Kaitlyn Doolittle – Staff Writer
Gustavus Adolphus College welcomes artist in residence, Marlena Myles. Myles’ artwork will be displayed in the Schaefer Art Gallery from Nov. 28 through Dec. 14. Myles will have an Artist Talk at 5:00 p.m on Dec. 5.
Myles is a Native American (Spirit Lake Dakota, Mohegan, Muscogee) artist from St. Paul Minnesota. Myles’ artwork consists of digital art, murals, augmented realities, fabric patterns, animations, and illustrations. Some of Myles’ illustrations can be seen in the book titled Kikta Wo/Kikta Ye! with stories written by Tasunka Wakinyan Watogla (Ryan Dixon), Sna Sna Win (Vannessa Goodthunder), and “Indian No More” by Charlene Willing McManic and Traci Sorell.
Myles’ powerful work has been included in art galleries like the Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Museum of Russian Art, Red Cloud Heritage Center and the Minnesota Museum of American Art.
Outside of her creative works as an artist, Myles also works as a business owner. In 2021 Myles opened a Dakota publishing company called “Wíyouŋkihipi (We Are Capable) Productions.” The business is dedicated to honor the Dakota people through appreciation of the culture, language, and history.
Myles uses her artwork to showcase the purpose of native art. “The common misconception with native art is that it’s traditional– it’s stuck in the past. But the truth is that native people have always been innovative. So, to use an illustrator is just a continuation of what my ancestors already did,” said Myles on the “Art of Marlena Myles” website (https://marlenamyl.es/).
In regards to the purpose of her work, Myles prioritizes education and understanding. “I teach how the past can still influence the presence, how the power of a site is still impactful today. Nearby the Gustavus campus is the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center, which historically was a place where Dakota people traded with other Indigenous peoples and European traders. It was also the place where 40% of Minnesota was acquired through a broken treaty with Governor Ramsey in 1851,” said Myles.
“My work and goals are to return our ways of interactions prior to 1851 where Dakota people and immigrants strove to understand each other on a deeper level. By creating work that educates the public on deeper Dakota culture and significance to the land and seeing geography as a way of telling human stories,” said Myles.
The education and experiences that Myles shares also creates a deep sense of enjoyment. “What I enjoy about my work is creating materials and artwork that teachers can use to make sure students today are seen throughout Minnesota and that our history is taught properly, including our culture prior to European colonization and that we are still here today being innovative with our cultural expressions,” said Myles.
Myles is eager to share her experience as a Dakota person with the greater Gustavus community. “The land that is known as Saint Peter, MN and the site of the Gustavus campus has a long history and connection to Dakota people. I am working on a Dakota land map which tells the past, present and future of the region as Dakota homeland and the work starting to be done at Gustavus to include Indigenous history of the location ties into the work I do,” said Myles.
Outside of her residency and showcasing at the Schaefer Art Exhibit, Myles is eager to connect with one of the biggest attractions on the campus. “The Arboretum is also a place where Dakota art can bring a deeper understanding to the layered concepts that Dakota people attribute to the land, so some of my time will be spent there exploring the Indigenous plants and restoration work of the prairie,” said Myles.
Myles felt a connection with her work to the work being done at Gustavus. “I felt my work as a Dakota artist aligned perfectly with the work happening there. Being able to visit classrooms and hear from students will also encourage the work I create and I’ll be able to share about the positive impacts that can happen from acknowledging and celebrating the history of the site,” said Myles.
“The work that will be shown will illustrate and teach about our significance to the natural world that surrounds us at Gustavus. I’m most excited to share new perspectives with students and teachers,” said Myles.