Katie Dorame is a visual artist of mixed Tongva and European American ancestry. She is a member of the Gabrielino/Tongva tribe and her Indigenous heritage informs her art making. Born in Los Angeles, a place rooted in Tongva history, Dorame grew up going on walks with her father, learning about the neighborhood’s layers of history – her father’s history and the history of the Tongva people before the Spanish missions. She constantly brings this history back to life through visual storytelling.
As artists themselves, Dorame’s parents supported her art making from the very beginning. Her father owned a clothing store where he would dye fabric and her mother designed patterns and sewed garments. Growing up visiting art museums, Katie Dorame fell in love with visual art early on as she “loved the stillness, emptiness, quiet, and overwhelming visual experiences they brought [her] in the middle of living in such a crowded place.” Katie Dorame currently lives and works in Oakland, on Ohlone land. Oakland felt like a sister city to her and quickly became her second home. Living in Oakland allowed her to develop a different relationship with California and develop a new view of the themes in her work.
Katie Dorame’s creative process begins in one of two ways. The first is by developing a specific narrative and gathering the most effective materials for the idea. The second is by experimenting with specific materials to see what narrative emerges from them. The CA Collages in the Escalette Collection of Art were created through this latter process. Dorame gathered magazines, books, catalogs, shells, tile work, and other artifacts which she sorted by color and size, like an archaeologist. Letting go of any scientific process, Dorame then worked intuitively to compose and recompose the various materials until they fit like a puzzle, locking into a place that felt “right” to her. Dorame views her process as “a form of conjuring and outside of being able to be articulated.” These found-image collages were then digitaly superimposed on watercolor paintings inspired by traditional Tongva marks and lines before being printed to create the final work.
For example, the recognizable figure in Orange Narcissa—Mrs. James Rosemyre—was an image sourced from her collection of historical textbooks. Mrs. James Rosemyre (née Narcisa Higuera) was one of the last fluent Tongva speakers and is cited as the source of the endonym “Tongva,” as the Native name to replace those given by the Spanish missionaries. The image of the Native Californian basket in her Hovering Basket piece was sourced from auction catalogs, a nod to the commercialization of Native art and culture, particularly baskets, within the art market. Recovering these artifacts from auction catalogs has become a way for Dorame to reclaim them and offer them a new space to exist in.
Dorame believes that “there’s never a time when artists shouldn’t confront established systems of power and show the flip side of expectations.” CA Collages does this by breaking down barriers between past and present, pop culture and fine art, stereotypical narratives and lived experiences in a way that forces us to confront our assumptions about where we live and how it is represented. In this way, Dorame’s work reveals that many of our ideas about California and its history are actually myths, fantasies even, that fall apart when Native experiences are recognized.
Katie Dorame’s work celebrates the Indigenous California and her coastal community of the Tongva. Indigenous history and perpetual curiosity inform her contemporary work, allowing her to make something that “looks to the future, reclaiming a place real and fantastic.”
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 Collection of Art. 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.