Artist & Advocate: Neka Mire

Neka Mire is a Chitimacha artist who has been beading for almost 20 years.

Q:  Please describe your work and the medium/media you use. Why do you make this type of art? 

A:  I am a Chitimacha weaver and beader.  Although I primarily focus on rivercane basketry and beading, I also have begun exploring a few styles of fiber weaving within recent years because I enjoy learning about modern and historical textile traditions and because I enjoy weaving in general. 

I began beading when I was a student at Chitimacha Tribal School in 1993 or ‘94, and I immediately fell in love with all the beautiful bead colors, the infinite possibilities of design, and the creative process.  I also loved learning to bead along with my friends and family members, and I still do.   

Many of my beading designs are based on our traditional basketry designs.  As a result, I was already familiar with a few basket patterns when I began weaving rivercane baskets in 2017.  Weaving our traditional basketry is very special to me because it is a part of who I am as a Chitimacha person.  When I weave, I feel more connected to myself, the landscape; my family; my community; past, present, and future weavers; and our traditions.   

Q:  What is most striking or inspirational to you about the wetland landscape?   

A:  It’s hard for me to say what is most inspirational because there are so many attributes of the wetlands that I find striking and inspirational.  My color choices for beadwork and yarn work are often inspired by the beauty of Louisiana’s wetland landscape.  Our traditional basket designs are depictions of the natural environment as well. 

Q:  In what ways has the Louisiana wetland landscape changed in your lifetime? 

A:  I’ve seen a lot of older trees die during my lifetime while it seems that many young trees do not have the chance to grow old.  Floods seem to happen more frequently now than in the past, and there are places on our coastline now underwater that weren’t under water just a few years ago.  On the other hand, rivercane is more plentiful and therefore more accessible to me now than it was 20-30 years ago because of rivercane restoration. 

Q: Why is it important to you to create art about Louisiana wetlands? 

A:  I don’t necessarily think of myself as creating art about the Louisiana wetlands.  Rather, I am creating art with and for the wetlands.  Each basket is the result of many years of caring for the rivercane plants and the land upon which they grow, and each basket is the result of a collaboration between myself, my community, the land, and the living rivercane plants.  The rivercane and the land have much more of a final say in how the basket turns out than I ever will, and caring for the plants and cane patch are of utmost importance to the weaving process.  This perspective is important to me because if I do not harvest, prepare, and weave with careful consideration for the plants and the cane patch, then the cane will diminish and become less accessible to weavers.   

In addition, many of my beading and jewelry materials were given to me by friends and family members, and I try to incorporate those materials in my work as much as possible, especially locally sourced materials.  For example, the alligator garfish scales I use in my signature earrings came from a fish that was caught locally by a lifelong friend and family member who then prepared the scales and gave them to me.  It’s important that I include materials from my friends, family, and community because they have encouraged and supported me every step of the way since I first began creating. 

Q:  In your opinion why is coastal restoration in Louisiana is important? For folks out of state, why is  Louisiana’s coastal restoration work important for the nation? 

A: I think coastal restoration work is important to our state and the nation because I believe that human beings have a responsibility to the land, all its inhabitants, each other, and the generations that come after us.  All life depends on the environment, and I think it is important to honor that connection by caring for the natural landscape around us.  I also think it is important to support, uphold, and continue a legacy of environmental stewardship for future generations. 

Q: How does your art challenge existing barriers and assumptions about our environmental crisis? 

A:  One may look at a basket and only think about the finished piece, but weaving is actually the “fastest” step even though it too can take a long time.  The truth is it takes many years of growth and care before the cane can be harvested and many weeks or months of preparation before harvested cane is ready for weaving.  It also takes many years of practice to master the techniques.  I still have a great deal more learning to do, but early in my weaving journey I learned that our traditional basketry is much more than simply weaving.  It is an entire system of education that is inextricably linked to the health and well-being of the environment in which the cane grows.  Continuation of our basketry traditions also challenges the common assumption that traditional art forms and environmental knowledge are relevant in a mainly historical context. While I think history is important, I also think it is important to acknowledge traditional art forms as a necessary component of the larger, multi-faceted conversations currently taking place about the environmental crises that affect us all. 

Q:  Where can people view your work (displayed in galleries or links to websites)? 

Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us about yourself or your work?

A: Thank you for the invitation and the honor of participating as a highlighted artist for the 2021 CWPPRA Dedication Ceremony.  I express my deepest admiration and gratitude to CWPPRA and to everyone who contributes to protecting and restoring the coastal wetlands of Louisiana.  Last, I would like to encourage and invite everyone who loves our state’s beautiful wetlands to join us as we work toward this common goal.

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