rogue River retreat, overlooking the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, Crystal helped me heal from cycles of death I work through in my research and painting practice. Splashing through Class IV rapids on the wild Rogue River, following bald eagles to the ocean was the best way to celebrate an amazing and deeply disturbing last two years.


Advice for future fellows

My biggest advice or wisdom I have for future fellows is to prioritize yourself, self care, and use this opportunity to launch your professionalism to the next level. Networking is important, your cohort is important, but don’t forget to have as much fun as possible. Take time to rest. Learn and listen to your creative pace.


Additional works, publications, and media:

Vision 2020: Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, an interview with Oregon Arts Watch

Artist Ka’ila Farrell-Smith: Re-thinking the post-pandemic world

Opinion: Why I refuse to hang my paintings in Gov. Brown’s office


Art and Music, Land, Opportunity Gap, Fields Artist Fellowship


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