Rachel Lam

Rachel Lam

Photo by Jacob Chavez, 2017.

Artist Statement

Rachel Lam (any pronouns) is an artist who works with visuals, sounds, words, and movement. The following is Rachel's standard introduction for themselves in Cherokee:

"Letsili dagwado'a. Tsigiduwagi nole tsitsaniyi-aniugama nole tsiyunega. Seattle digwatvsv'i. Nigalsdanv'i sidanelvi. My name is Rachel. I'm Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, white, and a first-generation Malaysian-American. I grew up in Seattle. As it happens into the future, I'd like balance."

The Cherokee language is really important to Rachel's art practice because of how it helps her process the world. A language is the blueprint to a culture's philosophy and though Rachel is and will remain proudly multi-cultural in a number of ways, Cherokee philosophy is a centering force to their life.

Through it, Rachel understands that no one but Creator can actually create anything. Everyone alive, for however long their visit ends up being, is simply at play within Creator's world and just fiddling with already existing creations.

Rachel hopes that her visit is long, intends to be as respectful as they can while he's here, and will be having as enjoyable of a time as possible.


Rachel is a 2019-2020 IDA Fellow. This year, they were the Teaching Assistant for the First Year Cherokee Language program. He co-led an Alternative Spring Break program about Cherokee language revitalization through children's books. She participated in four main art endeavors: the Seattle Indian Health Board's Brown Medicine Bag Project, a multimedia multisite experience called REVIVAL: Millennial reMembering in the Afro NOW, a short film called Self-portrait in Spring 2020, and a multimedia project called Visiting: Portraits from Indian Country.

Rachel will graduate this spring with a degree in Psychology and was awarded a Lyric McHenry Community Arts Fellowship for the summer. They will be co-writing and illustrating materials for Cherokee language learning targeted towards children.

Email: rlam13@stanford.edu

Fun Facts

  • If you come to the annual Seafair Powwow in Seattle, you'll most likely see Rachel's brother, her sister, and her helping Colville elder Randy Lewis with the salmon bake.
  • There's so much free important stuff out and around on the Internet! We need to find it all!!
  • Libby is an app which connects to public library systems so you can rent material on your phone.

Brown Medicine Bag Project

Project Description

The Brown Medicine Bag Project was developed at the Seattle Indian Health Board by Lorna Squetimkin (Colville) and its Traditional Health department in the Spring of 2020.

This project is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on Indian Country --- in particular, its impact on the homeless urban indigenous community in Seattle. Each paper bag is stamped and filled with sage, hand sanitizer, masks, and other important tools or medicine for protection against COVID-19.

Rachel was asked to carve the Seattle Indian Health Board logo onto a stamp as well as design an animal for a separate stamp. For the animal stamp, Rachel chose Walela, known in English as Hummingbird, and consulted with Cherokee relations in finalizing the design.

Rachel's Thoughts

"I debated for a while trying to decide what animal to carve. I finally decided on a hummingbird because Cherokee elder Tom Belt told me that Walela brought tobacco, a very important medicine, to us (the Cherokee people).  It felt right for Walela to continue bringing important tools and medicines to indigenous people."

REVIVAL: Millennial reMembering in the Afro NOW

Project Description

REVIVAL is from current IDA Artist-in-Residence Amara Tabor-Smith, her collaborators, and her students. It is an Afro Futurist, devised dance theater work, inspired by the founding of the Committee on Black Performing Arts (CBPA), which marked its 50th anniversary this year. It was open to the public for three nights during the fall of 2019.

Utilizing the stories and characteristics of the Yoruba deities known as Orisha, REVIVAL is a multimedia and multisite experience exploring the people and events that have catalyzed movements for social change through time.

A non-linear narrative, REVIVAL is driven by the core question, what parts of our myths and stories do we choose to recall, remember and re-invent in order to carry us forward repaired, restored and revived?

Rachel's Thoughts

"I keep a lot of memories close to my heart. From REVIVAL, I hold three tightly:

The first is dancing with Seital three embodied land acknowledgements.

The second is asking three different audiences questions in Cherokee: Do dehigotiha? Dehigotihvi?

Asking those three audiences questions and seeing their faces when they realized they knew no native language. Or seeing their faces and knowing we were the same. And seeing their faces when they realized they knew no native language and this is native land. Or seeing their faces and knowing we were the same among those others who were more in number --- but it was me, the same, who was setting the rules in the room. If only for a moment.

In response to my questions, I saw pride, embarrassment, laughter, blankness, yearning, dismissal, shock, discomfort, and sly amusement. And I will remember their faces.

The last (and perhaps the one I hold tightest) is ulosvsdi agilvhi nole agitsi otsalsgisgvi."

Self-portrait in Spring 2020

Project Description

Self-portrait in Spring 2020 will be a short film inspired by Rachel's beloved Internet --- an extraordinarily useful and humanly scarred invention. The version uploaded here is the working draft from June 10th, 2020. This version still needs more visual editing, a soundscape, and an animation at the end before it's complete.

Rachel's Thoughts

"Oh gosh, I guess I really am putting up a draft to be seen. That makes me nervous, but I do find it interesting to see other people's works-in-progress so here is one of mine.  I'm not sure exactly what stage this short film is in, but I know that it'll let me know when it's finished, that I've been getting very well-acquainted with the vision I'm working towards, and that the end feels nearby."

Visiting: Portraits from Indian Country

Project Description

I started Visiting: Portraits from Indian Country in the summer of 2017. The previous fall, some fellow indigenous students and I drove to Standing Rock for the Dakota Access Pipeline camps. It was a frustrating, beautiful, internal-conflict inducing, and important experience for me. This project comes from an intense desire for voices in Indian Country to be listened to and people in Indian Country to be seen.

During the summer of 2017, I interviewed and photographed indigenous people in their 20s from three different areas of "North America." I selected these areas based on my personal/familial connections as well as various specific current events occurring at them. The three areas I went around and between were the Seattle metropolitan area, eastern Oklahoma, and the Dakotas.

The end goal was originally an immersive in-person exhibit of audio and photography; however, I'm currently strategizing how it can be an immersive online experience either 'instead' or 'in addition to'. All the photography aspects of this project are completed, and displayed here are a few selected frames. The audio aspect of the project has gone through many revisions and I will not finish it or display it until it feels right.

Rachel's Thoughts

"It's through Visiting that I've learned the most about listening to what an artwork itself wants and needs to be.

Visiting has helped me work through shame related to art-making not being as 'efficiently' productive as the dominant Western culture pressures all actions to be as well as ethical frameworks that arise from working with the lives of other people as content.

I've worked on Visiting consistently since I began it in the summer of 2017. I've worked on it technically (taking and editing both photographs and audio), contextually (realizing I didn't have enough cultural or historical grounding in specific topics which arose from the interviews and spending time informing myself), and spiritually (exploring and debating with myself what the right way to work on a project like this is). I will continue to work on it until it feels right."

Photos by Rachel Lam, 2017.

Selected Works Prior to 2019-2020

Photos by Rachel Lam, 2015-2019.

Project Description

Displayed here are a few pieces of work from before the 2019-2020 year. If you hover over each one, its title will appear. An important note for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women public installation: a discussion was had and needs to be continuously had about the English gender word(s) used in advocating about this epidemic. Additionally, the quote below my statement is from Oglala Lakota leader Red Cloud in 1870.

Rachel's Thoughts

"I like many of the things which I work on, but I don't always like them and sometimes I like pieces to different degrees. The degree to which I like an artwork of mine is based on how much I enjoyed the movement during it. I may experience other emotions while I work (for example, I had a lot of sadness in me during the painting of Lucky Womb), but if the literal motions during a work of art are at their core enjoyable to me, then I know I will probably forever like what the work ends up being."

Reccomendations by the Artist

  • If you go to Malaysia, eat some roti canai at Raju Restaurant at 27, Jalan Chantek 5/13 in Petaling Jaya.
  • The Signal messaging app is one of the most secure available.
  • Read the full version of "A Mi'kmaq Responds to the French."

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