Laurie Steelink Creating to Connect the Self, Humanity, and History
July 26, 2022
Laurie Steelink is an artist, curator, musician, and member of the Akimel O’otham tribe (Gila River Indian Community). Born in 1960, in Phoenix, Arizona, she is part of a generation “that was impacted by one of the last vestiges of the U.S. Government’s active attempts at full hegemonic assimilation of Native Americans through the promotion of adoption programs of Native infants into white families.” At six months old, Steelink was adopted by Jean and Cornelius Steelink in Tucson, Arizona. Her parents came from a long line of revolutionaries, Industrial Workers of the World (known as Wobblies), Civil Rights activists, scientists, and artists, allowing her to grow up with a strong foundation in political consciousness and creativity. As a child, she was heavily influenced by her surroundings and her parents to pursue art as a practice.
Out of high school, Steelink began to work as a transportation attendant at a hospital, where she was immersed in the punk rock scene and alternative art scene. As she started playing in several bands, she began making flyers. Through punk rock and performance, Steelink enjoyed the freedom of more experimental forms of art. During this time, she met a young artist studying at San Francisco Art Institute who encouraged her to pursue her craft. Laurie Steelink received a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and an MFA from the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. She went on to become an archivist for the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection in New York, and a director of Track 16 Gallery in West L.A. In 2012, she founded Cornelius Projects, a gallery named after her father, with a curatorial focus on cultural history and identity. Now, Steelink has been creating and curating in her live-work exhibition space in San Pedro, CA.
“Critically engaging in both the long tradition of “Indian” marketplaces and the current emergence of contemporary Native American artists, Laurie’s newest work is entering a fascinating intersection of these arenas by creating dialogue of humanization, new visual language, and respectful co-existence between these two worlds.”
– Gina Lamb, Associate Professor at Pitzer College
Laurie Steelink met her birth mother and Akimel O’otham relatives at the age of forty. Her recent reconnection with her biological family and cultural roots has had a profound impact on her artistic practice. As she overcomes and heals from the forced identity schism of growing up in a mixed-race family in an academic, middle-class environment, her work explores the psychological state of human beings existing in this world, all existing with some form of trauma. With an interest in storytelling and healing, Steelink’s current artmaking involves kinetic and still works made out of colorful mixed materials and found objects.
The Escalette Collection has the honor of becoming the new home for The Mothership (Shape shifter), a sculpture constructed out of deconstructed paintings Steelink made early in her career. She creates these sculptures through trial and error, believing that “some of the best work is made from accidents… the more accidents the better.” Steelink further transforms (or shape shifts) The Mothership sculpture by representing it in two-dimensional form. The Mothership II features flattened images of this sculpture with hand painted details and sea beads sewn through the paper.
A new area of art she is interested in is stop motion animation. She imagines using her reconstructed figures to present stories and dialogues based on the traditions of her tribe. Laurie Steelink continues to rediscover her artwork as she rediscovers herself and her history.
We invite you to explore all the works in the Escalette Collection by visiting our eMuseum.
Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences is the proud home of the Phyllis and Ross Escalette Permanent Art Collection. The Escalette Collection exists to inspire critical thinking, foster interdisciplinary discovery, and strengthen bonds with the community. Beyond its role in curating art in public spaces, the Escalette is a learning laboratory that offers diverse opportunities for student and engagement and research, and involvement with the wider community. The collection is free and open to the public to view.