“Disease” is often used interchangeably with “illness” and “sickness,” yet they don’t all mean precisely the same thing. In the context of Matt Barse’s film, I Said I Would Never Paint This Way Again, the word “disease” is fitting. In Native American culture, it describes the far-reaching impact of colonialism — institutionalized racism and the struggle between indigenous peoples and those who settled here. The legacy of modern Native Americans straddles two worlds: the history and culture of their own people and that of the settlers — interlopers who sought to assimilate those with Indian heritage, ridding them of their culture, language and history. This legacy and its accompanying liminality — being ambiguous or disoriented and not fitting in — is a unifying theme of Native American culture in the 21st century.
There is a race to save or sometimes recover that which was lost, be it oral traditions, sacred rituals or family history. In some cases, it is even the language or history of entire peoples. Denying one’s culture and history leads to disorientation and a struggle to reassert one’s sense of place in the community. The confusion of having one’s culture eliminated can lead to all manner of disorder or, as mentioned, disease.
To gloss over the past and the ugly reality of years of forced assimilation is to deny its power. Where there is disease, there must be healing. For that healing to begin, there must be acceptance of past events and an effort to change things for the better.
The Urban Indian 5 (UI5) Association is a group of contemporary Native American artists who are seeking to help heal in nontraditional ways. Steve Barse, Matt’s father, is an active member of the Native American art community.
“Each artist is successful in their own right,” Steve said. “They make themselves available to join forces on various projects — the primary one is to place inspirational art in every Indian health facility in a three-state area and provide the basis for deep discussion on health and wellness among American Indians.”
Using their art to help with healing developed into Art with a Cause, which has gained momentum over the past years. The group recently oversaw the opening of an exhibit at the Absentee Shawnee Health Center in Little Axe. The group and its work caught the attention of Matt Barse, a local filmmaker. In 2011, his company, Lowdown Entertainment, ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to create a documentary film about the artists and mission of UI5.
I Said I Would Never Paint This Way Again is showing Thursday at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, and viewers will have the chance to see a new version of the film. This director’s cut, according to Steve, was made based on feedback from audiences across the state.
Additionally, the evening of entertainment includes musicians Terry Tsotigh, Hudson Roar and Cecil Gray, who appear on the film’s soundtrack. There will also be door prizes and an auction of a Chief Joseph Pendleton blanket.
The film gets its name from the title of a painting by Thomas Poolaw, which makes reference to traditional painting techniques.
“When the artist titled his piece, that’s not what he was thinking, necessarily,” Matt said, “but I thought it fit in the context of the film.”
The other artists in UI5 are Gerald Cournoyer, Shan Goshorn, Brent Greenwood and Holly Wilson. All five have similar stories about how they became working artists.
The film is a glimpse at artists dedicated to making the world a better place. It’s uplifting — and not in a syrupy way. It’s an optimistic piece about how art can impact the world around us, reminding us that beauty, while often dismissed as superficial, can be critical in the balance of healing the mind and the body.
Art with a Cause fundraiser
7 p.m. Thursday
Sam Noble Museum of Natural History
2401 Chautauqua Ave., Norman