ART MEETS ADVOCACY: JESSICA HORNE
ARTICLE BY VANELIS RIVERA AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK
As I made my way among the cluster of trade show booths displaying an array of artisanal handiwork at Downtown Monroe’s October Art Crawl, the chill air carried the sounds of an electric guitar. A musician clad in a black cape pierced the ambiance with haunting tunes, adding to the buzz of eager art crawlers wandering from booth to booth. When so much art is displayed, color and texture can bombard one’s vision and make it difficult to really focus on one particular piece. Yet, my eyes were drawn to a 60 x 20 canvas. The hues—blood-red, turquoise, golden yellow, and sea green—demanded attention, and the central image made me pause. Instinctively, I knew it was a portrait of an Indigenous woman. Symbols floated around her head and on her face. And strikingly, the eyes were hidden by a thick, red paint stroke.
When Jessica Horne, a Ponca and Northern Arapaho artist based in Ruston, Louisiana, began to read about the lack of media attention regarding murdered and missing Indigenous women, she felt called to spread awareness. Her art series presented at the Art Crawl was just the beginning. A majority of the pieces, though distinct in imagery, color scheme, and medium, have a common thread–the face or body of an Indigenous woman and a red brush stroke or handprint painted across the face, eyes, or mouth. Since 2019, the use of the red handprint took hold as a symbol of solidarity to the missing Indigenous women thanks to athlete Jordan Marie Daniel, a competitive runner from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. Even more recently, the case of Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old white woman whose body was found in Wyoming, has brought to light the disparity of police resources and media coverage allotted to missing and murdered women of color. According to a 2021 report by the University of Wyoming, over 700 cases of missing Indigenous people were reported in the past decade in Wyoming. The report found that compared to white people, Indigenous people were about 100 percent more likely to still be missing after 30 days.
Horne wasn’t always as immersed in her heritage as she is now. She was adopted at birth and raised in Coushatta, Louisiana. Her adoptive mother had a personal connection to Horne’s biological family. “Because I was raised in Louisiana in a small town that was mostly white, I wasn’t really exposed that much except through the pow wows we went to when we were younger,” she says. Pow Wows are sacred social gatherings of many Indigenous communities which involve traditional feasting, singing, and dancing. She adds, “I always knew that I was Native American and always loved that about me.” Nevertheless, it wasn’t until college that she began to further unfurl what being Ponca and Northern Arapaho meant to her.
In 2013, Horne enrolled in the art program at Louisiana Tech. “That’s when I actually started to paint and develop my craft,” she says. Horne had enjoyed painting since she was a young girl. “I always loved to paint. Even when I was in elementary, a lot of people would see me draw, and they’re like ‘Oh, that’s actually really good.’” While in the art program, Horne painted for herself, exploring artistic subjects that pulled on her burgeoning curiosity, like conspiracy theories. “So, you know, weird stuff like that.” Naturally, her interests shifted, particularly when she had her children. “It clicked,” she says, referring to her newfound artistic focus on current social issues and her own ethnic history. Ultimately, she hoped to pass down her heritage to her children through her craft: “I need to let them know about our culture.”
The journey into her heritage took the form of reading about it, and the more Horne learned about the horrifying conditions of reservation life, the risk of alcoholism among the Indigenous community, and the disregard of her people’s way of life, the more urgency she felt to educate others with the hope of spreading understanding. Then, last year she connected with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement. “That really hit home,” she stressed.
When she began painting with her heritage in mind, Horne researched Indigenous iconography. A signature element of her paintings has been the symbols she uses as embellishment, which are usually painted in yellow. Some standouts include the hogan, an image that resembles a wagon wheel but is usually symbolic of a permanent home. Another circular symbol which looks like an iris with two small lines drawn on the top, bottom, and sides represents happiness. The season of spring is embodied by a symbol that looks like a long comb, and the emblem for humans, in the form of a small arch, is painted in clusters. Her color selections are primarily bright earth tones like deep magenta, azure blue, and violet, striking colors complimenting the striking theme. Another compelling stylistic choice Horne is known for is a thin line of color outlining the portraits of the women, mawking them further stand out. “Yeah, it’s stylistic…novelistic. I love using lines and mark-making, and you can see that in my old paintings,” she says.
“There aren’t a lot of Native American artists represented right now,” informs Horne, adding, “I just want to spread the awareness of us because we’re not gone yet.” As an Indigenous artist, Horne wants people to know that stories can be told on a plethora of platforms. Through art, she can keep her culture alive for herself and her children, as well as the Louisiana community which is home to eleven tribes including the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, and the Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe of Louisiana. It’s not easy for Horne. She faces misconceptions about Indigenous people on a daily basis, as well as the disrespect of her culture by way of non-Indigenous people using regalia, like headdresses, as a costume. She encourages people to experience the culture in the right context, such as attending a regional Pow Wow where aspects of Indigenous culture, such as bead-making, dance, and food, are shared communally and by Indigenous communities themselves.
Currently, Horne is working on a new series inspired by another atrocity concerning the Indigenous community. In May of this year, the world was shocked when the remains of 215 Indigenous children were discovered at the site of a former school in British Columbia. The Residential Schools, once scattered across the country, were meant to eradicate the culture and language of the country’s Indigenous populations. For her new series, Horne is incorporating a similar style to her MMIW series. She is using simple imagery, but incorporating different markings. One of her pieces—still in progress—showcases the Kamloops Indian Residential School at the top half of the canvas paper. The bottom half displays a piercing image of 215 geometrically structured representations of children spread underground like roots.
When I approached Horne’s booth, I knew I wanted to take one of her pieces home. I wanted to show my solidarity. As a woman of color, I also wanted to share in the communal mourning of these forgotten missing women that had been inundating my Instagram stories for years. I examined the poignant array of acrylic paintings. The first one I picked up was a small 16×16 wood panel. The background, a striking red-toned fuschia, resembled sundown. Forest green brushstrokes lined the bottom, accented by lilac petals. An Indigenous girl wearing a deep blue sundress held a solid stare. It felt as if she was peering right at me with her light brown eyes. Where her mouth should be, a red smear. Yellow iconography surrounded her like fireflies. She could be me, I found myself thinking.
I took the painting home.
Jessica Horne’s art can be purchased at Creative Exchange gallery in downtown Ruston located at 112 W Alabama Ave. You can also find some of her work for purchase on Etsy (JessicaHorneStudio).