The Arts
Arts helps develop personal identities and talents
Monday, January 09 2017
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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tworiversgallery.jpgThe new year is starting with a strong emphasis on helping young Native people develop and define their own identities while advancing their artistic talents through photography and storytelling. Until Jan. 27, six Twin Cities high school students have large photographs in an exhibition at the Two Rivers Gallery located in the Minneapolis American Indian Center.

Mazinaakizige: American Indian Teen Photography Project is an internship and training collaboration between the Minnesota Historical Society and PATCkids. Details were being worked out in late December for the artistic photo collection to become a traveling exhibit, said Two Rivers executive director Maggie Thompson.

Separately, young students in the Duluth area have also turned to cameras to hone artistic skills and storytelling talents for a 2017 calendar, “Through Our Eyes.” It partly serves as a fundraiser for the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) that has several housing programs for urban Native Americans in Duluth.

AICHO sells the 13-month calendars for $15 each, plus $5 for shipping and handling; and it does offer bulk rates for large orders.   
Calendar sales mostly cover costs of production and printing, said Michelle LeBeau, AICHO’s development director. That, in turn, helps AICHO to work with young people from its housing programs to develop their talents and self-esteem, and realize their own strenths as well as their cultural strengths, she said.

Kristine Sorensen, an educator with the St. Paul-based In-Progress group that mentored the Duluth young people, said there are “two-fold” objectives behind the annual photography, storytelling and calendar project. It does build young peoples’ self-identify, she said, and it allows some of the young people to develop marketable skills that could lead to careers in various media and visual arts.  

That is the strikingly obvious connection of present and future opportunities for the students whose works are on display at Two Rivers Gallery. The student artists participating in the exhibit include: Joe Ettawageshik, a freshman at Breck School in Golden Valley from the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa (Upper Peninsula of Michigan); Amoreina Espinosa, a sophomore at Twin Cities Academy in St. Paul, who descends from the Aztec of Mexico and the Red Lake and White Earth Ojibwe cultures; Angel Swann, a senior at Armstrong High School in Robbinsdale who traces her culture to the White Earth Nation; Marco Hunt, a senior at Breck School who traces his origins to Ho-Chunk, Oglala Lakota and Buffalo Clan Ojibwe from Leech Lake; Nolan Berglund, a sophomore at Harding High School in St. Paul, a descendant of Northern Cheyenne (Lame Deer, Mont.) and Oglala Lakota (Pine Ridge, S.D.); and Shaw Handley, a student at Fair Senior High School in Minneapolis. He is originally from Rapid City, S.D., and traces his origins to the Sicangu Lakota at the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

In biographical information accompanying their art at Two Rivers Gallery, Berglund said he thought of how the medicine wheel represents four stages of life – infancy, adolescence, adulthood and “elderhood.” “Each of my photos express the stages of life and how throughout the stages we gain knowledge that guides us down the right path...,” he wrote.

The Minnesota Historical Society said the name of the project, Mazinaakizige, can be loosely translated from Ojibwe to mean “one (or he or she) take picture.”

How encompassing this art form can be is expressed in the biographical material from Marco Hunt. He said he was inspired by the portraiture on school walls. In joining the program, he said, “I learned how to photograph subjects that move rather than still life alone, as I was doing in the past.

“I hope the audience is able to see the relationship with the photo, to understand that it is okay to lean on your friends for support, and to strengthen those connections,” he said.

For information about the Two Rivers Gallery exhibit and the Mazinaakizige: American Indian Teen Photography Project, check websites:

For information on the American Indian Community Housing Organization, its youth photography project, and how to order 2017 calendars, check these websites:

Native Documentary Shorts Screening
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Catherine,
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In Progress and the Sundance Institute will show a curated selection of Native short documentaries by Sundance Film Festival alumni. The films represent a diversity of tribal nations, with films exploring Native identity and cultural evolution in a rapidly changing world.
The Sundance Institute Native and Indigenous Program staff will also have a discussion with filmmaker Billy Luther about his work and the art of documentary filmmaking.

Films that will be Screened include:
• Nikamowin (Kevin Lee Burton, Swampy Cree). This experimental work plays with the human connection to language to make a statement about the loss of Native languages.
• Mobilize (Caroline Monnet, Algonquin). Guided expertly by those who live on the land and driven by the pulse of the natural world, Mobilize takes veiwers on an exhilarating journey from the far north to the urban south. Hands swiftly thread sinew through snowshoes. Axes expertly peel birch bark to make a canoe. A master paddler navigates icy white waters. In the city, Mohawk ironworkers stroll across steel girders, almost touching the sky, and a young woman asserts her place among the towers. The fearless polar punk rhythms of Tanya Tagaq’s Uja underscore the perpetual negotiation between the modern and traditional by a people always moving forward.
• Jáaji Approx (Sky Hopinka, Ho-Chunk and Pechanga). Against images of landscapes that he and his father once traversed, filmmaker Sky Hopinka overlays audio recordings of his father speaking in the Ho-Chunk language which is then transcribed using the International Phonetic Alphabet, narrowing the distance between recorder and recordings, new and traditional, memory and song.
• Natchiliagniaqtuguk Aapagulu/Seal Hunting With Dad (Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, Iñupiaq). An Iñupiaq father teaches his son to hunt seals on the frozen Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska.
• Red Lake (Billy Luther, Diné/Hopi/Laguna Pueblo). In 2005 the Red Lake Indian Reservation was at the center of national media attention after a devastating mass school shooting. Ten years later, survivors continue to heal long after the national spotlight has faded.
For more information about Sundance Institute Native and Indigenous Program and In Progress:;

The event will take place on July 15, from 6-8 p.m and includes a reception following the program.
Free and open to the public, at In Progress, 213 Front Avenue, in Saint Paul. RSVP by July 11 at:

Native community pushes back against Scott Seekins’ art
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Katie spielberge/TC daily planet,
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seekinswithhisart.jpg“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.

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.

“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.

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.

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.”

Art review – On Borrowed Time: Postponing the Inevitable
Friday, August 05 2016
Written by Andrea Carlson,
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fragmentsdetail.jpgMaggie Thompson’s solo exhibition “On Borrowed Time: Postponing the Inevitable” opened at the Textile Center in Minneapolis May 12th with a packed reception and an artist’s talk. The exhibition is comprised of works that range widely in materials and scale, but are unified by addressing the complexity of loss.
These objects push and pull and are beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time. With the aid of an exhibition statement the viewer is given a context: in 2014 Thompson lost her father due to pancreatic cancer.

Thompson’s work tends towards focusing intellectually on the things that can’t be fixed or the things beyond one’s control. By contrast Thompson’s process seems controlled and laborious, as if to allow for contemplation in an impossible situation. Many piece in On Borrowed Time reference her father’s sensitive observations and wisdom.

On the didactic for her piece Fragments (2016) Thompson writes, “When I was in college my Dad told me to look at the sunset whenever I missed him and now it is something I try to do in my daily practice. Since loosing my dad, one of my biggest fears has been of forgetting; forgetting all those special moments and details.”
Fragments is a blanket, or comforter, lightly arranged on a bed. The top of the blanket is constructed with a mosaic of photographs of sunsets mounted to foam core that has been cut into diamonds and pieced back together. The expression of the anguish in this piece is immediate and haunting.

grieving.jpgThompson’s material choices are deliberate and inextricably linked to her meaning. For example, Thompson’s piece Faces (2016) utilizes tissue-thin hospital blankets arranged and pin-tucked to create listless faces in the pleats as the work hangs against the wall. The wall text explains that while in recovery from one of his medical procedures, Thompson’s father had pointed out that the blankets bunched and folded on his hospital bed appeared to have faces the mirrored the mourning faces of those friends and family surrounding him. This shroud seems to fix onto her father’s observation into an  object.

Anchored in the middle of the gallery is a body bag emblazoned with a large star-quilt pattern. It lies horizontally and appears to hover while overlapping a pedestal. During her artist talk, Thompson explained that this piece titled For Love Alone (2016) is a difficult for her to address as it is attached to emotions around the finality of loosing her father.

The evening her father died she remembered seeing a dull, sterile body bag being delivered to his room. She had imagined that object enveloping all that she had loved and lost, without ceremony. The resultant piece is a hand-pieced eight-point star quilt constructed of vinyl and sewn into the form of a body bag. The pattern and colors that inform the piece reference a quilt that her mother had made her father as a wedding gift. Star blankets pragmatically give comfort, warmth and retain energy, but for the maker, they are meditative, loving gestures of care and embrace.

inloss2.jpgBut Thompson isn’t making objects as a way to make her loss symbolic or allegorical. Thompson avoids making broad declarations about loss, and she isn’t offering her audience advice, remedies or world views on the meaning of life and death.

By contrast, she humbly owns her experience as personal and individual. Referring to In Loss (2015), Thompson states, “Grief is a highly personal experience in that every individual’s process is unique.” This piece is a large weaving that combines two large self-portraits of the artist, abstracting and fragmenting Thompson’s face, “in order to demonstrate a heightened experience of hysteria and anxiety, overwhelming the viewer.”  

Maggie Thompson’s exhibition On Borrowed Time: Postponing the Inevitable is on view through June 25th at the Textile Center, 3000 University Avenue SE, in Minneapolis.

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.

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