49 Minutes of Fame Artist Profile: Katie Dorame
Katie Dorame mixes Indigenous stories with pop culture references, dispels Native myths through art.
Los Angeles-born artist Katie Dorame has expressed herself visually for as long as she can remember.
Growing up in an artistic family, Dorame says she always received encouragement to paint and draw. Her father and siblings are all artists, and her parents owned a handmade clothing business in Venice when Dorame was a child.
During her formative years, Dorame says she and her family often visited art museums, which captured her imagination and fueled her desire to create visual works. At the same time, she saw a need for more artistic voices, particularly those with an Indigenous perspective.
“I always noticed what was missing from the museums, too,” Dorame says. “That encouraged me to keep making work.”
The pursuit of art
A member of the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe of California, Dorame says she learned about her heritage from the stories her father told her growing up.
“I always had a really strong narrative, visual sense of the layers of history,” she says, “and not just history, but how everything is influenced by what’s already happened.”
A fan of history, English and art, Dorame wasn’t sure what she planned to study when she enrolled at the University of California, Santa Cruz. However, she says her choice became clear when she discovered the university didn’t offer a Native American history major or minor.
“In undergrad, I tried my best to find something else to study, and I just kept coming back to art,” Dorame says. “It was what I really wanted to do and enjoyed.”
At UC Santa Cruz, Dorame says she liked the art department because she had the freedom to do her own research and create works that spoke to her. Taking inspiration from Hollywood movies she watched over the years, Dorame has continued to make art that draws from pop culture influences.
As a child, Dorame says she was interested in films from the 1950s and 1960s, specifically horror, campy or B-movies. She was also influenced by ‘90s movies that feature Native actors, such as “Smoke Signals” and “Maverick,” a 1994 movie with Oneida actor Graham Greene in a comedic role that played on conventional Native American representations.
“I remember watching that and thinking, ‘Oh see, we can make fun of this Western stereotype of what a Native American is,’” Dorame says. “That kind of stuff has influenced a lot of my visuals and palates.”
Rethinking Native stereotypes
Throughout her career, Dorame has made it her mission to share Indigenous perspectives through pop art while also dispelling overused myths. When 49 Minutes of Fame co-curator Todd Richardson spoke to her about participating in the Native pop art exhibit, she says she was excited to share her interpretations of pop culture.
“I really liked that conversation because sometimes we think pop culture is the things that are most popular and well-known,” Dorame says. “It’s also the non-hierarchical stuff that’s not in museums. I like that idea of taking pop art back into obscure references and mixing them up with super mainstream references.”
For 49 Minutes of Fame, Dorame displayed her painting, “I am not Rebecca: In the Garden with Percy” and the drawing “Waiting for the Masquerade." Her work “I am not Rebecca” references the historical account of Pocahontas/Matoaka, the 1995 Disney film and the Hitchcock film “Rebecca.” With “I am not Rebecca,” Dorame says her purpose was to highlight Disney’s romanticized adaptation of Pocahontas, which fails to mention her early death or how her name was changed to Rebecca when she was baptized.
Part of a larger series of Rebecca paintings, Dorame says the work is her way of retelling Hollywood myths and critiquing inaccurate Native portrayals.
“I really admire the actors who’ve been put in these difficult positions of accepting roles where the work is problematic because Hollywood is still so behind in Native representation,” she says. “I’m criticizing the structure of Hollywood, not actually the actors or Native folk who have taken the roles.”
Even though Hollywood writers still create faulty depictions of the Indigenous experience, Dorame says the movies continue to provide inspiration for her pop art.
“I like being able to communicate and use those cultural references,” she says. “I like being able to express things that I have a hard time with in words. It’s weird and it’s fun.”
Through her work, Dorame says she enjoys making a statement.
She says she also likes the freedom that comes from working in a subjective field.
“Art never has a correct answer,” Dorame says. “I found that I really thrive off of not being able to have the answers. Maybe I’ll make work that somehow connects with somebody else, and that’s pretty cool, too.”
About the Artist
Katie Dorame is a visual artist born in Los Angeles, currently living and working in Oakland. Dorame’s work has been exhibited at Shulamit Nazarian in Los Angeles, Southern Exposure, Galería de la Raza, Guerrero Gallery, Incline Gallery, and the Thacher Gallery in San Francisco as well as the Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College in New York. She received her MFA from the California College of the Arts and her BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Dorame is an Indigenous artist of mixed descent and a member of the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe of California.
Learn more about 49 Minutes of Fame: An Exhibition of Native Pop Art which was installed at the Red Cloud Opera House Gallery from November 5-December 14, 2021 • For a list of other 49 Minutes of Fame artist profiles on this website, click here • You can also view the digital gallery here.
We are grateful to freelance writer Juli Oberlander for her artist biographies and public relations efforts for this exhibit.