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The Arts
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.

Four art exhibitions along Native American Cultural Corridor to see
Thursday, January 07 2016
 
Written by Andrea Carlson,
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At this very moment there are four pride-inducing art exhibitions in South Minneapolis that are showcasing the rich and abundant visions of Native artists. On Friday, December 4th two exhibitions opened to the public, kicking off an Arts Crawl along Franklin Avenue’s American Indian Cultural Corridor.

Two Rivers Gallery and All My Relations Gallery are two galleries situated within earshot of each other. Further along Franklin Avenue the Minneapolis Institute of Art participated in the Arts Crawl by keeping the museum open late for a tour of the Native American galleries and for the exhibition “Arriving at Fresh Water.” Lastly, Intermedia Arts on Lyndale Avenue is hosting an exhibition titled “Dimensions of Indigenous: Storytelling.” Below is a potential art literary that can be used as a guide.

Stop 1: “What Brings Us Together”
Two Rivers Gallery, 1530 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis, MN.
Hrs: Monday – Tuesday: 10 am - 4 pm
On View: December 4 – January 19

native_art_tworivergalleryartcrawlsm.jpgAfter a several-year hiatus Two Rivers Gallery re-opened its door in May 2015 and is already turning out strong programming activities and exhibitions. “What Brings Us Together”, Two River’s current exhibition, is presented in partnership with the Minnesota Historical Society and features the photography of six teenage artists. Austin Verley, Wihinape Hunt, Esmarie Cariaga, Elizabeth Santana, Ivan Mckeithan and Lupe Thornhill committed ten Saturdays to developing bodies of work that range from intimate, domestic settings to political images of resistance.
About the Two Rivers Gallery’s distinctive programmatic offerings, Gallery Director Maggie Thompson said, “My dream is for it to become a hub for art and culture, a place where artists of all levels and of all ages are welcome.”
This dream isn’t a lofty vision of distant future plans for the space but is actively happening. Thompson said, “Right now we are partnered with the First Gift, where community members, mostly Native women, work together to craft baby moccasins for Native babies born at Children’s Hospital. This takes place every other Monday in the gallery. There is a community sewing bee once a month for Emily Johnson/Catalyst’s Stargazing Project in the space, where community members are coming together to hand stitch a 4,000 sq. ft. quilt for community stargazing and dance performance premiering in spring of 2017... And, we hope to be starting up an art space in the basement of the MAIC, providing a room for workshops and artists to have space to work after the new year. We are also interested in displaying, showing all forms of art, not just fine art, but dance, theater, music, spoken word, etc. We had a dance workshop with Maura Garcia and have held auditions for Missy Whiteman’s film ‘The Coyote Way.’”
Located in the Minneapolis American Indian Center, Two Rivers Gallery is well-situated for this welcoming model of inclusion and partnerships across fields and interests, after all the center was created with these ideas in mind. Creating a setting that is activated by participants is going to be the major strength of the gallery going forward.

Stop 2: “Re-riding History: From the Southern Plains to Matanzas Bay”
All My Relations Gallery , 1414 East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN.
Hrs: Tuesday – Friday: 10 am - 5 pm; Saturday: 11 am - 3 pm.
On View: December 4, 2015 – March 4, 2016

native_art_amrgartcrawlsm.jpgCurated by Emily Arthur, Marwin Begaye and John Hitchcock, Re-Riding History is a traveling exhibition where contemporary artists were invited to create works in the fashion of ledger art, an art form that sprung up in the face of horrific US policies of the forced removal and imprisonment of Native Americans.

The curatorial statement says that the project metaphorically retraces the history of seventy-two American Indian peoples who were forcibly taken from their homes in Salt Fork, Oklahoma, and transported by train to St. Augustine, Florida. The United States war department imprisoned Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, and Caddo leaders under Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt from 1875-1878.

Art Show Asemaa focuses on tobacco as a vessel that connects us
Thursday, December 03 2015
 
Written by Kristine Shotley,
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Painting by Jonathan ThunderArtists Carl Gawboy, Joyce LaPorte, Wendy Savage, Karen Savage-Blue, Vern Northrup, Jonathan Thunder, Charles Nahgahnub, Robin Bellanger and Larissa Greensky are part of the exhibit called “Asemaa”. In the Ojibwe language asemaa means tobacco, and many pieces that were showcased in the exhibit had that theme.

Wendy Savage, the curator of the show, painted a sacred tobacco pouch that was dedicated to family members that had passed on due to cancer, and it also represented her own recovery from the disease. Savage’s work also showcased her classic Ojibwe indigenous plant and berry designs of acrylic on wood.

Photographer Vern Northrup’s display had pictures of red willow, bear berry, dogwood (Red Ochre) and asemaa that he said his grandfather used to mix up to smoke in his pipe. Northrup’s grandfather would have him pick the plants from the woods and would tell him that tobacco alone was too strong, and so he would add the other plants to create what we call ‘kinnickinick’.

Carl Gawboy, who is famous for his watercolor paintings of traditional Ojibwe life, did a 3-D piece of acrylic on plywood (cut by Jay Newcombe) that shows two people canoeing with the sunset behind them, which is now in the possession of an individual collector. Gawboy also painted a picture of two men in a canoe, one of whom is offering asemaa into the lake.

The Asemaa poster for the exhibit was done by Karen Savage-Blue. Savage Blue had a gorgeous piece of the “Witch Tree” on Lake Superior in Grand Portage Minnesota.

Multi-medium artist Charles Nahgahnub displayed some stunning photographs of agates he had cut open, He used the sun and light-bending technology apps on his phone to create the photographs.

An artist new to me was Robin Bellanger, who used his personal life experiences and dreams to produce art that is rich with symbolism of growth and change.

Collectively, all the art had a common theme that asemaa is the vessel that connects us and to use tobacco as it was meant to be, returning it to its sacred purpose. All attendees were gifted our own asemaa plant to grow.

Sponsors are Clearway QUITPLAN, Fond du Lac Reservation, Min No Aya Win Health Services and American Indian Community Housing Services.

The exhibit runs until December 27 at Trepanier Hall, 202 West Second Street in Duluth, MN. Visitors must ask for admission at the front desk.

Views vary on inclusion of U.S. flag at Native cultural celebrations
Tuesday, November 03 2015
 
Written by Jon Lurie,
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Stephen Yellowhawk grew up on the powwow circuit, traveling across the United States and Canada with his family. As a young boy, this son the Lakota and Iroquois Nations was fascinated by the athletic, flashy style of the Fancy Dance (also known as Fancy War Dance), and the men who performed it wearing stunning, elaborate regalia: feather bustles, bells, roach rockers, beaded cuffs and moccasins. He would watch breathlessly as the dancers entered the arena following a color guard bearing eagle feather staffs and American flags. The Fancy Dance, young Stephen learned from his elders, was performed to honor the heroics and sacrifices of the warriors and veterans.

While other kids might have fantasized about hitting baseballs like Babe Ruth, Yellowhawk grew up emulating the legendary fancy dancers who invented the genre in the 1930s and 1940s. Men like Stephen Mopope (Kiowa), Dennis Rough Face (Ponca), Chester Lefthand (Arapaho), and George “Woogie” Watchetaker (Comanche); Elmer Sugar Brown, who added back flips to his fancy dancing; and Gus McDonald who added both cartwheels and splits.

Yellowhawk got his first opportunity to dance when he was barely old enough to ride a bike. That first powwow took place in Rapid City at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.  He still recalls the pride he felt dancing behind the flag-bearing veterans as they entered the arena during his initial grand entry.
“From the time I first became a fancy dancer I understood that I was honoring our warriors and our veterans, both past and present,” says Yellowhawk, who is now in his sixth year as president of the Black Hills Powwow Association. The Black Hills powwow, today one of the largest in the United States, takes place each October at the same Rapid City arena where Yellowhawk initially danced as a child.

“A lot of our people have put their lives on the line for this country,” Yellowhawk says. “We hold that in very high regard, which is why we always start our powwow by honoring the warriors. They are the ones who have fought to keep our culture alive, to give us the freedom to celebrate life, and to celebrate our culture.”

Yellowhawk and the other members of the powwow association stress that all are welcome to attend, a healing message for a city with a long history of racial strife. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Native, non–Native, what tribe you’re from, what part of this community, what part of this nation you’re from – everybody is welcome,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing regalia or not. If you just want to get out there and dance, you like the sound of the drum. You don’t have to be Native to come out and dance.”

The inclusive messaging draws many non-Indians the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. For some of these curious spectators, the powwow is their first exposure to authentic Native American culture. Inevitably, the impressive pageantry inspires questions. Among those most commonly asked is this: Why would Native Americans, people who have suffered hundreds of years of colonization and genocide, honor the U.S. military and the American flag at a cultural celebration?

Emmy Her Many Horses (Sicangu Lakota) has heard this question many times. Her Many Horses, who grew up on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, is renowned for performing the United States National Anthem in the Lakota language. Hundreds of Native American veterans have received copies of the translated Anthem on CD. In 2011 she was one of eleven Native American young people honored by President Obama as a “Champion of Change.”

Her Many Horses says the Anthem project has been motivated by a desire to honor those who have fought to “defend our people, and where we come from.” This includes, she says, Native people and other U.S. citizens.

She says there are a great many reasons why Native people choose to join the U.S. military, but that regardless of their motivation, they should be recognized for having served.

“For Native people there is a difficulty in trying to remain true to who we are from our tribal nations, and who we are in society today. For some, I think, they are seeking to be that warrior. For others, the military may be their best chance at getting away from their homes and finding opportunity. The military is also an opportunity that will help pay for school, allow travel, and teach new skills. Many are following a family tradition, a cultural tradition.”

The involvement of Native people in the military goes back hundreds of years. Considering Natives were involved in the American Revolution (and every subsequent U.S. war), indigenous people have been fighting for America since before it was a country.

According to the Department of Defense (in 2010) 22,569 enlisted service members, and 1,297 officers on active duty, were American Indian. Considering the population of the United States is approximately 1.4 percent Native, and the military is 1.7 percent Native, Indian people have the highest per-capita involvement of any population serving in the U.S. Military.

“I grew up in a community where I learned to respect those who made that choice to serve. We all were touched in some way by the military. We all have family who served. We all love someone who served,” Her Many Horses says.

Her Many Horses knows that the inclusion of patriotic expressions at Native cultural gatherings does not go over well with everyone. She says she has lost friends who objected to her Anthem project.
Joe Perez (Sicangu Lakota), a Minneapolis-based powwow MC, is among those Native people who would prefer not to see the U.S. flag flown over their traditional homelands. Perez compares his gut reaction to seeing the U.S. flag entering a powwow grounds to what he imagines a Jewish person might feel when viewing a swastika. “Our people have been so influenced by messages coming from the dominant culture that we fail to see the flag for what it is – a symbol of our own oppression,” he says.

Perez believes that Native people who embrace the U.S. flag suffer from a form of Stockholm syndrome, the psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with their captors.
“Of course, joining the military can be a legitimate way for Native people to become warriors,” he says. “If indigenous nations had our own militaries, however, joining the American military would be treasonous. You don’t have to join the military to be a warrior, you just have to contribute to the good of your people.”

Perez enjoys attending professional sporting events, such as the Minnesota Twins at Minneapolis’ Target Field. He refuses to stand when the National Anthem is played, which sounds, to his ears, incongruous in the land of his ancestors. He says it would be more appropriate to hear a prayer song honoring the sacred pipe.

“I remain seated because I’m a Lakota person being oppressed in my own homeland by foreign intruders,” he says. “They have no connection to this land, and yet they’re trying to make me sing their most patriotic song.”

The single father of 12 year-old Mariah teaches his daughter to stand at school during the Pledge of Allegiance “out of respect for her classmates,” but insists she must never recite the words as he believes the Pledge is a form of political indoctrination.

“People will think and say what they believe,” says Emmy Her Many Horses, who has heard every imaginable response to her National Anthem project. “We all have that right to do so. I made a choice to do something I cared about, for people I cared about,” she says.

As a child growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Von Gillette (Arikara/ Hidatsa/Lakota) remembers watching many powwows and swelling with pride as the flags were carried in. He associated the American flag and the uniformed veterans who brandished them with the military service of several close relatives, including his grandfather, father, and uncles.

“They would bring in the U.S. flag alongside the tribal flag and the POW/MIA flag. The three seemed to be working in conjunction. I didn’t really question it. I associated the flags with the veterans I knew. I thought of them as honorable, and so the U.S. flag was something I respected.”

As a ten-year-old, Gillette recalls the moment he began to question the actions of the U.S. military and the political leaders who wielded its massive power. “I watched on television as the U.S. military bombed the Iraqis, and something about it made me suspicious. I began to see a connection between what the military was doing in Iraq – seeking to take another nation’s oil resources – and what it had done to Native people.”

Gillette was further disillusioned by the stories elders told of the military invasion of his reservation during the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation. “U.S. law says the military cannot be deployed on U.S. soil against U.S. citizens. But that’s exactly what they did in 1973 when they surrounded Indian people – U.S. citizens – who were occupying their own land. I have never been able to make sense of that.”
As an adult Gillette settled in Saint Paul and established a successful business training athletes. He also began to take a more critical look at the actions of the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world as the War on Terror intensified following the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Towers.

Today, Gillette says, he is neither pro- nor anti-military, but has formed opinions based observation of the military’s actions. “What the U.S. military has done around the world in the past two decades has been disastrous. They have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. I don’t have any respect for that. But I don’t blame veterans; I blame the politicians in the White House. I have a lot of relatives who have served and I respect them absolutely. It gets confusing. But that doesn’t mean I have to have an all or nothing attitude.”

If it were up to him, the indigenous nations of America would cease raising the U.S. flag until the government follows through on its treaty obligations. Gillette wants to see the restoration of the Great Sioux Nation (as described in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868), the return of the Black Hills (which were removed from the Great Sioux Nation following the 1877 treaty), and an honoring of every other treaty signed by the United States.

“I have a hard time using a flag which pays tribute to a country that doesn’t uphold its basic legal agreements,” he says, at the same time expressing sympathy for those Native people who originally wove the flag into cultural gatherings.

Gillette says it was a matter of basic survival. “At one time powwows were illegal, but one of the ways you could have a powwow was to fly the U.S. flag; it was like a white flag of surrender that said: ‘Please don’t kill us while we practice our cultural traditions.’

"So I can understand how the American flag became part of the powwow culture,” Gillette says. “But I think its usage should be seriously reexamined, and I know a lot of Native Americans feel exactly the same as I do.”
 

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