Stephen Deo was selected to participate in Tamarind's Migrations project. Deo was an active member of the Creek Nation, Euchee Tribe.
As a contemporary artist of Native American descent, identity has been a constant point of reference. Often, I’ve looked into the past through the eyes of the camera at images of my family, or at images reproduced in Western histories. Then, nature was our environment: we looked to the sky and made kinship with the stars, the moon, and the sun. The earth lived under our bare feet and rivers flowed through our bodies and minds. Our environment has changed and our “nature” replaced with concrete, steel, and asphalt. We have been relocated and dislocated, grouped and regrouped. Our communality is an extended family called “Indian.”
Although I grew up in an urban environment in Tulsa, Oklahoma, ...I had other experiences that centered on native religion and ceremony that were very much part of the fiber of my life.
For as long as I can remember, I was sent to stay with my paternal grandparents, who had retired on land that was our Indian allotment. They owned a television, but the reception was not very good, so at night Grandma Deo would teach me the language, tell us stories. During the days, I would ride their old plow horse, day in and day out.
I also had a relationship with my mother’s family. Her mother was a full blood Creek Indian, and her father a full blood Euchee. He was a hereditary chief, a Bear Clan member. When I was very small, I would sit next to him during our dances. They would begin at midnight and last until sunrise, and I would often fall asleep and wake up in his pickup truck. Whenever I can, I still participate in the Greencorn ceremony during the summer solstice, dancing and taking medicine all day.
I continually think about the people I came from, although the language they spoke becomes clouded by time and daily life. The songs from the beginning of creation resonate in my daydreams, and I find solace in that sacred place called art.