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The Arts
Film Review: Songs My Brothers Taught Me
Tuesday, April 05 2016
 
Written by Andrea Carlson,
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On March 11th The Walker Art Center hosted the Twin Cities premiere of Chloe Zhao’s debut feature, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” a quiet story set against the backdrop of Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The film tightly follows the tender relationship of eleven-year-old Jashaun Winters (Jashaun St. John) and her older brother Johnny (John Reddy). In the wake of the death of their estranged, bull-riding father, Johnny’s secret plan to leave the reservation for Los Angeles with his girlfriend becomes more attainable. He buys his late father’s truck and his situation becomes more violent as his side-job of bootlegging alcohol reaches an impasse. For all of the reasons he needs to leave, leaving Jashaun looms as an increasingly cruel intent.

“Songs My Brothers Taught Me” is subtile storytelling told through portraiture. Although the story opens and ends with Johnny’s first-person voice over, the story is demonstrative and shown, not told. There are no overt explanation that alcohol is illegal on Pine Ridge, Johnny is warned about “the protests” and Johnny is beaten, but Zhao isn’t interceding and offering up a textbook history lesson for her characters’ situation. The story doesn’t take on the responsibility of educating white people. This is an important and surprising nuance of the film. So many films that focus a lens on reservation life are in the business of offering up explanations and elucidating Natives for an outsider’s eye. That is because many films about Native people are usually made for a non-Native market.

In 2002 Native Amerian director Chris Eyre pointed out a big problem with Natives on film. Native people rented movies but often didn’t have access to theaters on many reservations. He premiered his film “Skins” at Pine Ridge from a mobile theater that sat one hundred people in a semi-truck as part of the film’s “Rolling Rez Tour.” Eyre had filmed “Skins” entirely on Pine Ridge and wanted to make sure the people could see his film first... for free. Although many films have been made on or about Pine Ridge, the Lakota community there had no theater until 2012 when the Nunpa Theatre (nunpa means two in Lakota) was opened. A small victory resides in the fact that “Song My Brothers Taught Me” is showing at Nunpa Theatre in the community where it was produced.

The film also features some very insightful, nuanced perspectives that no-doubt reflect on Zhao’s capacity for quickly adapting to communities. Her work has been compared to Terrence Malick for its pacing, quietness and beauty. But, unlike Malick, who directed The New World (2005) a film about John Smith and Pocahontas, Zhao created a contemporary portrait, a deeply thoughtful film that doesn’t perpetuate the idea that Native people belong to a romantic, idealized past, but that we belong, create and thrive today.

Much of the story relies on characters teetering on the edged of two states. Irene Bedard, the voice of Disney’s Pocahontas who also played Pocahontas’ mother in Malick’s The New World, plays the role of Lisa Winters, the repentant alcoholic mother of Johnny and Jashaun. Lisa seeks redemption in church looking for a heavenly father for her fatherless children, while Johnny and Jashaun walk the cathedrals of the Black Hills. The landscape is a character in this film, the tight framing on the characters faces in interior spaces is opened up in the instances where the landscape floods in. This also seems Malick-esque.

Another angle to the inside/outside community element of this film’s production is that the director, Chloé Zhao is Chinese-American filmmaker who immigrated to the United States by herself when she was fourteen years old. She spent four years making Songs My Brothers Taught Me and adapting to the community. Many directors hop from community to community seeing places as slates for films, yet not being fully vested in any one community. Zhao’s next film may be telling as to what themes and patterns she establishes over her career, and I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

Film Review: SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME
Tuesday, March 15 2016
 
Written by Andrea Carlson,
Average user rating    (0 vote)

songs-my-brother_taught-me-film.jpgOn March 11th The Walker Art Center hosted the Twin Cities premiere of Chloe Zhao's debut feature, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” a quiet story set against the backdrop of Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The film tightly follows the tender relationship of eleven-year-old Jashaun Winters (Jashaun St. John) and her older brother Johnny (John Reddy). In the wake of the death of their estranged, bull-riding father, Johnny's secret plan to leave the reservation for Los Angeles with his girlfriend becomes more attainable. He buys his late father's truck and his situation becomes more violent as his side-job of bootlegging alcohol reaches an impasse. For all of the reasons he needs to leave, leaving Jashaun looms as an increasingly cruel intent.

“Songs My Brothers Taught Me” is subtile storytelling told through portraiture. Although the story opens and ends with Johnny's first-person voice over, the story is demonstrative and shown, not told. There are no overt explanation that alcohol is illegal on Pine Ridge, Johnny is warned about “the protests” and Johnny is beaten, but Zhao isn't interceding and offering up a textbook history lesson for her characters' situation. The story doesn't take on the responsibility of educating white people. This is an important and surprising nuance of the film. So many films that focus a lens on reservation life are in the business of offering up explanations and elucidating Natives for an outsider's eye. That is because many films about Native people are usually made for a non-Native market.

In 2002 director Chris Eyre pointed out a big problem with Natives on film. Native people rented movies but often didn't have access to theaters on many reservations. He premiered his film “Skins” at Pine Ridge from a mobile theater that sat one hundred people in a semi-truck as part of the film's “Rolling Rez Tour.” Eyre had filmed “Skins” entirely on Pine Ridge and wanted to make sure the people could see his film first... for free. Although many films have been made on or about Pine Ridge, the Lakota community there had no theater until 2012 when the Nunpa Theatre (nunpa means two in Lakota) was opened. A small victory resides in the fact that “Song My Brothers Taught Me” is showing at Nunpa Theatre in the community where it was produced.

The film also features some very insightful, nuanced perspectives that no-doubt reflect on Zhao's capacity for quickly adapting to communities. Her work has been compared to Terrence Malick for its pacing, quietness and beauty. But, unlike Malick, who directed The New World (2005) a film about John Smith and Pocahontas, Zhao created a contemporary portrait, a deeply thoughtful film that doesn't perpetuate the idea that Native people belong to a romantic, idealized past, but that we belong, create and thrive today.

Much of the story relies on characters teetering on the edged of two states. Irene Bedard, the voice of Disney's Pocahontas who also played Pocahontas' mother in Malick's The New World, plays the role of Lisa Winters, the repentant alcoholic mother of Johnny and Jashaun. Lisa seeks redemption in church looking for a heavenly father for her fatherless children, while Johnny and Jashaun walk the cathedrals of the Black Hills. The landscape is a character in this film, the tight framing of on the characters faces in interior spaces is opened up in the instances where the landscape floods in. This also seems Malick-esque.

Another angle to the inside/outside community element of this film's production is that the director, Chloé Zhao is Chinese-American filmmaker who immigrated to the United States by herself when she was fourteen years old. She spent four years making Songs My Brothers Taught Me and adapting to the community. Many directors hop from community to community seeing places as slates for films, yet not being fully vested in any one community. Zhao's next film may be telling as to what themes and patterns she establishes over her career, and I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.


Native women’s “Sinew” art exhibit defies stereotypes
Tuesday, March 08 2016
 
Written by Andrea Carlson,
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sinew-exhibit-erdrich.jpg1992 marked the quincentennial of Columbus’s 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 they’ve 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 context.

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 I’ve 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 garden’s 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 lion’s 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 Pallas Erdrich.”

Artist interview: painter and flute-maker Jeffery Chapman
Friday, February 05 2016
 
Written by Andrea Carlson,
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chapmanwindowweb.jpgJeffrey Chapman (Ojibwe) is a Minneapolis-based artist, flute maker, art historian and teacher. His artwork sits between two worlds: complexity and simplicity, humorous and serious, inside and outside. I sat down with Mr. Chapman to talk about his work.

AC: First off, your watercolors are surreal. Wood grain panels becomes silhouettes, animals and elders are peering around walls. I’d argue that the surreal aspects are uncanny, unsettling yet funny. I think it might be called “Dark Humor.” Would you agree?
JC: You’ve got it perfectly... can we go have lunch now?
AC: No! But would you agree? I mean, I think some of your work is scarey as hell.
JC: I’ve always been inspired by René Magritte. I love surrealism because it goes beyond the immediacy of knowing what an object is, and where it comes from and how it’s used. Realism is all great. If you can do something photographically realistic, that’s wonderful. Abstract art relies more on experiencing it, because you are in front of it and that is what it is. But with Surrealism, there’s always a narrative involved. Narrative work requires you to create a narrative in either in your own mind, or maybe you hear the original artist’s story, but it takes you somewhere else. Any time you have something that is figurative there is always another story within it. My stuff is narrative and surreal... but windows aren’t always windows and doors aren’t always doors. There are multiple meanings to all those things, like silhouettes and animals. For example, what is a window...? You can see from the inside out, the outside in.
AC: It is a border of sorts.
JC: It is! And it’s a transition point. Doors don’t only keep you out, or keep out other things, they’re symbolic of a transition between two states. Even stairways are symbolic of ascension, and a lot of Native people use that. If you look at the work of Hopi people for instance, you’ll see ladders. They are symbolic for ascending or descending into something else. So, when I use a window or a door or a highway or whatever, it’s about multiple ideas. I try not to give people too much of an idea of what these things could be, because you might ruin it for people. Because they might see what they need to see. For example, you see something scary looking in this window.
AC: Yes, well... I feel like I’m on the outside of the house and there is a broken window with reflections of trees. This mask appears to be looking out from within house at me... right?
JC: Or conversely, it can be the other way around. Based on what side of that barrier you are on.
AC: This presents a kind of denial. Your context is either a window or door, but your framework doesn’t offer a context to whether or not your viewer is inside or outside.
JC: It is ephemeral, but it’s painted like that for a reason. If I connected the window to an actual wall or siding, it would change the context. This allows you a mental mobility to go to either side, either you are inside or outside. You’re looking in on him and he is looking in on you. But, that piece is Grandma’s House. And the sad thing is my grandma never had a door that nice. When she would leave the house she would put a car tire on the door. That’s how she would lock up. That’s how you knew she wasn’t home, because there was a tire on the front of the door. And sometimes she would sneak the tire in front of the door when she was actually home so she wouldn’t be bothered. And you’d think, “Oh, the car tire is there, she must be out.”
AC: That appears to be one of your motifs, or something you’ve made symbolic: a shared experience of a stressed socio-political state and low economic standings amongst us. Economic disadvantage in your works, like “Check’s in the Mail” or “Fast Food”, appear to be commenting on a disadvantaged economic standing... but the work is also funny.
JC: You have to. That goes hand and hand with being Native. I did an interview one time after an exhibition on Indian Humor and I was asked about that show. And the interviewer asked me, “Do Indian people laugh?”

Photography exhibit features rare portraits of Red Lake people
Thursday, January 07 2016
 
Written by Brenda Child and Joseph Whitson,
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redlakeexhibitphotosm.jpgSinging Our History: People and Places of the Red Lake Nation, will be at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota from January 19-February 13, 2016. There will be an opening Reception and Drum on Saturday, January 23 from 6 until 9 pm, featuring Ojibwe foods and culture.

The exhibition explores the many ways the Red Lake Nation has been and continues to be portrayed by artists and members of its communities through art and photography.

The exhibit is a collaboration between the Red Lake Ojibwe community and faculty and graduate students in the Department of American Studies. It features rare portraits of Red Lake people taken by Jerome Liebling in the 1950s, in addition to dozens of familiar images by the photojournalist, Charles Brill.

Jerome Liebling (1924-2011) photographed the people of Minnesota for two decades, beginning in 1949. Meatpacking plants, the state capital in session, homes for the disabled, the immigrant neighborhoods of St. Paul’s west side, and the Red Lake Ojibwe Reservation were each sites for  his purposeful photography.  His images have been collected by major art museums.

The first Professor of Photography in the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota, Liebling grew up in Brooklyn. Still in his late twenties when he first visited Red Lake, Liebling was deeply impressed by their people, culture, and unique political history, which remained an unalloted reservation closed to white settlement. He commented at the time, “Its setting was beautiful, but poverty was everywhere.”

Liebling portrayed Ojibwe people in ways that were dignifying, and used the opportunity to make visible a statement about poverty and social injustice in rural America, this time in Indian Country.

As Liebling said of his career, “My sympathies remained more with the folk who had to struggle to stay even, whose voices were often excluded from the general discourse.”

Charles Brill (1932-2003) was a pioneering photojournalist best known for his photography of American Indians at the Red Lake Reservation in the 1960s and ‘70s. The first photojournalist to graduate from the University of Minnesota, Brill worked for the Minneapolis Star Tribune before joining the faculty at Kent State University where he taught for the remainder of his career.

First arriving in Red Lake to photograph the annual powwow in 1964, Brill returned to the community many times over the following decades, resulting in the publication of his book “Indian and Free” in 1974 by the University of Minnesota Press.

The homeland of the Red Lake people is in northern Minnesota, and notable for never having sold or allotted their approximately 800,000 acres of land and water. The tribe is now involved in the project of constitutional reform, with a referendum expected in November, 2016.

he Singing Our History exhibit is an extension of the current interest at Red Lake in deepening their exploration of history, including the early constitutions. The exhibit features Liebling’s portrait of Peter Graves, the political leader associated with the first constitution. The exhibit will be permanently installed in the new tribal council and college buildings at a later date.

Today, the twin-cities metropolitan community is home to many Red Lake citizens and their families. Extending far beyond Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota, Red Lake is a nation of Ojibwe people represented by communities throughout the state. All tribal citizens, regardless of residence, are eligible to participate in discussions and vote on the new constitution.

The exhibition weaves together the works of photographers in addition to Red Lake artists. Significantly, a private collector, the Minnesota Museum of Art, and the Minnesota Historical Society have loaned a number of paintings by Patrick Desjarlait (1921-1972) to the exhibit and his masterpiece, Red Lake Fishermen, 1946 will be featured.

As Desjarlait said, “I have always wanted to show others the interest and pride that the Chippewa take in their families, their ceremonies, and their environment.”

The Katherine E. Nash Gallery presents a portrait of contemporary Red Lake life for Ojibwe communities both on and off of the reservation. Accordingly, the exhibit will also feature art produced by a younger generation of Red Lake Nation members. Visitors, especially Ojibwe people and families of the artists and those photographed by the artists, are invited to participate in the ongoing narratives explored in the gallery, by adding their stories and pictures to the exhibition through a Workshop space in the gallery.

Gallery hours are 11 am to 7 pm, Tuesday through Saturday at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery, Regis Center for Art, University of Minnesota, 405 21st Avenue South, Minneapolis, 612/624-7530. Parking is available nearby on the street and at the 21st Avenue ramp. The parking ramp and the Regis Center for Art and gallery are wheelchair-accessible.

Exhibitions and related events are free and open to the public.

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