Artist Profile: U-M alum Gisela McDaniel and the language of art

Content Warning: sexual assault

Gisela McDaniel grew up in predominantly white spaces: She was born on a military base in Bellevue, Neb., to a Chamorro mother who was a sociology professor teaching race and ethnicity and a white father enlisted in the Navy. On a recent Monday afternoon, the Art & Design alum spoke about how being raised with a pervasive awareness of her Indigenous heritage transformed her approach to painting.

Rather than becoming fixated on the crosscurrents of the art world and its western preference for flattening its subjects into fetishized objects of beauty, McDaniel said she has always seen her artistic process as an opportunity to break the silence and amplify marginalized stories.

McDaniel said that from the moment she started creating, she reformulated color as a place where a body in exile could emerge while talking back to the viewer.

“I really don’t like to focus on the violence in these stories because I think that’s done enough,” she said in an interview with The Daily. “Especially in art, we see these violent moments painted but it’s not about that. What I’m so interested in is how people move forward and how people are resilient through these events.”

McDaniel says she first used the language of art to articulate and anatomize her life experiences. This extends all the way back to her girlhood in Cleveland, Ohio, where she says she “struggled with language growing up.” 

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