Okla. Dana Tiger was 24 when she first picked up a paint
remember the very day it happened. The voice inside me said pick
up the paint brush and do what you know.'" That day, Tiger
made a commitment to paint everyday for a year.
was that day that Tiger began her career as a painter; and it was
the day that saved her life.
Monday morning, and the artist/activist is home in her Muskogee
art gallery after attending another weekend art show. Her schedule
takes her to at least two shows a month. Most, recently, she attended
the Haskell Indian Art Market, held each September on the grounds
of Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. There, she
also had the opportunity to interact with Native youth. "It's
nice to see the young artists coming up."
says it's the family atmosphere at Haskell that has brought
her back to the event the past 20 years.
Dana Tiger displayed some of her paintings at the Haskell Indian
Art Market, held every September on the grounds of Haskell Indian
and the Tiger family have a distinguished place in the Native American
art world. Dana's father, Jerome Tiger, was a charismatic,
nationally acclaimed artist. A street fighter and high school dropout
with no formal art training, Tiger is credited with revolutionizing
American Indian art. The "Tiger style" has been described
as a combination of spiritual vision, humane understanding and technical
was a natural genius. He was given a gift," Tiger said. "He
just lived with gusto. And then he left."
died in 1967 from an accidental gunshot wound; Dana was 5.
has gone on to establish herself as one of America's leading
women artists. Her one-woman art shows sell out. Of Creek, Seminole
and Cherokee descent, Dana is best known for her paintings depicting
the strength and resilience of contemporary Native women.
try to use tradition to make contemporary art. I think about that
while I'm painting."
frequently incorporates the moon in her paintings, saying it symbolizes
the circle of life. "It's empowering and strengthening
Tiger took first place at the Cherokee National Holiday Art Show
for her painting, "We All Belong."
the inspiring themes in Tiger's work stem from some negative
experiences she had as a school girl. "The teachers didn't
expect much out of me because I was a Native female student.
this time, she also became aware of the negative words used to describe
women. Tiger developed a false view of herself, "Our naturalness
was told it was ugly and bad."
time, Tiger's life headed in a downward spiral. "I thought
drinking and partying was the fun thing to do; I didn't respect
24, Tiger had talent, but said she failed to nurture it. "The
basis of everything is the love that you give it. If you nurture
it, it will pay off."
so Tiger painted everyday for a year. "I still feel
he spoke to me," meaning her father's spirit.
also quit drinking, watched what she ate and eliminated sugar
not an easy task. "Life is a job," she said. "Life
1990, Tiger suffered a devastating loss when her brother, Chris,
also an artist, was murdered at age 22. Then, in 1992, her only
surviving sibling, Lisa, tested positive for HIV, the virus that
has lived through days when she dreaded seeing the sun rise and
the thought of getting out of bed to face the world as though everything
were OK. "Everything was just like broken glass that I'd
been walking on. I just kept painting."
her art, Tiger has come full circle, taking the affliction from
her life experiences and turning it into something empowering. "I
hope to give inspiration that there's always a better day.
My art symbolizes that hope and potential."
1999, Tiger was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative
disorder of the central nervous system that impairs motor skills
and speech. She's not wasting any time feeling sorry for herself.
can paint anytime I want to. That's my power. That's my
gift. If it (Parkinson's) takes my hands away, then I'll
think of another way."
and her husband, Donnie Blair, have a daughter, Christie, and a
do pretty good," Tiger said. "I think I've been blessed.
I feel better than I've ever felt. I've got goals and
plans, and I love them."
honor the legacy of her family and her people, Tiger founded the
Legacy Cultural Learning Community in 2002, a nonprofit devoted
to bringing the arts to Native youth. "There's so much
you can learn from people who created beauty. We're living
in honor of them."
spoke about one of her most well-known works, "From the Four
Directions," a painting in which she offers not just beauty,
but also, a way to live. "Pay attention to the Four Directions,"
Tiger said. "Nurture, plant, renew, give thanks, pray.
go out and kick ass," she said, laughing.
was inducted into the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame in 2001 for
advocating through art on behalf of women, children and Native Americans.