49 Minutes of Fame Artist Profile: Roy Boney

Roy Boney works to revitalize Cherokee history, language through art, shares Indigenous stories in graphic art form.

Art and storytelling have always played a big part in Cherokee artist Roy Boney’s life.

Like many artists, Boney says he felt a calling to pursue the craft from a young age. As a child, he enjoyed drawing cartoons and expressing himself visually.

“I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember,” Boney says. “Growing up Cherokee, I had a lot of support and encouragement to do art. Everyone said, ‘You should consider doing art professionally.’”

The art of language

During his school days, Boney says he had one particular art teacher who encouraged him to attend college. With the support of family and mentors, he obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Oklahoma State University in 2002, followed by a Master of Studio Arts from the University of Arkansas in 2007.

Throughout his career, Boney has sought to make art that educates people on Indigenous culture and perspectives. He says he sees art and design as a way to tell stories that people might not hear otherwise.

“I like to bring narrative and storytelling to the arts,” Boney says. “I enjoy incorporating Cherokee history and language into my art.”

For the past 14 years, Boney has worked in various roles for the Cherokee Nation, including as program manager for the language department. As program manager, Boney oversees translation and language technology.

Since working for his tribe, Boney says he has continued to learn more about Native culture through conversations with tribal elders.

“That requires a lot of research,” he says. “I learn new stuff all the time myself.”

Boney has also learned about his tribe by doing cover art and anthology for comic books such as “Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers,” a graphic novel by 49 Minutes of Fame artist Arigon Starr about the role of the Cherokees and other tribes in relaying radio messages for the Allies during both World Wars. While many works have told the story of Navajo code talkers, Boney says most people don’t know the Cherokees also helped with the war effort. For the graphic anthology, Boney wrote the story, “We Speak in Secret: Cherokee Code Talkers of World War I.”

In addition to his writings and illustrations, Boney has created various short animations in his tribal language. He says one of his favorite projects is “Inage’i,” a Cherokee language animated series he recently helped develop that draws on historical and contemporary Cherokee culture. Translated to “In the Woods,” the story chronicles the adventures of four animal friends who live in the forests of Turtle Island.

For the series, Boney says he served as the lead artist and character designer. He also helped write scripts and collaborated with Cherokee voice actors to bring the story to life. A partnership between the Cherokee Nation, the Oklahoma Film and Music Office and FireThief Productions, the series debuted at the 68th annual Cherokee National Holiday in September 2020.

“I like to do animation,” Boney says. “I worked with a great team of people to develop the series. That’s been a great process.”

A modern spin

When 49 Minutes of Fame co-curator Tom Farris contacted him about participating in the Red Cloud Opera House exhibit, Boney says he was excited for the opportunity, as Indigenous artists don’t always have a platform to showcase their pieces.

"What I’ve discovered is that one of the reasons we’re not represented is that people haven’t met us,” he says. “They need to hear these Native voices.”

For the exhibit, Boney contributed his pieces “Three Sisters” and “Southeastern Sneaker Boi,” a modern take on the ancient Native American game of chunkey. Although the game fell out of popularity after the 19th century, Boney says Cherokee Nation members have revived and played variations of the game, where players compete by rolling disc-shaped stones across the ground and throwing sticks as close to the stopped stone as possible. A tribute to the game, “Southeastern Sneaker Boi” is a digital art piece inspired by an ancient Southeastern shell gorget that Boney modified to show a chunkey player in contemporary clothing.

In his work, Boney says he likes to incorporate humor and authenticity, often depicting contemporary Native people in modern-day clothing such as the character in “Southeastern Sneaker Boi.”

“I try not to show racist portrayals of the dumb Indian and the stoic Indian,” he says. “We’ve seen that done to death.”

Making inroads

Along with dispelling Native stereotypes, Boney says he likes making pop art that is relatable and representative of the Indigenous experience.

“Native people are alive,” he says. “It’s showing we’re engaged. We’re not some relic of history.”

Boney says he enjoys creating art because it allows him to reflect and communicate with people through his pieces.

He also says he is grateful to Tom Farris for the opportunity to display his artwork in the 49 Minutes of Fame show.

“I appreciate Tom for the invitation to participate in the exhibit and for his curatorship,” Boney says. “He picked a pretty good group of artists, and I’m honored to be part of that group.”

About Roy Boney

Roy Boney, Jr. is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation living in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. An award-winning filmmaker, artist and writer, Boney’s work has been shown throughout the United States and internationally. For the past 14 years, Boney has focused on Cherokee language revitalization and art in various roles for the Cherokee Nation. In addition to serving as program manager for the Cherokee Nation language department, Boney has worked as unicode liaison for the tribe’s Unicode Consortium, cultural specialist for Cherokee Nation Education Services, and advisory board member for the Spider Art Gallery/Cherokee Arts Center. He has also served as an editorial review board member for Indigenous Narratives Collective and president of the Five Civilized Tribes Intertribal Council Language Committee. A prominent writer and illustrator, Boney has contributed to various publications, including “Cherokee Earth Dwellers,” “We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices,” and “Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers,” a collaboration with artist, musician and author Arigon Starr. To learn more about Boney’s work, visit his website.

Learn more about Roy Boney and his work at his website, on Facebook, and Instagram. His new book Sky (2022) is available from Red Planet Comics.

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.