Indigenous: Born, growing, or produced naturally in a region or country; native.
-Webster’s New World Dictionary
With a wide range of work by both established artists and emerging youth, the second annual Dimensions of Indigenous show is a marvelous counter to the invisibility of contemporary art by Native American and Indigenous peoples from across the continent. The exhibit at Intermedia Arts illuminates Indigenous peoples’ reclamation of spiritual traditions in a contemporary, often urban context.
Roberto Rivers’s mixed media collages of newspaper articles, photos of Zapatista figures, and stenciled slogans echo Jasper Johns’s 1960s paintings in style while feeling as immediate as tonight’s newscast. Daniel Lopez’s three extraordinary “untiled” paintings depict masked figures, one on horseback, in day-glo trialling colors, simultaneously ancient and modern. St. Paul’s’ Xilam Balam, Los Nativos band-menber and a founder of Anti-Columbus Day, has created flat orche, stoneware pieces that include a bird-man mask and seated figure evoking the Day of the Dead. They could be in a museum’s “ancient Native American art” collection.
|hear an interview with curator jerry lopez on friday, december 11th at 11 a.m. on catalyst: politics & culture, kfai radio, 90.3 fm/106.7 fm. live-streaming and archived for two weeks after broadcast at kfai.org.|
Arapaho/Kickapoo multi-media artist Missy Whitman presents a film that’s part music video, part documentary. Survival is Necessary remembers 19th century U.S. military genocidal assaults on Native Americans and 20th century boarding schools that practiced state-sponsored abuse against kidnapped Indian children, with Indigenous resistance and today’s traditional cultures revival. Spoken word artist Wahwahtay Benais chants this narrative with images of Benais walking a long road with young runners and a mysterious forest in a star-lit night, interposed with archival photographs.
Gustavo Lira’s profound and massive painting Return to Pachamana straddles boundaries of ancient and now with timeless imagery of a skeleton curled within a womb, surrounded by plants rendered like Matisse’s late 1950s “cut-outs.” Raul Herrera’s fascinating mixed-media box contains an early 1600s message: Cuauhtemoc’s Last Mandate. Herrera has imaginatively remembered what he calls his “pre-Columbian ancestry of Mexico” with an urgent message for today’s environmental and human rights crises.
Oscar Arredondo’s Welcome to Cleveland is a contemporary classic of political art that boldly takes on sports mascots stereotypes of American Indians. Transposing the infamous “Chief Wahoo” from the University of North Dakota into 18 logo-style “variations on a theme,” he challenges white denial with a searing use of the grotesque that packs a punch. Joel Martinez’s straightforward color and black and white photographs from Chiapis, Mexico fill a room: Life With Dignity documents rural peoples’ vitality amid poverty with quiet poignancy.
The exhibit opens with a painting from a mural by staff and students at St. Paul’s Multicultural Indigenous Academy, centered on Earth framed by a protest march on one side and faces of “the four races” on the other, a city rising above and an Aztec scene below. It’s a hopeful image the power of which is probably most realized on a building’s wall. Of the individual works by young artists, 17-year-old Dan Duran stands out with his joyous self portrait as a member of Danza Mexica Cuaultenuc.
The biggest surprise of the exhibit is the inclusion of an Indigenous people of Europe: the Sami people of Norway, Finland, Sweden, and the Kelo Peninsula of Russia. Minneapolis father and son artists Albin Seaberg and Kurt Seaberg extensively researched their roots in these non-Christian people who were traditionally hunter-gathers and were persecuted for centuries. Albin’s painting of “The Shaman” and Kurt’s wonderfully precise drawings, evoking 19th century family photos, give a glimpse of uncovered Scandanavian history.
A minority of adult artists’ work is amatuerish and devoid of content: Alice Mizachi’s childishly scrawled cityscapes on copper; Rebekah Crisanta’s inexplicable mylar cut-outs; Noel Vargas Hernandez’s doodle-like drawings that look like they were ripped from a bored high school student’s notebook. I also wish there’d been more English translations of Indigenous language titles of pieces, as well as, more text explaining some of the cultural references. But, these are minor flaws in an exhibit not to be missed. Even in the 21st century, the “original people” of this continent are usually seen through European-American lenses of romanticized images from a distant past, as a “problem people” in the present or most often, erased entirely from even being mentioned. This exhibit reveals that Indigenous peoples have not only survived but sustained a vision of resistance and renewal that all of us can be inspired by in these challenging times.