When you think of your cultural and ethnic identity, is there a piece of cloth—a sown or painted tapestry, a beaded headband, a knitted cable sweater, a special quilt made by the matriarch in your family—that helps you honor and celebrate who you are? Cloth and/or textiles are often overlooked as key cultural touchstones in modern day society, but they are the focus of Maggie Thompson’s solo exhibition at All My Relations Gallery. She uses textiles to ask important questions about family, identity and culture. As a Native American woman (Fond du Lac Ojibwe), Thompson uses this show to “dig deeper into the notions of her identity focusing on issues of cultural appropriation and Native authenticity through the rigid ideas of blood quantum and stereotyping.”
Her show is socially powerful with hints of nostalgia, deep-rooted sadness, and an anger that bubbles up along the edges. All the pieces showcase Thompson’s talents when it comes to color, patterns, and fabric types. She also pushes boundaries when it comes to textiles incorporating multimedia elements—screen-printing photographs, gold and silver threads, foam cookie cutters, and also cornhusks and bottle caps.
The artist was initially an architectural student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), so there are elements of her weaving and knitting that certainly draw from this, like straight lines and geometric patterns intentionally building a whole from smaller parts. Thompson recalls feeling like an artist even when she was very young, long before her textile degree from RISD.
“I was always involved in the arts growing up, whether it was taking classes, going to museums, or just working at home with my mom,” she said. “In 4th grade I transferred to the Minnesota Waldorf School, and it was there that I first learned how to knit in my handworking class.”
She later graduated from the Perpich Center for Arts Education high school, but college was where she realized, “I had a story to tell and therefore I felt compelled to reach out to people to start dialogue through art.”
The opening reception for Where I Fit last week featured a live mannequin on a pedestal modeling a piece of clothing created to conjure a jingle dress and also exotic dancewear. To interact with the model was to feel seduced, but to also realize the cultural prostitution that is placed upon Native American women. The title, “Pocahotness,” was derived from a nickname that some college friends gave Thompson at school. A number of pieces in the exhibit that speak to the stereotype of the “authentic Indian.”
Some touching and personal works come from Thompson’s relationship to her father. She said that she’s compelled to create works that deal with saying good-bye, mourning, letting go and being. Finding where she fits. “My art helps me to sort out things I have a hard time talking about, and helps to channel my energy.”
The gallery at All My Relations Arts “honors and strengthens relationships between contemporary American Indian artists and the living influence of preceding generations.” It is an arts & cultural project of the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI). The gallery shares the building with the administrative offices of NACDI and also a coffee shop.
Jay Bad Heart Bull, president & CEO of NACDI, ensures it’s a welcoming space for all and greeted guests as they arrived for the show’s opening reception as though everyone was an old friend. Dyani White Hawk Polk, arts project manager for the organization, introduced the artist and the show. She noted that Maggie Thompson initially submitted a piece, “The Weight on my Shoulders” to be juried at an earlier show, “Ded Unk’unpi/We Are Here,” and that piece was then purchased by the Minnesota Historical Society to be part of their permanent collection.
A gallery talk with the featured artist is coming up on Friday, March 14 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the All My Relations Gallery.
A panel discussion on authenticity, appropriation, and the arts is scheduled for Friday, April 25, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., also at the gallery. Panelists include artist Maggie Thompson, local writer Sasha Houston Brown, and founder of Beyond Buckskin Boutique, Dr. Jessica Metcalfe.
This show is not to be missed. If you haven’t been to All My Relations on the American Indian Cultural Corridor in Minneapolis, or even if you have—the time to go (again) is now. You’ll be compelled to reflect on your own cultural heritage, relationship with parents, and where you fit amongst it all.