1992 marked the quincentennial of Columbuss ruinous landfall.
As state-sponsored anniversaries go, National pride and patriotic
excitement was on a high that year. But, so was the critical voice.
Natives did what theyve done since 1492 and resisted triumphant
expressions of colonization. Curators and some artists looked to frame
many exhibitions with meaning derived from a critical, Post-Colonial
Erdrich and Louise Erdrich: Advice to Myselves(an art instillation)
But not performance artist, James Luna. He viewed the swell
of interest in Native Art as a fleeting gold rush as
he fielded many call from curators suddenly looking for Natives
to include in their exhibitions. He said no to 1992,
refusing most exhibitions he was invited to participate in, with
the simple phrase Call Me in 93. He was effectively
asking if anyone would still care the following year.
Call Me in 93 has been on my mind lately.
Currently, the Guerrilla Girls are in town, a radical artist group
that exposes sexism and racism in the arts industry. As part of
the Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover, a year-long residency
where the Guerrilla Girls have spotlighted sexism in Twin Cities
art institutions, many art institutions and galleries are presenting
sympathetic exhibitions that focus on art made by women. The exhibition
Sinew: Female Native Artists of the Twin Cities, on
view at Artistry in Bloomington, is part of the takeover programming.
I agreed to be one of the artists in this exhibition, but Ive
been wondering, as James Luna did, will anyone care next year?
The answer is assuredly, no.
In the wake of the Guerrilla Girls residency, The Walker Art
Center released its plans to expand the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden,
adding new works of art and redesigning its grounds. Under the subtitle
A Diverse Collection, The Star Tribune reported that,
With the new work, women and artists of color will have made
about a third of the gardens art, roughly double their previous
tally. In other words, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden went
from having sculptures by 17% women/POC to a whopping 33%.
Furthermore, women and persons of color as a single category
is another way of not having to say white male artists,
who make up the lions share of the collection. By not uttering
the category white men we are affording them the power
to make work beyond their experience, they have the authority to
not have their ideas bound to the white male perspective.
It is hard to imagine a show subtitled, White Male Artists
of the Twin Cities. Exhibitions that specify race and gender
is something afforded to women and minority artists.
How is all of this related to Sinew? This exhibition might be
the first exhibition to exclusively feature female Native artists
of the Twin Cities. It might be the very first of its kind. It also
may, at first, seem narrow in focus. Specifying a location, race
and gender of the included artists brings many assumptions to the
table, and one might expect to find a succinct, codified voice.
On the contrary, Sinew is rich in materials and defies stereotype.
This is a point of pride in the exhibition. Everything is allowed.
No truer example can be found than in the work of Heid Erdrich
and Louise Erdrich. Here is their materials list for Advice to Myselves(an
art instillation): manufactured typewriter, table and chair;
BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) school coatrack; commercial clothing,
mask, and mittens; mukluks by Nancy Jones; vintage ephemera; hand-lettering
by Heid E. Erdrich; photos by Louise Erdrich; commercial watercolor
set with photos by Anne Marsden and hand-lettering by Louise Erdrich;
reproduction telephone with Louise Erdrich audio re-fabricated by
Thompsons installation piece, titled Fragments
Firstly, Ive never been more delighted by a materials
list. Secondly, Advice to Myselves is no-doubt an assembled piece
of objects that each have their own acknowledged origins, amassed,
assembled and inviting activation. This is an investigatory piece
that welcomes an empathetic response.
The material of Advice to Myself is supported by the film Advice
to Myself 2: Resistance by Elizabeth Day, Louise Erdrich and Heid
Erdrich. In this film, some of the objects included in Advice to
Myselves debut as film props. In this video, Louise Erdrichs
voice gives clear advice along the lines of not coddling loved ones,
while the images of a person donned in a bear mask and the above
listed winter gear, slumps around a wintery snow bank.
Maggie Thompsons installation piece, titled Fragments,
consists of a bed made up with a quilt of shattered images. The
quilt element appears to be created by photographs mounted on foam-core
that has been cut into a prism of triangles and adhered to a fabric
substrate. Although this presentation of objects might suggests
comfort, Thompsons jagged treatment of the quilts surface
is sharp and physically threatening.
Lee Andersons Disillusion/Dissolution #1, #2 and #3
Carolyn Lee Andersons mixed media triptych also present
an uneasy message atop quilt-like objects. Andersons Disillusion/Dissolution
#1, #2 and #3 are named after various tree varieties: Silver Maple
Northern Red Oak, Valley Oak and Sugar Maple. These are bright objects
crown the exhibition.
Upon closer scrutiny, images of beautifully painted haloed portraits,
G.I.s, legal documents, and National symbols are stitched in, painted
over and layered in a brilliant patchwork of memories.
Other artists included are Julie Buffalohead, Dyani White Hawk
and myself. Curated by Dyani White Hawk Polk, the exhibition runs
February 12 to April 1 at Artistry at the Bloomington Center for
the Arts, in the Inez Greenberg Gallery.
To find out more about the exhibit, see: www.artistrymn.org/visual_arts/sinew
by Julie Buffalohead