Release Date: June 15, 2020
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office
MONUMENT, Colo. – For Choctaw artist Brent Deramus, launching a website featuring artwork from his imaginative mind was a monumental achievement.
The website, Chafahomma.com, is true to its theme – “Blending Ancient with Modern.”
Prepare yourself to enter a site where American Indian art shines true on items you would never fathom – skateboard decks, T-shirts, stickers to adorn car windows, instrument cases or other items. There are bandanas with traditional American Indian symbolism.
His award-winning copper jewelry is prominently showcased.
Deramus’ mind envisions art from a cornucopia of life influences and experiences in 45 years of living; celebrating and sharing his heritage, raising a family, earning a living with the Chickasaw Nation, and embracing the oddities and familiarities of being American Indian.
“For me, it is a dream come true. I can make pieces, and people love them. Yeah, I make some weird stuff that is just in my head, but people are attracted to it and I could not ask for anything more,” Deramus said. “I want to have something for everyone to appreciate. I hope more young artists discover copper. To our people, it was a symbol of religious and tribal importance.
“I hope I can continue to connect with people. I hope to inspire someone who maybe has never explored art or, like me, created art but put it away for years. It was scary putting my art out there, but if I can encourage someone to take that leap, it would be so gratifying,” he added.
With America facing the dangers of the coronavirus and practicing responsible distancing, Deramus said launching his website in April was a way to connect safely as the nation begins taking small steps to reopen businesses.
He has joined the Southeastern Indian Arts Association (SIAA), a Tahlequah-based group promoting the endeavors of American Indians whose ancestors populated Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina before being removed from their Homeland beginning in 1830.
He has been invited to join an online art collective sponsored by “Yehaw,” a rich mix of American Indian artists, primarily located in the Pacific Northwest, planning online exhibitions until dangers from the virus subside. Chickasaw sculptor, painter and building spray paint artist Addison Karl is a member of “Yehaw.”
Additionally, the Chickasaw Nation is hosting the Artesian Online Art Market through July 31. To visit the site online go to ArtesianArtsFestival.com.
“Actually, if not for the quarantine, I’m not sure these opportunities would have presented themselves to me,” Deramus said. “While I grieve for those who are suffering, I am an optimist, and we’ll get through this together. It has opened doors for me I never knew existed. It has connected me with other American Indians, and I am excited about these new collaborations.
“We can’t meet face to face now, but it is opening up creative ideas about how to reach out to people safely to show the amazing artwork being produced by American Indians from all over the world. We even had a Native from the United Kingdom who joined one of our Zoom meetings,” he said. “The quarantine is making it possible to be more inclusive to Native artists who are far away.”
His “brand” advances the unusual, which appeals to pre-teens and elders.
He emerged on the arts scene in 2019 with five goals: to enter artwork in the Te Ata Fisher Chickasaw Nation Employee Art Show, the Artesian Arts Festival, the Choctaw Nation Labor Day Arts Festival, and the Southeastern Arts Show and Market (SEASAM). Second, he wanted to place in each show and win at least one first place ribbon. Third, he hoped to present Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby and Choctaw Chief Gary Batton something special he had created to show his appreciation for what they do for tribal citizens and members. Fourth, was launch a website and fifth was collaborate with a shoe company to incorporate his art.
Four of those goals have been realized. Deramus placed in all the art shows, collected a first- place ribbon; presented bolo ties to the leaders of the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes; and he now has launched his website. “Collaborating with a shoe company is more of a long-term goal. I’m still working on that one,” he said with a laugh.
“I would not have the confidence to do this without the support of the Chickasaw Nation. All the staff at the Chickasaw Nation Arts and Humanities Division gave me that loving push, saying, ‘You can do this.’ Chickasaw artists provided universal encouragement.”
Dustin Mater, whose talents and unlimited imagination have produced both traditional and far flung concepts, along with Joshua Hinson, language expert, artist and decoy carver, assured Deramus some of his “weird” ideas were imbedded in his American Indian DNA. Jason Murray, Ph.D., a production writer for the tribe’s multimedia department, served as a “sounding board for me. He listened, supported and advised me so much. I miss him,” Deramus said. Murray succumbed to illness May 1, 2018. “I will hold on to our conversations forever.”
It is difficult to find an art subset that distinguishes Deramus. Even he understands that.
“It goes from one thing to another,” he said with a smile. “It all started with some digital drawings and paintings and went into T-shirts and skateboard decks, and now it is all complemented with copper jewelry.”
Hammering out copper and making it appear ancient was the goal from the outset, Deramus said. He accomplished it.
“It’s one of the things I loved about it. I like the fact it looks rough and used. It is not so fully polished and perfect. I want it to have that ancient feel, like it could have been dug up and found like so many artifacts our ancestors once possessed,” he said.
At SEASAM in October 2019, among the items patrons touched, handled and swooned over were Deramus’ skateboard decks. He orders the raw decks, then hand paints skulls and modern imagery on them in addition to Southeastern Indian symbols.
“I’ll paint hawk and turkey feathers, tribal symbols that we are most known for. Last year at SEASAM, there were a couple of teenagers who came up and said ‘DUDE! We are so glad to find art that appeals to us.’ I remember thinking I’ve got to keep this going and try to bring youth in. It gives me a chance to talk about our culture while steering them in a direction of making good choices in their lives.”
An example of sharing First American culture was prominently displayed on a half mannequin decked out in several Southeastern tribal adornments – from an arm band, to copper gorget, leather sporting turkey feathers and a copper mask.
Deramus calls him “Bird Man.”
“If you look at ancient pottery and gorgets, there is a dancer with winged arms and he will have a mask. Our ancestors referred to them as bird man dancers. There have been many iterations of him in Southeastern Indian culture. I hope it finds a home, and all of the jewelry goes with it,” Deramus said.
The Choctaw artist’s copper jewelry is not only lovely, but thoroughly researched for symbolism and crafted for activities close to his heart, including stomp dancing.
For centuries, both Chickasaw and Choctaw women wore shell shakers on their legs to keep the beat to singers as they danced counterclockwise around the sacred fire in ceremonial worship. In ancient times, the women would wear hollowed turtle shells filled with river rock to keep the beat. Deer toes also were attached to hides to keep rhythm.
Deramus’ copper jewelry makes a rhythmic tone. “I really want a stomp dancer to have this,” he said, shaking his creation to illustrate the tonal qualities of how a copper necklace could accentuate stomp dance shell shakers.
Titled “Sparrow Dancer II,” the work resembles a sparrow. Deramus was meticulous in hammering the copper into different shapes, with different symbols and different dimensions in order to bring out the multitude of tonality. He made a larger version of it that sold at the Chickasaw Native Creativity Fashion Show. “I decided to make a petite version of it, so it is the second one I’ve made.”
On his website, one may purchase a T-shirt that not only addresses pollution, but the American Indian creed of being stewards of the earth and environment.
Deramus produced the silkscreen image of an American Indian, adorned with feathers … wearing a gas mask.
He is particularly proud of eclectic work with a modern twist. He calls it his “573 project.” The T-shirts feature a warrior skull, traditional feathers, a honeycomb background and the No. 573 emblazed on the skull’s forehead.
“There are 573 federally recognized American Indian tribes in the United States. Think of all the stories, all the heritage and culture and history that exists across America. Each tribe has a unique story to tell and unique elements to their history, beliefs and customs. It is my way to honor those who are among the 573 while showing First Americans are strong and remain vital to this very day,” he said.