49 Minutes of Fame Artist Profile: Sarah Rowe

Lakota artist Sarah Rowe helps elevate Indigenous community through pop art, Unceded Artist Collective.

A visual and performance artist based in Omaha, Sarah Rowe knew she wanted to pursue the arts from a young age.

"I came out of the womb as an artist,” Rowe says. “It was a path I followed without question when I was little.

Growing up with an interest in set design, Rowe says she completed an apprenticeship program at the Omaha Community Playhouse with the intention of pursuing a degree in design and the performing arts. However, she ended up receiving a bachelor’s in studio art from Webster University instead.

“Art just gave me an energetic jolt,” Rowe says. “I thought, ‘This is what I should do professionally.’”

Dual passions

While at Webster University, Rowe studied abroad in Vienna, which gave her the opportunity to explore the arts in one of Europe’s cultural hubs. She says her time in Vienna was a “really beautiful adventure,” as it allowed her to learn more about art, theater and music.

During that time, Rowe became fascinated by Viennese Actionism, a 1960s art movement consisting of radical and explicit forms of performance art as a means of expressing dissatisfaction with post-World War II Austrian society. With her background in theater, Rowe says she enjoys any work that contains an element of performance.

"I love art that’s alive that calls for interaction,” she says. “The shared storytelling of that is very beautiful.”

When creating work, Rowe says she gravitates to art that engages the senses. She focuses on themes of ceremony and cycles of nature, often making art that is both playful and thought-provoking. An example of a pop art piece containing some of those themes is Rowe’s “Commercial Break,” which she has contributed to 49 Minutes of Fame at the Red Cloud Opera House Gallery.

Satirical in nature, Rowe says “Commercial Break” is a commentary on the disintegration of capitalism. The installation features a TV with the words “Please Stand By” in the center, and visitors are welcome to interact with the piece by taking photos of themselves within the frame.

 “I literally want people to stand by,” Rowe says. “The piece is a satire about the collapse of capitalism, how fake money is and how absurd it is. I love the pop art element of it. It just pulls people in and it's bold.”

New opportunities

An artist of Lakota and Ponca descent, Rowe says she was excited to display her work as part of 49 Minutes of Fame, especially since she doesn’t see many Native artists receive recognition for their creations.

"I thought it was an awesome idea and it’s unique,” she says. “We don’t get that opportunity a lot. "49 Minutes" is really opening the door to amplify Native voices.”

For a long time, Rowe says the Indigenous community has needed an organized networking group to bring artists together. Rowe has helped fill that void as one of the original members of Unceded Artist Collective, a directory that allows Native artists to connect and collaborate with each other. Founded by Lakota artist Nathaniel Ruleaux, Unceded Artist Collective is working to expand the Indigenous art sector and encourage young people to pursue the arts.

“Nate is a visionary artist,” Rowe says. “He just saw the need for that connection. Building this collective where we can talk about what we want to create is an important piece that’s been missing.”

A creative calling

A mother of a teenager, Rowe has encouraged creativity and the arts throughout her daughter’s life. Like her mother, Rowe’s daughter has a love for illustrations, but she also enjoys writing, piano and forensic science. As her daughter prepares to attend college next year, Rowe says she has reflected on her own calling and passions.

“Art has a different kind of power and energy and playfulness,” she says. “It’s given me a reason to get up in the morning. It’s brought me adventure and light and excitement.”

During her creative process, Rowe says she likes using branding and text that make a statement. She enjoys the boldness and fearless nature of pop art.

Rowe says art has also taught her honesty and courage.

“Being a visual artist and performer is a vulnerable calling,” she says. “Baring your soul to the world can be an uncomfortable feeling. I try to remember these stories come from the Creator and I’m meant to share them.”

About Sarah Rowe

Sarah Rowe is a visual and performance artist located in Omaha. Descending from the Lakota and Ponca tribes, Rowe highlights issues of self-identity and exploitation of natural resources in her work. She also reimagines traditional Native American symbols to fit the narrative of modern art and culture. A prolific pop artist, Rowe makes work that builds meaningful cross cultural dialogues through the use of painting, casting, textiles, performance and Native American rituals in unconventional ways. In 2021, Rowe helped develop Unceded Artist Collective, a community and directory of Indigenous artists who live and create on the unceded land of the Umónhon & Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (otherwise known as Omaha, Nebraska). To learn more about Rowe’s work, visit her Instagram page.

For more information

To learn more about 49 Minutes of Fame: An Exhibition of Native Pop Art, installed at the Red Cloud Opera House Gallery from November 5-December 14, 2021, and to read other artist profiles, 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.