John Feodorov was born in 1960 in Los Angeles, California, and currently lives and works in Seattle, Washington. Feodorov received his BFA in drawing and painting from California State University and his MFA in Visual Art from Vermont College. Brought up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, he spent summers visiting his grandparents on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. As a child, Feodorov experienced the cultural contradictions between his dual heritages, being of mixed Navajo (Diné) and Euro-American descent. He also observed the stereotypes present in American culture, where Native Americans have been idealized as the living embodiment of spirituality by New Age consumerists. His work addresses this clichéd modern archetype through a humorous interjection of “sacred” items into recognizable consumer products.
His kitschy Totem Teddy series, for instance, added masks and totemic markings to stuffed toy bears accompanied by booklets declaring the bears to “meet the spiritual needs of consumers of all ages!” He has said: “A major theme in my work is the way Native Americans are still being portrayed, stereotyped, and studied in contemporary America. I’ve read that the Navajo Nation is the most-studied group of people on Earth. I don’t know whether to be proud or disgusted.”
Feodorov mixes this analytical critique with installations and sculptural objects that are often whimsical, fantastic, and mythical. His performance work similarly examines how spirituality can function in contemporary American society. Through his collaborative project with musician Paul Amiel, called Animal Saint, Feodorov has also made recorded albums and performances that further investigate spirituality, Native American representation, and American history. In The Office Shaman (2001) the pair advertise the services of an ‘Office Shaman’ whose spiritual knowledge can make employees more productive in the workplace. Feodorov’s works contain humor, critique, and compassion, reflecting a new and sometimes genuine sense of the sacred—a sacredness for modern, fractured times.