Sitting down with Dr. Adrienne Keene in Jobot Coffee, a downtown Phoenix coffee shop, in the early morning before a busy week at the Santa Fe Native Art Markets, our conversation centers naturally on the excitement for week’s festivities. “I am looking forward to being surrounded by the energy of so many artsy and dynamic Natives.”
Having recently received her doctoral degree from Harvard University, Keene continues to write, both as creator of the blog Native Appropriations and as a researcher focusing on Native American students in higher education. Both fueled by relationships. Keene’s relationships to land and culture but also her “relationships to family, tribe, and community.” Finding herself in a period of her life where she is continuously inspired by her “group of Native friends who are pushing back on stereotypes by creating counter-narratives,” or alternatives to the common depictions of American Indians.
Her personal narrative is one she is continuously sculpting, defining herself as “a Cherokee woman, scholar, writer, blogger, activist and a creative,” Keene is a true example of what it means to be a modern Indigenous woman. Too often as Natives “we are defined by a series of one-dimensional stereotypes set in the historic past or fantasy world…the reality is we are modern and contemporary people.” Keene wants people to see how our representations are tied together and because of this people will connect to Natives in relation to the other issues, meaning how Natives represent themselves is critical.
Between Keene’s Twitter and Facebook page she touts over 100,000 followers, asserting her as a social media heavy hitter. Fully understanding her role as an ambassador on Native issues of representation, Keene continuously integrates Native made fashion into her everyday looks. “I want to understand the story behind the items I wear – who made them? Where are they from? What materials did they use? It’s important for me to share what “real Native fashion” looks like.”
Dressed for coffee in a classic ensemble of summer stripes and tank top, Keene dons several vibrant accessories from her neon green sandals, The Soft Museum 8-bit feather earrings and Notabove Necklace made by fellow P4 co-founder Nanibaa Beck with the word “What?!” scrawled in Navajo. Keene’s look is classic yet full of both color and Native-made gems.
Understanding fashion to be “the objects themselves” and style as the way “you put them together in your own unique way,” Keene’s focus lately has involved seeking out southeastern designs – particularly designs relevant to her community and their neighbors. “I am fond of Kristen Dorsey’s work, a Chickasaw metalsmith, as her work echoes elements similar to my community’s and incorporates a lot of copper. It’s also exciting for me to see the many ways traditional Cherokee art forms are being revitalized like shell-carving and metalsmithing.” A self-taught basket weaver, Keene demonstrates her passion to keep close to her roots but as her pieces incorporate contemporary materials like wire from telephone lines, also her ability to incorporate the materials available around her.
As we sit in the coffee shop, Keene shares the many events she is excited to enjoy while in Santa Fe. “I am very excited about the Indigenous Fine Arts Market and seeing how it comes together, I’m also looking forward to A Tribe Called Red being in town and their two performances.” While Keene notes her personal style has shifted to a laidback vibe while living in Phoenix due to the weather, she is looking forward to “glaming it up in Santa Fe having packed a jumpsuit, leather mini dress and way too many heels and earrings.” When asked where she can be found if she happens to get lost, Keene mentions it’s likely she’ll be found at IFAM or catching up with her good friends Matika Wilbur or fellow Stanford alumnus Waddie Crazyhorse at their booths in SWAIA market. A fitting answer as Keene demonstrates her continued desire to cultivate the many relationships in her life which guide the work she cares so deeply about.
The Creatives Series highlights the many creative people representing hot style and insane skills in their respective fields. Why not be a stylish nurse or a dapper lawyer? Creativity sustains us all.