Kandis Quam is a Zuni artisan, cultural anthropologist, and co-founder of the online art collective, Natachu INK. Inspired by Zuni artistic practices, Quam’s artworks bring a modern interpretation to these traditional forms in order to foster a dialogue between younger and older generations, between Zuni and other indigenous cultures. Her deeply personal works offer histories, stories, celebration, and preservation of her community.
This interview is part of our chain conversations between artists, conducted by one of our previously featured artists, Leaf Sanchez. To read Leaf’s interview with Girl Trip, click here.
An Interview with Kandis Quam:
How did you discover your voice as an artist?
Despite being born into an artist family, I didn’t really truly find my voice as an artist until my early 20’s. In true teenage rebellion, instead of becoming artist like my parents or my grandparents, I opted for higher education. Not to say I was disenchanted from art, but I wanted to see what else the world had to offer. During my college career I became very enamored with cultural anthropology, especially the research aspect part of it. At the time I saw this as my way of contributing back to my community, but there was always this pulling feeling deep in my chest telling me to come back home. As time progressed, rather than that feeling fading away, the opposite happened: home (Zuni Pueblo) was calling. After college I answered the call, and sought what fate had in store for me. Surprise, surprise and spoiler alert: it was art. Once I came home my cousin, Elroy Natachu Jr., taught me how to paint and brought me up to speed to his six years of his art degree. Not long after we began building Natachu INK full time as artists. Finding my voice as an artist and person comes from the desire to connect stories from my family, culture, and nature. I hope to keep my family and my tribe proud.
Have your other art mediums of traditional regalia making, jewelry and embroidery influenced your painting?
Myself as an artist is huge fan of blending symbolic meaning and realistic representation. Therefore, I drew a large amount of inspiration from symbolism ofour traditional regalia, and making the realistic translation into my paintings. I like to create a dialogue with my community and others about the symbolic meaning of our traditional regalia not commonly known.
Have you had any experiences at university or in your career that exposed the gender inequality in the art world?
From a young age, it was always evident that the further away anyone was/is from being a straight white man would mean the amount of effort and determination to get the same place in life would have to be doubled or tripled. Thus, life in general as a lesbian Indigenous woman would more or less be a challenge. Fortunately, being underestimated for most of my life worked in my favor and cultivated my work ethic. Which is to work as hard as I possibly can and have my heart make up for whatever I may lack (skill, knowledge, etc.) until I get the hang of what I’m doing at that time.
Much of your work depicts animals and elements found in nature. How does this relate to your promotion of cultural preservation?
In Zuni culture like in more indigenous cultures, animals and elements are very important. We believe animals came before we did, and we honor them as such. Not only that but our clan system includes animals and plant life. I believe painting these subjects with my contemporary style can create dialogue for tribal members, young and old alike, about Zuni culture. Also, I get to hear stories about Zuni culture, I like to think of my paintings as education for others and myself.
How has traveling to art markets and events to sell your work influenced your life?
Couple of my first memories are being at an art show, and to say the least traveling to art markets and events are very big part to my way of life since I was born. I honestly can’t imagine my life any other way.
What advice would you give to your younger self at the beginning of your career?
Be patient: with your art, your family, Elroy, and yourself. Don’t be afraid of asking for critiques or advise, especially from family and other artists. Take time to observe your surrounds, it’ll inspire and re-energize you. Don’t stress your skill level isn’t up to par, you’ll get better, keep practicing. We will make our younger self proud. (Context: I wanted to be artist when I was small). ALWAYS make multiple back up plans for art show trips. Learn how to change a tire (not art related but it’ll save you a massive headache down the road, literally).
Follow Kandis Quam on Instagram @rezrainbow and check out natachuink.com.