Colorful paintings by artist Wendy Red Star on display at 100 bus shelters across NYC

August 23, 2022

All images by Nicholas Knight, courtesy of the Public Art Fund, NY

Artist Wendy Red Star’s first-ever public art exhibition was unveiled in New York City this month. Curated by the Public Art Fund, “Wendy Red Star: Travels Pretty” is based on 12 paintings by Red Star inspired by “parfleches,” vibrantly painted rawhide bags created by certain nomadic tribes of the Great Plains. Used to store and transport food and other items, the handpainted containers were typically made by women and designed to compel “means of both self and tribal expression for those who created them,” according to a press release. Reimagined on 100 bus shelters across New York City, Red Star’s paintings celebrate parfleches and bring to light the history and importance of their use.

Travels Pretty stands out for its eye-capturing color and striking design, which is made up of geometric brush strokes set against a light canvas. Around the acrylic paintings, Red Star added handwritten phrases that reference the history of parfleches, as well as their design, materials used, and construction.

Raised on the Apsáalooke reservation in Montana, Red Star is known for art that explores history through a feminist Indigenous perspective. For “Travels Pretty,” she studied museum collections of objects belonging to the Apsáalooke Nation, as well as the history and design process of parfleches.

“Parfleche designs go beyond the idea of abstract painting which is a Western lens for looking at them,” Red Star said. “To me, they represent a community of people immediately recognized as the Apsáalooke Nation.”

“That’s a powerful portrayal of what a community stands for. Showcasing them on JCDecaux bus shelters gives a presence to both me and my community in these cities. It gets back to the notion of collecting material culture of Native people and opens the conversation to that.”

To recognize and celebrate the thousands of Apsáalooke women who created parfleches, Red Star has named the 12 paintings after the names of Apsáalooke women she found in an 1855 Crow Census. Some of the names include, “Paints Pretty,” “Brings Things Herself,” and “Makes The Lodge Good.”

“Travels Pretty” will be on view through November 20 at 100 bus shelters in New York City, 150 in Chicago, and 50 in Boston.

“Standing as a metaphor for mobility and travel, the works draw associations between these suitcases used to transport goods and buses that transport people,” Public Art Fund Associate Curator Katerina Stathopoulou said.  “Just as one travels by bus from point A to point B, the parfleches also traveled across the United States strapped to dogs and horses. For Red Star, reinterpreting the carrying cases and showcasing them along streets and avenues is a call to the resiliency of her community.”


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