by Georgia Erger
Both imposing and serene, Raven Halfmoon’s ceramic heads are unapologetic in their direct gaze. The heads, adorned with traditional Caddo iconography, are a manifestation of the artist’s Native American identity. They are not self-portraits; rather they are ambiguous characters that seek to negotiate the complex relationship between self-identity and socially constructed perceptions of cultural identity.
Halfmoon transposes designs—patterns, tattoos, and ceremonial face paint—on the surfaces of the heads, both celebrating and re-contextualizing traditional Caddo iconography. Red stripes, extending from the lips to the base of the neck are present in both Neesh (Moon) Puts On Her Fighting Face and Battle Ready. It is significant that they too appear in the self-referentially titled, Caddo Girl Recognizes Herself In The Mirror. Here, Halfmoon is directly equating the ceremonial face paint of her ancestors with personal identity. However, she also interweaves signifiers of other facets of social and political identity. The word “nasty” is scrawled across the back of the head in #NastyNative, siting the otherwise traditional-looking figure defiantly within the 21st century and the contemporaneous conversations surrounding gender politics. Other modern adornments, such as lipstick and bows, reveal a fluidity between the traditional and contemporary, the sincere and playful.
The color of the clay—red, black, or white—used in each sculpture is integral to Halfmoon’s consideration of racial identity. To obtain the desired color and consistency needed for each piece, the artist mixes commercially sourced dry clay. The raw red earthenware clay is visible beneath a transparent layer of glaze in Caddo Girl Recognizes Herself In The Mirror and becomes an integral part of the tattoo pattern in Warrior For Mother #3. There is no glaze on From The Ground We Came—the raw black clay is left exposed. In Daughter of Indigenous, Daughter of Caucasian, Halfmoon juxtaposes the red clay with a blue and white glaze that references the aesthetic traditions of ancient Chinese pottery.
The ceramic heads are monumental in both stature and size (her most recent series of large scale heads are over 2 feet tall and weight up to 150 pounds). Halfmoon cites as inspiration the colossal Olmec and Easter Island heads and explores the intersection of cultures and forms in works such as Olmec Joins The Millennials. Halfmoon’s ceramic heads, unlike the monoliths, are hollow and built up using coils. She employs structural and decorative ceramic techniques favored by Caddos from as early as 800 C.E. For example, the elongated neck in Neesh Blushes For Her Portrait creates a form that is reminiscent of the carinated bottle vessel. Carinated vessels, characteristic of early Caddo pottery, are created by joining a rounded base to the sides of an inwardly sloping vessel. Halfmoon also employs traditional techniques such as incising (cutting linear designs) and punctating (pressing a pointed implement to indent or puncture) to create the distinct muddled texture on the surface of the heads.
Halfmoon’s practice, though steeped in Caddo traditions and informed by the tribe’s rich history of ceramic arts, defies categorization. In complicating the intersection of her own identity and that imposed upon her by others, Halfmoon urges us to consider the problematic ways in which we not only categorize people, but privilege certain categories as singular, defining identities.