“This is art about genocide” Native community pushes back against Scott Seekins

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“If Scott Seekins had taken photos of Auschwitz and inserted himself into those photos, I can’t even imagine the moral outrage,” said Anishinaabe artist and activist Ashley Fairbanks. “This is art about genocide.”

Inside the crowded Douglas Flanders & Associates gallery on May 14, one of Minneapolis’ most recognizable artists, Scott Seekins, opened his exhibit “The New Eden,” a collection of paintings and drawings depicting the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. Many of the pieces seem to mimic Plains Indian art forms, including work created on ledger paper.

 

Scott Seekins ledger art from "The New Eden."

Scott Seekins “ledger art” from “The New Eden.”

 

Images of Seekins himself appear throughout the collection, which is typical of his work. But when Seekins, a white man, paints himself next to Britney Spears — which he did throughout the 2000s — it’s different than inserting himself into cultural work dealing with genocide and oppression.

Back in February of this year, Seekins similarly poached Southern Black culture in a series exhibited at Gamut Gallery titled “Uniquely Dark.” The paintings and drawings were co-created with his partner, Aleister White, and borrowed heavily from traditional Louisiana voodoo in an intimate depiction of their romance gone sour. Gamut Gallery could not be reached for comment on this story.

 

Scott seekins 2

 

“I think a lot of times people are either being provocative to be provocative or being provocative because they don’t know better,” Fairbanks said. Since artists are expected to be ‘provocative,’ they are often excused from dialogues about race…. people will make those excuses for you. There’s no demand for people to respond, and you don’t have to, because you’re an artist.”

Taylor Payer, gallery associate at All My Relations Arts, a gallery owned and supported by Native artists, said “the art world traditionally has been a white world.” On Seekins’ newest exhibit she says, “It’s a depiction of Dakota history, but a very poor one.” And especially when plenty of Native artists are creating and showing work in a wide variety of styles in galleries and museums across the Twin Cities.

“It’s a perpetuation of the American narrative,” Fairbanks said. “Native erasure [had to happen] for those American stories to exist, for the ‘manifest destiny’ of the empty land that was just meant for white people.”

By speaking for Native people, Seekins is taking space that belongs to Native artists, Fairbanks said, and selling artwork that imitates Native styles for more than a Native artist might receive for their own artwork.

The Facebook page for the opening quickly filled with comments about cultural appropriation, links to Native ledger artists and calls for the gallery to cancel the show. Fairbanks was one of the first to alert her network, which includes a number of Native artists in the Twin Cities, via her social media. “It was good to just instantly light a fire,” she said.

“The fact that someone would show it, that this would have an audience, is all just kind of mind-boggling,” Fairbanks said. The same attitude that allows Natives to continue to be used as mascots for sports teams also permits artists like Seekins to produce and show this kind of work, she said.

On Saturday night, as Seekins’s show opened, a small group of activists, including representatives from Showing Up for Racial Justice and Idle No More, offered gallery-goers fliers titled, “Are you looking to support real Indigenous art?” describing some of the many opportunities to do so. One of the fliers was even taped inside the window to the gallery.

 

Photo by Nikki Rykus.

Protester at “The New Eden” opening on May 14. Photo by Nikki Rykhus.

 

Inside, gallery owner Doug Flanders appeared unfazed by the protesters, saying he didn’t mind them as long as they were “peaceful,” and continued with the business of selling art. One of Seekins’ paintings had already sold for $4,500.

Despite hearing from many people asking him to cancel the show, far more people had encouraged him to continue with it. He said Seekins, who “feels terrible” about the negative response, had suggested covering up all the paintings with a black curtain hanging on the back wall. “I feel that Scott really did a great job with this,” Flanders said. “I hope that people who have been verbally against it come and see the show.”

But many who spoke against the show did not want to set foot near the gallery — “There’s a lot of trauma that comes along with direct action,” Fairbanks said — and at least one protester who stepped in for a look quickly stepped back out again, unable to stomach more than a brief glance around the gallery.

The activists, most of whom were non-Native allies, held signs with quotes from an article by Joe D. Horse Capture, the former associate curator of Native American Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts — “For over 200 years, non-Natives have appropriated Native American culture”; “There is honor in hearing the voices of Indigenous people of the land” — and attempted to engage people in conversation as they walked into the Flanders gallery. While some gallery-goers brushed them off, many stopped to discuss cultural appropriation and other issues raised by Seekins’ show.

Seekins said his paintings explore the history of white expansion into Minnesota, driven by the concept of “manifest destiny.” But the fact that Seekins is the one telling the history only continues to erase Native peoples, Fairbanks said.

Native erasure has resulted in a dominant culture that doesn’t “see Native people as a modern, living people,” Fairbanks said.

 

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In response to limited gallery space and in the name of cultural preservation, a system of Native-owned and operated galleries, including Two Rivers and All My Relations, has sprung up across the Twin Cities to support Native artists in all stages of their career, helping to build “an arts ecosystem for Native artists,” Fairbanks said.

“We’re really dedicated to giving opportunities to people who don’t have it other places,” said Payer, and she loves seeing the faces of visitors when they are surprised by the bright colors and contemporary feel of the current show, “Synthesis: Paintings by Aza Erdrich.”

 

Aza Erdrich in front of her artwork. Photo by Nikki Rykhus.

Taylor Payer of All My Relations. Photo by Nikki Rykhus.

 

“There’s nothing ancient about it,” Payer said of Erdrich’s show. “It’s showing people how we live today. We’re a dynamic, living people. I just think it’s important for people to know that. We can’t just give people surviving things, we need to give them thriving things.”

The gallery plays a big role in helping emerging artists get started in their careers. For example, the Soap Factory offered Erdrich a residency after seeing her show at All My Relations.

Native artists can feel pressured into creating work that fits mainstream ideas of what “Native art” is expected to look like, Payer said. In contrast, All My Relations affords Native artists “the right to be complex,” she said. “It’s one of a kind in the country.”

And for those eager to see more Native artwork addressing Minnesota’s history, they won’t have to wait long. Two Rivers and All My Relations are collaborating on a show that will open in June called “Reframe Minnesota: Art Beyond a Single Story,” featuring work by a variety of artists in response to conversations about the future of art in the Minnesota State Capitol.

22 thoughts on ““This is art about genocide” Native community pushes back against Scott Seekins

  1. This guy will do anything for attention, if he put in as much effort into his art, and showering as he did the stuff he does to get any type of attention he can then he might actually be a half decent artist

    • Name calling and rudeness about one’s person rather than discussing and actually seeing an exhibition is despicable.

    • Having had him sit down next to me uninvited at a table at the CC Club simply because there were attractive women in their early 20s there, I can confirm that Scott on that day smelled bad. Not shocking, as he wears the same suit (or a few copies of the same suit) every day.

      The guy is over 70 years old and still pretending that he’s some avant-garde genius a la Duchamp or Hannah Hoch, when in reality he’s closer to Wild Man Fischer.

  2. I think controversy is what they were looking for. Media an such, it helps create a story behind the art. Which helps sell this culturally misappropriated crap!

  3. Craft is doing something well, Craft becomes Art when you en-soul your work till it becomes a communication that others can see and feel through. Sadly people are i-this and i-that forming a me-you-us-world not able to listen or hear, not meeting or seeing the others humanity. Race,creed,sex,age,income? what is the criteria to be curious and create!? Assuming the raping of the heritage and that its not the living into and learning from is to not know the other. To not meet them as human. The yang of the thinking about “who is allowed to paint what” implies indigenous children should create in a certain way. Can’t we see them as people and rejoice in whatever they imagine? Can’t we see everyone as just people and rejoice in them?

  4. Kudos to All My Relations and The Two Rivers Gallery for their mission.
    The Twin Cities for its entire modern history has had few commercial
    galleries to represent the number of artists producing in the area.
    One gallerist can only represent a limited number of artists. However,
    artists are shy about walking in the door to show their work. It risks
    “rejection”. Also, entering the spare neutral spaces tends toward
    intimidation because one feels as noticeable as the art on the walls.
    I know this from early experience. Advice: walk in the door.

  5. If the human race could get past race issues and start seeing each other as HUMAN BEINGS instead of White, Black, Hispanic, Native etc.. None of these issues would even be happening. Still living in prehistoric times.

  6. Lets CENSOR him, silence his expression and voice? Sad state of affairs when this comes from any person, let alone a sister of color/ artist? Its ART! If it doesn’t speak to you don’t listen. Don’t like it? Don’t buy it. Your opinion is your opinion.

  7. Dear TC Daily Planet and everyone else: any article that deals with the very delicate subject of race, gender, religious, or human rights at all that begins with anyone suggesting anything similar to “if this involved the holocaust and the Jews everyone would be up in arms because everyone cared a lot about the Jews during, before, and after the holocaust” is going to be offensive and probably a little scary to a Jew. And I would know, I’m one of those things. Nothing but respect to the Native American people and their efforts in battling persecution, and no intention of taking any thought away from those struggles at all . Just can’t believe people haven’t figured that one out yet. Please leave me and my J’s out of any further conversations about race, religion, gender, and politics that aren’t directly related to us. We exist for more than just shock value.

    • The point is that if it was the experience of white people being appropriated for profit, there would be outrage. Instead this is happening to people of color, so it apparently matters less and should be gotten over. Ugh!!

        • jews are in fact predominantly not white. It’s mainly only in countries like America and England that they are mostly white, and even in those countries there is a large cultural mix. People really don’t know anything about Jews do they. Horn and tail bible myths we are.

      • Point being please leave us out of your generalizations as well as your arguments. Unless you want to risk looking like hypocritical ignorant people to the Jews, who’s opinions matter to everyone a lot because we are all og middle eastern white people.

      • You all really need to stop referring to Jews as white. It’s incredibly ignorant. Jews are what is known as a “genetic clustering”. What that means is that given the outrageously nomadic historic nature of the Jewish people, a Jew will generally take on the skin color most commonly associated with that region. Therefore, Jews who’s families stayed in Russia or Poland for long periods of time eventually through mating and different kinds of sunlight took on a whiter complexion. Most Jews would be able to trace their heritage back to the Middle East were it not for many of those records being destroyed due to that little holocaust thing. Basically, Jews are a highly mixed race. You can usually see the middle eastern heritage in the nose and the hair.

  8. Basically, what I’m getting from this whole thing is the idea of white interjection on a culturally oppressed people, brought through the means of Seekins taking advantage of his privilege to literally place himself in the midst of this cultural genocide, symbolizing his ability to be unscathed in real life, due to his privilege, and as a representation of his power over a culture who was powerless to the crimes of his ancestry, right now. It’s a means of showing one’s power over another, by using their culture and interjecting yourself in it, without consequence.

  9. I took my baby on a Saturday bang
    “Boy, is that girl with you?”
    Yes, we’re one and the same

    Now I believe in miracles
    And a miracle has happened tonight

    But if you’re thinkin’ about my baby
    It don’t matter if you’re black or white

    They print my message in the Saturday Sun
    I had to tell them I ain’t second to none

    And I told about equality
    And it’s true
    Either you’re wrong or you’re right

    But if you’re thinkin’ about my baby
    It don’t matter if you’re black or white

    I am tired of this devil
    I am tired of this stuff
    I am tired of this business
    So when the going gets rough

    I ain’t scared of your brother
    I ain’t scared of no sheets
    I ain’t scare of nobody
    Girl, when the goin’ gets mean

    [L. T. B. rap performance]
    Protection for gangs, clubs and nations
    Causing grief in human relations
    It’s a turf war on a global scale
    I’d rather hear both sides of the tale
    See, it’s not about races
    Just places
    Faces
    Where your blood comes from
    Is where your space is
    I’ve seen the bright get duller
    I’m not going to spend my life being a color

    [Michael]
    Don’t tell me you agree with me
    When I saw you kicking dirt in my eye

    But if you’re thinkin’ about my baby
    It don’t matter if you’re black or white

    I said if you’re thinkin’ of being my baby
    It don’t matter if you’re black or white

    I said if you’re thinkin’ of being my brother
    It don’t matter if you’re black or white

    Ooh, ooh
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, now
    Ooh, ooh
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, now

    [2x]
    It’s black, it’s white
    It’s tough for you to get by
    It’s black, it’s white, woo

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