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12 Questions: Valaria Tatera

This weeks questions are answered by Milwaukee artist, Valaria Tatera, who I had the pleasure to meet last year at our first Art of Water exhibition. I have great respect for her and admire the powerful, thoughtful, important work that she creates. 


Valaria Tatera is a visual artist whose work investigates the intersection of ethnicity, gender, commerce, and the environment. A member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Tatera explores self- identity and contemporary Indigenous issues such as the environment, sovereignty, and the co-opting of imagery.  She earned an MFA in 3-D from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, M.A. and B.F.A. in Ceramics from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Valaria is well respected statewide, and has worked with various artists, as well as teaching in various institutions across Wisconsin. She was a finalist in the United States Artist Fellowship, a recipient of the Museum of Wisconsin Art best sculpture 2014, a featured clay artist at Lakefront Festival for the Arts, and has received the AOP Fellowship.

Recently, her work was featured at James May Gallery, Algoma, WI; RedLine Gallery, Milwaukee, WI;  John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI; and a Times Square Digital Show, NYC, New York. During the pipeline protests she was a guest on the radio talk show Subtle Forces: Water Crisis.  

Good to The Last Drop: Bloodis a reflection on sovereignty rights and the oil industry.

1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life? 

"Miss Osborne the mop" by Wilson Gage, "I shock myself" by Beatrice Wood and "Love Medicine" by Louise Erdrich.

2. What are you currently working on?

I always work on multiple projects/installations. I am currently working on Ties that Bind (epigenectics and family) it is a series of several installations with clay and mixed media-this is the second year working on this subject, I am also working on Defend the Sacred series- My response to Enbridge line 5 on tribal land and finally, a series in mixed media, sugar and clay about passing (being an inbetweener).

3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

I failed a lot. But... the big one: I flunked out of college my first year. I had to take a semester off. This epic failure taught me humility and tenacity. I went on to get my MFA and earned the AOP fellowship for college. This stubbornness/strength is why Im still a practicing artist and advocate for Indigenous issues.

4. What is your most unusual habit? 

I binge watch tv shows while working in the studio. I am informed I also do not tighten jar lids.

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?

Artist Kathy Kercheck. My friend. Her work embraces the quirkiness of a subject. She looks deeper than the surface of a subject and creates an off kilter environment. Her color choices fit the mood of the action happening in the background.

6. What is the most indispensible item in your studio/workspace/office? 

My stainless steel tables.

7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself? 

First, I usually end up in a funk after a push for a show or finishing an installation. I try not to panic. I give myself permission that it is OK to take a break from being creative 24/7. I take a week off from my studio practice. I rest my body, I read, I clean my living space, I look at other artists work. I rearrange my living space. Clean my studio. I talk to my art friends. Then eventually I get bored and hyper to get back to the grind. The questions I ask myself when Im in a funk is: Where do I go from here? Is the direction of my work valid? Who do I want as an audience? How can I better achieve a cohesive body of work? Why should I keep going? Then, my stubborn attitude kicks in and my mantra is I will achieve no matter what MFs. You have to look at it as a cleansing cycle. It will repeat. However, it eventually brings clarity.


8. What is the most life-changing thing you have bought for under 100 dollars in the last year?

Hmm... Life changing is pretty loaded. Getting our milk and yogurt from Clover Meadow farm.

9. Do you collect anything? 

Mid Century Art and furniture, bugs, stones, glass jars, fur and kitsch toys from the 70s.

10. What words of advice would you give to your younger self? 

Quit the negatives thoughts. Don't measure your success against someone else because you are where you are suppose to be at this moment in time. Don't remain silent.

11. In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice? 

Belief: Epigenetics. Habit: cutting down on sugar and eating as much organic as I can afford. Studio Practice: No texting or looking at my phone (well maybe once at lunch)

12. Share an inspiring image.


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