Artist Interview: Natalie Ball

This piece carries collective tribal history and individual experiences from the 1800′s to current day. How did this influence your creative process?
“Circa Indian” is my first installation and my first attempt at meshing historical narratives with counter memory, a type of political fantasy, to warrant suspicion as to what is the truth in order to challenge inconsistent and problematic historical narratives belonging to Native America. Dominant narratives are artistically deconstructed through a theoretical framework of autoethnography. I offer you personal, family and tribal experiences embedded with fantasy that exist outside of historical colonial narratives, and specific discourses belonging to Indian identity. “Circa Indian” is a self-made visual genealogy to disrupt the status quo of Indian by erecting histories of personal, national, family experiences and beliefs knotted with new memory from re-imaginings to create an open alternative to tribal histories for the promotion of internal social change for the disruption of colonial discourses. I locate a limited and inconsistent visual archive that continues to misrepresent Indian identity and history through colonial ethnography, photography, Indian laws and art. The many internal and external discourses that shape Indian identity, as applied to the Klamath and Modoc people, deserve to be deconstructed.

Can you tell us a little bit about your piece?
From the Circa Indian installation, I am exhibiting Coley The Giant and Incident At Fort Klamath. They are painted quilts made of vintage and antique textiles, fabrics, and clothing that are partnered with figurative sculpture to move “Indian” outside of governing discourses in order to rebuild a new visual genealogy in refusal to line-up with the many constructed existences of Native Americans. Each hand-made painted star-quilt carries a new autoethnographic narrative, a new history, and a new manifestation for a healthier and a more critical way to understand Native America.

I will talk about the piece, Incident At Fort Klamath. As a child, my family would travel to the Lava Bed’s Fern Cave at Captain Jack’s Stronghold in Northern California each year. It is a sacred place for Modoc people. Today it is a national monument comprising of a complex system of hundreds of red lava caves. Eight years after the Treaty was signed, approximately 50 Modoc men, women and children took refuge from 1,5000 U.S. soldiers including Klamath and Warm Spring Indian scouts at this site. The small band of Modoc people evaded and fought using guerrilla warfare, utilized their knowledge of their environment, and Ghost Dance ceremonies. Inside Fern Cave, 20 feet below ground, we were told guarded stories and stories of war; mothers and their children stepping across sleeping soldiers in the early morning to seek new safety. They told their children it was a game to heighten their concentration and invisibility. Tribal stories of motherhood and survival, of colonial violence again women and children are most common. Here is an excerpt from my Uncle Tom Ball’s Doctoral dissertation, “Prevalence Rates of Full, and Partial PTSD and Lifetime Trauma in a Sample of Adult Members of an American Indian Tribe,” from the University of Oregon. He used the stories and statistics from my Tribes, Modoc and Klamath, for his dissertation:

“The Fort Klamath Museum is on Highway 62, three miles from the town Chiloquin, Oregon and walking distance from an old camping spot known by Modoc and Klamath people as a site of trauma that is indicated by a mile marker along the road: She had eleven kids; the first family she had, eight of them got killed over there at the Agency over there at that marker – at the Fort Klamath where that marker is – soldiers gunned down eight of her kids, right there at the “whatdoyoucallit”, where they had that big fort Grandma fell first, and she fell on top of one of her children, over the top of him… and she made it like she was dead. So she waited until dark and she crawled out; she had one of her kids with her. And she stuffed something in the kid’s mouth to keep it from crying, it wasn’t dead” (Ball, 1996, p. 53-54).

Today, busloads of national and international tourists come to visit the Fort Klamath Museum each year. Non-native volunteers offer their time as tour guides. They retell their interpretation of the Modoc War, and the lynching of four Modoc men (Captain Jack, Sconchin, Boston Charley and Black Jim) in U.S. government rhetoric. They help visitors to reimagine where the scaffold once was to invoke the residue of excitement from that time. Fort Klamath was established for protection of European settlers by the U.S. Calvary from 1863 to 1890. Now all four headless graves and the original jail remain as public space at Fort Klamath.

October 4th, 1873, over 500 Klamath, Modoc, Yahooskin Indians were marched from the reservation to Fort Klamath to witness the group execution of 4 Modoc men. Captain Jack’s wives and children were in attendance. The event is well documented by national and international newspapers and journals. Their texts are branded in my memory; October 4th 1873, 10:15am the fatal nooses were placed; 10:10am the scaffold plank collapses from underneath them; 10:28am their clinical death was recorded. Though the Treaty was signed and the reservation was established, the colonial violence did not cease. This was and continues to be a terrifying place especially if you are Indian – especially if you are an Indian woman and mother.

I have taken the many tribal motherhood “incidents” or the memories and stories from the Lava Beds and Fort Klamath. I meshed these narratives with counter memory; acknowledging those that survived, and imagining the survival of those that did not to warrant suspicion as to what is the truth in order to challenge inconsistent historical US colonial narratives belonging to the Modoc and Klamath tribes, the stories of our women and children ancestors. With my installation there is a new documented memory through deconstructed painted quilts with re-imaginings to create an open alternative to tribal histories for the promotion of internal social change for the disruption of colonial discourses.

Quilt making is largely understood as a gendered practice. Did you decide on this medium purposely?
In the early 1960’s, in inner city Portland, Oregon my Aunt Peggy Ball made an exchange with her best friend Eileen Jasper, a Sioux woman. My Aunt gave her and her three children a place to stay when they relocated from their South Dakota reservation to escape a bad marital relationship and reservation poverty. Eileen showed Peggy how to make traditional Sioux star-quilts for which my family is now recognized within our communities for. The stretching technique is like no other in the quilting world. It has been reinvented from European techniques to require extremely low technology, very few supplies. It is convenient in its transformative abilities. The material, preparation, and particular use of the quilt stretchers are what have always amazed me. Two separate, wooden poles wrapped in torn bed sheets have the ability and strength to design, and foster the fruition of a quilt. As they expand and collapse from being a couple pieces of wood, to framing my 6’ x 8’ quilts, and offering a community gathering space for men, women and children is ingenious. I have taken my family’s art of quilting, and quilting structure to create an architectural installation space. I also use quilting currently to reference ideologies of domesticity, gender, and race in my installation.

Natalie Ball Natalie Ball was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. She has a Bachelor degree in Ethnic Studies from the University of Oregon and furthered her education in New Zealand at Massey University where she attained her Masters degree in Maori Visual Arts. She currently resides with her three children on the Klamath Tribes former reservation, Chiloquin, Oregon where she works for the Klamath Tribes.
You can see more of her work at:

About the Interviewer
Carolina Quintanilla serves as Interim Gallery Creative Partnerships Manager for SOMArts Cultural Center. She has a B.A. in Asian American Studies and is an Ethnic Studies MA candidate at San Francisco State University.

The exhibition:  Visions into Infinite Archives is opening January 14th and on view from January 14th – February 10th, 2016.

Photo courtesy of Natalie Ball. “Coley the Giant and Incident at Fort Klamath” as part of the “Circa Indian” Installation, 2009