Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2017

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Native American artist reconnects with her father through her Winchester exhibit


Leila Navidi

Artist Noelle Garcia likes to work from old family photos, including those taken during visits to see her father in prison. He inspired her to become an artist with the drawings he’d send from behind bars.

Artist James Luna once enclosed himself in a museum display case at San Diego’s Museum of Man as a scathing commentary on the objectification of Native Americans as an extinct group. In What You Left Me: Creating Dad Through Artifact, Las Vegas artist Noelle Garcia sends out a similar message, becoming, she says, the artifact and the archeologist, researching herself.


What You Left Me: Creating Dad Through Artifact
November 12-January 7 (artist reception, November 12, 5:30 p.m.); Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; free. Winchester Cultural Center, 455-7340.

Part Klamath Indian, Garcia grew up in the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony with her mother. She saw her imprisoned alcoholic father—Walter Garcia, who shot a man in the head while drunk—very sporadically. He died of cancer when she was 13, leaving her with more questions than memories.

Inspired by Luna and set up like a traditional museum exhibit, What You Left Me includes official documents, photographs and personal belongings that portray her father as a Native American, family man, convicted killer and devoted Christian. The centerpiece is a copy of the Klamath Tribune from 1985. Its cover shows a 1930s photo of American Indian children—taken from their families and sent away to be assimilated—on the steps at a boarding school with an unsmiling nun. Her father, around age 5, is seated in front. The image weaves it all together for Garcia: her loss, her father’s, her people’s. “Because of this, everything bad happened,” she says. “How do you deal with loss and being taken away from your parents? Indians are represented as something dead, from the past. This is a very contemporary problem. It roots from something the government did not too long ago. People talk about it in past tense. Well, this still affects me.”

Much of her artwork includes paintings and coloring-book images featuring family snapshots, but with missing facial features to represent lack of identity. She learned most of what she knows about her father from the artifacts—family Polaroids in the prison yard; scrapbooks of religious and inspirational materials he made and sent to her from prison; photos of him as a bronco rider or posed with his prison baseball team; marriage, death and Indian status certificates, a notebook paper with a handwritten prayer and listing of Bible passages; a baseball cap and a subpoena for parole revocation.

Though Garcia knows some of her Klamath relatives might deem her efforts disrespectful, in their view not allowing his spirit to move on, she says she’s seeking her own closure—and a relationship with her father that she was never afforded.

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