Born in Billings, Montana, in 1981, of Apsáalooke (Crow) and Irish descent, she was reared in Pryor, Montana, on the Crow Reservation, "a rural community that’s also a sovereign nation and cultural powerhouse." At age 18, she moved 170 miles to attend Montana State University - Bozeman.
Her mother was a public health nurse who encouraged Crow cultural pursuits; though Red Star herself did not speak Crow, her adopted Korean sister spoke fluent Crow as a child. Her father ranched and was licensed pilot who played in the "Maniacs", an Indian rock band. Red Star is a niece of the artist Kevin Red Star.
In 2004, Red Star received her B.F.A. from Montana State University - Bozeman in sculpture. In 2006, she received her M.F.A. in sculpture from the University of California, Los Angeles.
In 2012–2013, she was a manager at Chief Plenty Coups State Park, located in Pryor, Montana. She is a full-time artist in Portland, Oregon.
Red Star's undergraduate specialization was in sculpture. Her work also includes photography, fashion design, bead work, fiber art, performance art, and painting. The Spokesman-Review noted, "Red Star works in a variety of media. Her fiber work blends traditional and contemporary elements, as in her pieces Rez Car Shawl and Basketball Shawl. Her photographs combine stereotypical and authentic images, references to the past and modern day. Many are self-portraits." Her art often includes cliched representations of Native Americans, colonialism, the environment, and her own family. Gorman Museum described her work as layering "influences from her tribal background (Crow), daily surroundings, aesthetic experiences, collected ephemera and conjured histories that are both real and imagined." Though Red Star deals with some serious issues in Native American culture, she often includes humor, through inflatable animals, fake scenery, and other elements. In her photography, Red Star often depicts herself in traditional elk-tooth dresses that she creates.
Zach Dundas of Portland Monthly noted her "mash-ups of mass-market and Crow culture make perfect sense...Red Star is enjoying a moment in the wider art world. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art includes her work in a current exhibit of Plains Indian art, and Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum is showing her self-portraiture alongside big names like Chuck Close, Cindy Sherman, and Bruce Nauman. Red Star will stage 15 separate exhibitions this year." For "Walks in the Dark" of the Thunder Up Above series, she created a costume with European and Victorian motifs in a Native American design, and photoshopped an interplanetary background. Dundas observes, "The sci-fi results evoke the intrigue and suspicion of first contact with an unknown people—or, as she put it in her artist’s statement, 'someone you would not want to mess with'."
For Red Star's Four Seasons series, the Metropolitan Museum of Art catalog noted, "In this four-part photographic work, Wendy Red Star pokes fun at romantic idealizations of American Indians as 'one with nature.' " Luella Brien of the Native Peoples Magazine wrote the Four Seasons series had an avant-garde quality, with traditional "Native American imagery juxtaposed against authentic imagery". Red Star also uses humor to draw viewers into her work. Blake Gopnik of Artnet News commented, "Posing amid blow-up deer, cut-out coyotes and wallpaper mountains, Red Star uses her series to go after the standard blather about Native American's inevitable 'oneness' with nature." The Saint Louis Art Museum acquired Four Seasons as part of its permanent collection, describing it as among "some of the amazing works of art acquired by the Art Museum in 2014".
According to the description of her APEX exhibit at the Portland Art Museum, her early work "employed gender-focused, political self-imagery...to draw attention to the marginalization of Native Americans." Norman Denizen observed, "Wendy Red Star, Crow Indian cultural activist and performance artist, offers an alternative view, focusing on performances and artworks that contest the images of the vanishing dark-skinned Indian." Her work has been collected at institutions such as the National Museum of the American Indian, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.
In 2014, Red Star curated Wendy Red Star's Wild West & Congress of Rough Riders of the World, "the first-ever all-Native contemporary art exhibition at Bumbershoot", which took place in Seattle during the annual musical concert.
Red Star characterizes her work as research-based, especially as she investigates and explores cliched Hollywood images like beautiful maidens or western landscapes. While conducting research on the term squaw, she found a reference to White Squaw, a 1950s movie, and later books with pulp-fiction style covers, published as recently as 1997. Red Star took photographic prints of the covers, substituting her own image in a cheap costume for the character "White Squaw", using all the original taglines, with comical satiric effect.
She researched Medicine Crow/Peelatchiwaaxpáash (Raven) for her exhibit of the Crow Peace Delegation to Washington in 1880, and discovered the narratives behind elements of the iconic picture. She used a red pen on a print of this famous image to notate his outfit and the symbolism attached to elements such as his ermine shawl, the bows in his hair, and the eagle fan he is holding. Red Star said she wanted to use the details of his clothing, and the ledger drawings he made upon his return to the reservation, to humanize Medicine Crow. What she learns in research emerges in her creative process, which she articulates with visual means.
Beginning in 2013, Red Star began collaborating with her daughter Beatrice Red Star Fletcher, who "figures prominently in her work" and participates as a tour guide for their exhibitions. Their collaborations have been shown at the Tacoma Art Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and twice at the Portland Art Museum.
Red Star's work is included in the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, the George Gustav Heye Center, Saint Louis Art Museum, Hood Museum, Crocker Museum of Art, Portland Art Museum, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, C.N. Gorman Museum, Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Triton Museum of Art, Autry Museum of the American West, and Philbrook Museum of Art.
Red Star has been actively exhibiting her work since 2003. Her résumé lists the following exhibitions since 2011:Parading Culture (Tokens, Gold and Glory) Haw Contemporary Fine Art Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri (2016)
The Plains Indian: Artists of Earth and Sky: Metropolitan Museum of Art (2015)
Peelatchiwaaxpáash/Medicine Crow (Raven) & the 1880 Crow Peace Delegation: APEX gallery, Portland Art Museum (2015)
Tableaux Vivant: Nature's Playground. Seattle Art Fair – Volunteer Park. Seattle, Washington (2015)
Circling the Camp: Wendy Red Star: Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (2014)
Crow Women's Objects. Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri. (2014)
Wendy Red Star: C.N. Gorman Museum (2014)
I.M.N.D.N. — Native Art for the 21st Century: The Art Gym, Marylhurst University (2014)
Contemporary American Indian Art: Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (2014)
Making Marks: Prints From Crow's Shadow Press: National Museum of the American Indian (2014)
Cross Currents: Metropolitan State, University of Denver (2013-2014)
Biennial Contemporary American Indian Arts Series: Native Voices and Identity Narratives: The A.D. Gallery (2013)
My Home Is Where My Tipi Sits (Crow Country): Missoula Art Museum (2011)
American Spirit: Bockley Gallery (2011)
Joan Mitchell Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship
Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship
Crow's Shadow Institute of the Arts Residency, Pendleton, Oregon
Portland State University Diversity Grant, Portland Oregon
Hoyt Scholarship, Los Angeles
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine
Sequoyah Graduate Fellowship, Rockville Maryland