Heid Erdrich, co-director and curator of the multi-genre art exhibit and performance Artifact Traffic, has always been drawn to seemingly disparate forms and images.
“When I work as a curator, I feel drawn to those things that traffic contemporary images with traditional images,” she said. “I love pushing forms against one another – you’re making all those things create a vibration between them.”
Artifact Traffic was born of the desire to create this vibration between different forms of art and brought together Indigenous artists with whom Erdrich had collaborated over her long career as a poet, playwright, and curator.
“It’s really helpful for us to be in community, even if we don’t do the same kind of art,” said Erdrich.
This is especially true for Native American artists, who are often pressured to make their art legible to mainstream audiences, sometimes at the expense of their creative expression.
“[Indigenous artists] are asked to make the experience of being Native people understandable to a non-Native audience and to educate and I think that is kind of a burden at times to peoples’ artistic sensibility,” said Erdrich.
The Artifact Traffic performance was part of the 13th Annual Indigenous Voices Series, which is sponsored through a partnership between Pangea World Theater and Intermedia Arts. This series focuses specifically on Indigenous worldviews and experiences. The performance brought together a diverse range of artists who are working together as part of the newly-formed group MNdn Arts and each part featured a different collaboration.
“I wanted the audience to witness and feel a part of a growing movement of Indigenous art in the Twin Cities and in the region,” said Erdrich. “I wanted them to see it manifest before them and recognize that there are a lot of interdisciplinary artists in their communities, maybe people they didn’t know could do the things that they can do.”
Margaret Noodin translated several of Erdrich’s poems into Ojibwe and sang the lyrics with guitarist Birand Morrison improvising blues music in accompaniment. Daina Ashby danced within the parameters of themes including ice, bones, and liver to improvised music by composer Phil Fried. MC Stuart “Big S2” Perkins performed his songs to hip-hop dance by youth Kinew. R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. and Erdrich performed their poems to a variety of visual art and news articles, including live drawing by Andrea Carlson. Filmmaker Elizabeth Day presented several short films, including films of new poetry recited by Louise Erdrich. The performance was directed by Erdrich and Moniz with Megan Treinen of Intermedia Arts serving as stage manager and Jake Davis as lighting designer.
The aim of the performance was both to share common threads of interest across multiple Native communities and showcase the talented and diverse array of Indigenous artists living and working in the Twin Cities.
“I wanted people to sense some of our shared interests and obsessions with image, with popular culture, with concerns about the environment, and the ability to reach out to one another across cultural differences, even in the Native community,” said Erdrich.
The performance ran from November 15-17 at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis.