Artist of the Week – Kat Qunnekenoohkesu Simonds

Hey Speakers! If you listened to last weeks’ podcast episode, you know that Kat is amazing! Here’s a closer look at her and her artistry. If you haven’t, tune into the podcast!

CS: What’s your name?

KQS: My name is Qunnekenoohkesu, which is Narragansett and roughly translates to “Gentle Doe.” My English name is Kat Simonds.

 

CS: Would you define yourself as an artist? Why or why not?

KQS: Yes! I’ve always been drawn to the arts. I have a background in painting and drawing starting in high school; I also dance (a traditional Native style called jingle, a little ballet, and I’ve been dabbling in West African styles); make beaded jewelry; and, of course, I write. I define myself as an artist because these media have become vehicles for self-expression.

 

CS: What makes you most passionate about your work?

KQS: Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I grew up as a vaguely brown kid in Providence, Rhode Island, a slave port city on unceded Narragansett land that largely ignores its long histories of violence against my people. I always felt and still feel erased and invisibilized here. Understanding these histories of violence, and always yearning to see myself reflected in the art and media I engaged with, makes me passionate about my work.

 

CS: Who would you say that you make work for?

KQS: I very intentionally make my work for marginalized people, specifically Black and brown womxn and queer, nonconforming and two spirit folks. White people in New England especially expect Native people to educate them in a way that satisfies the colonial gaze, pantomiming their limited settler ideas of Indigenous identity, and assuages white guilt. There’s an expectation that we are going to play sycophant, the sympathetic Indians of the Thanksgiving story. (by the way, for every 10 versions of the Thanksgiving stories I hear – even the “woke” ones – nine of them are wrong. I come from the band of Wampanoag who found the settlers in Plymouth that fateful day, and I’d appreciate it if folks actually asked us what happened. But I digress!). All of this is to say it’s easy to get caught up in the trap of explaining our ontology to white people, but I use my blog as a space to engage in radical refusal. As a matter of principle I don’t really do the cultural explanatory comma, so to speak, unless it’s for other non-Native PoC.

 

CS: As an indigenous and black womxn, how has your reclaiming of cultural space influenced your art?

KQS: More often than not, reclaiming space is the driving force behind it.

My art is how I fully come into myself and analyze (or reconcile) the complexity of embodying multiple marginalized identities. I didn’t really grow up fully immersed in either Black, Wampanoag, Narragansett, or Pequot cultures; assimilation and acculturation of Native folks started in New England, and so reclaiming cultural space is central to my artmaking. I’m particularly interested in reclaiming my identity as a Black American and a displaced West African in Native contexts. For instance, I incorporate West African cloths into my beadwork and even in parts of my own regalia.

 

CS: How/Where are you with your healing and your art? Are you at peace with where you are?

KQS: Art is one of the primary ways I encounter and work out my healing. It is through my art that I explore and reconcile my reality as an urban Indigenous and Black womyn in New England, the land of first contact in this country – a reality complicated by settler colonialism, cishetero patriarchy, and anti-Blackness. My creative practice, particularly in dance and writing, is how I not only reconcile the complexities of the many marginalized identities I embody, but also, it’s how I claim and live out healing.

 

CS: What’s the best thing about blogging?!

KQS: Everything! I love writing, obviously, but maintaining a blog forces me to resolve my pieces and not keep them in a perpetual stage of editing. So I always feel very accomplished when I hit the “publish” button. I’m also getting more into the back end of blogging, in terms of designing my website, and I’ve been teaching myself how to code.

 

CS: What music are you listening to?

KQS: I’ve had real powwow withdrawal in the off season, so I’m dancing a lot in my kitchen these days and as a result, listening to a lot of Northern Cree…LOL…other than that, I’d have to say my top five at the moment are Supaman (whose new album just dropped, and it’s poppin), A Tribe Called Red, Santigold, Fawn Wood, and DAP the Contract. I’ve been delving into early Motown and have also been revisiting Michael Jackson, who I grew up listening to and who has been a huge inspiration my entire life. Also, I stan unapologetically for The Killers, Arcade Fire, and Teagan and Sara, and I have a real soft spot for Bruce Springsteen and Elton John.

 

CS: What’s up next? Performances/Readings/Panels, etc? How can we follow your work?!

KQS: To stop editing myself so much! I’m doing some freelance writing, but I’m always writing and blogging on my own platforms. Here’s where you can find me:

 

Views from the Clearing on WordPress

Twitter: @katsimonds

Instagram: @kgdsbeadwork

 

 

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