We had the good fortune of connecting with Kellen Lewis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kellen, is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?
I endeavor to become an incredible storyteller. As the owner of a small, traditional arts-based business, stories are directly linked to the DNA of my products, and thus the success of my enterprise. The art that I sell explores the intersection of tradition and innovation, where the vocabulary of ancestral knowledge that has been passed down through the generations is used to craft contemporary statements. My (he)artwork speaks on identity, shares Indigenous teachings, and promotes wellness efficacy within Black and Native American communities.
Brands thrive on storytelling, this we know. In addition to increasing representations for underrepresented communities, my work allows me to support fellow Indigenous creatives. My growing platform creates a space for Native people to share their artwork, traditional languages, and community-building initiatives. Sharing more authentic stories alongside mine only furthers the impacts of our shared message: cultural reclamation (or decolonization).
My business directly impacts social justice efforts, diversifies global conversations, supports the exchange of Indigenous knowledge, and stimulates language revitalization. The knowledge practiced in my work has endured violent exile from natural homelands, inhumane acts of genocide, and governmentally enacted systems intent on separating Native people from their inalienable ways of existing. However, the art that I create allows me a space to honor my ancestors’ sacrifices, both living and past. And with that art, I have developed a business. One that aims to bring others along (empowering fellow creatives) and change global narratives.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
A large part of the art made by today’s Nez Perce creatives focuses on redeveloping what has been taken from us. Our community still endures countless traumas. This has severed much of our connection to land and sacred spaces, while also stripping us of prized possessions meant for continuing social and spiritual practices. Sure, that’s a lot of words to simply say, “much has been lost,” yet the effects of these experiences are very real and still being processed today.
My (he)artwork pushes to rebuild our connection to Indigenous ways through current and active cultural contribution. As a queer person coming from both Native and Black American ancestry, my work directly speaks on intersectional identity. I often include images of Black cultural icons in my Native American artwork, naturally fusing together the worlds I inhabit.
My art experiments with diverse imagery, various tools, unconventional materials, and contemporary product formats that do not readily fit the traditional canon of recognized Native American artistry. Most beautifully, my experiences and international travels as a researcher, performer, and instructor help to diversify my many approaches to creating powerful artwork. In essence, the work is a catalyst to address past traumas and confidently reclaim identity.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Plans can be so restrictive. Goals, however, create space for interpretation and spontaneity. Major goals for the bestie’s visit include a day hike outside of the city, bottomless mimosa brunch, and at least one “do nothing” day. Rest is vital to self-care after all.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
na’qac, my maternal grandmother teaches that the Creator knows what is on one’s heart, especially in the moments when the right words seem to not exist. There are far too many incredible contributors in my journey to recognize singularly in this moment. However, similar to the teachings of na’qac, I hope each of the many supporters, mentors, and loved ones in my story know they are on my heart and have my extreme gratitude.