The Art of Resistance
Wednesday, March 11 2015
Written by Deanna StandingCloud,
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the art of resistance 1-web.jpgArt is powerful. For Indigenous communities, art is medicine with incredible healing properties. It is a way to create beauty in the messy process of decolonization. It is also a means to educate, inspire and enliven Indigenous activist movements.

Minneapolis is no stranger to Indigenous activism, so the “Art of Resistance” exhibition opening on the American Indian Cultural Corridor’s All My Relations Gallery complemented the rich activist history in the Twin Cities. The traveling exhibit reflect over 30 years of environmental justice work of Honor the Earth, a national Native-led organization based in White Earth, Minn. Featuring 20 Indigenous local and national artists, the exhibit is only one aspect to a broader partnership and collaborative effort to engage Native activists in the Twin Cities.

The Native American Community Development Institute hosted a first of its kind “Community Art Night” inspired by the “Art of Resistance” on Feb. 9. Graci Horne, (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota) Associate Curator for All My Relations Gallery, was inspired by similar events during her time as a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Over 50 community members came together to share space, food and to create art together on small canvases to express their own activist work. NACDI Community Organizer Ashley Fairbanks (White Earth Ojibwe) shared insight about the event, “It’s important for our community to see this gallery as their space, as belonging to them.” Finished art pieces completed by community members will be featured on the “Mni Art Wall” appearing in Pow Wow Grounds Coffee Shop located next to the gallery.

One of the mainstays of Indigenous teachings is that at some point in Native lives, community members have a chance to be leaders and bring forth their own gifts and talents to benefit the community. Fairbanks believes the event is one way to help bring out our people’s strengths, “This is an opportunity for our community members who may not see themselves as artists a chance to see themselves in that lens and to see their work displayed.”

In the spirit of activism, the exhibit's youth work is designed to develop leadership roles, using art to reconnect the Native community with the sacred relationship to traditional tobacco. A partnership to that end is the development of Native youth leadership project through the arts. Lannesse Baker (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe), Native Youth Alliance of Minnesota Executive Director, developed a partnership with Honor the Earth Organizer and 2014 Bush Fellow Charlie Thayer (Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe) and ClearWay Minnesota Senior Community Development Manager CoCo Villaluz (Hidatsa) to co-facilitate a youth lead initiative.

As 2012 Creative Community Leadership Institute participants with Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis, Thayer and Villaluz began discussing an arts project to share with the American Indian community in the Twin Cities to promote well being. The genesis of this project was born from their conversations. Thayer understands the potential creativity has to make change in our community, “There is power in activism through art. Visual art plays an important role as it has the ability to stimulate and encourage a unifying perspective. When channeled as a vehicle, it carries issues of consciousness where it can be a catalyst for meaningful change.”

Upcoming Mural Projectthe art of resistance 2-web.jpg

The Native Youth Alliance of Minnesota was happy to host planning meetings that will ultimately lead to the installations of three new mural projects in the East Phillips community beginning in April 2015. Baker felt honored to be working with youth and community on this project, “It’s a powerful experience to work in partnership with youth and adults to co-create and co-lead a creative process to use art to improve positive presence in our community. We are hoping the community feels that these pieces belong to them and inspire them toward their own wellness.”

Native youth leaders participating in the project have connected quite naturally with one another and to the work itself. Sierra Villebrun (Bois Fort Ojibwe) is a junior at All Nations South High School shared her perspective on decolonizing through art, “The government keeps us secret because of everything that has happened in this country. We’re here to tell the world through our art that we’re still here and we’re here to tell the truth in a beautiful way.” In this way, art proves to raise the consciousness of Native culture.

Abel Martinez (Ho-Chunk) expressed his ideas as well, “We have a chance to educate people [with the murals] and have them learn things about our people they wouldn’t regularly learn about.”

Of the three murals painted, one will be on the First Nations Recovery Center, one on the Minneapolis American Indian Center and the third at Little Earth of United Tribes.

Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute), a contemporary Indigenous visual artist implementing the imagery of pop culture to challenge stereotypes of Native people, accepted the opportunity to lead the mural projects in the Twin Cities along with visual artist Cheyenne Randall (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe). He often utilizes classic images by applying modern artistic layers, inviting viewers into a new world one could only imagine.

Spending much time in Little Earth as a child, Randall is self-taught and has been deeply influenced by his late father, Robert Randall. He reflects upon his work, “There are times when I complete a piece and take a step back and feel a celestial collaboration with my father.” He feels he is continuing in his legacy, “My father’s goal was to work with youth and create murals one day.”

Deal and Randall will be working with members of the Minneapolis American Indian community to hear what it is they envision a healthy connection to tobacco and wellness and implement these concepts that emerge from listening sessions into the murals. In this way, these murals really do belong to the community.

Villaluz’s passion is to facilitate tribal communities through a process of reclaiming sacred relationship to tobacco. She believes strongly that through the arts, this is a powerful way to return to traditional teachings. “We come from a very unique place as Indigenous people and when we come together, our Ancestors are there with us.”

Top photo: Twin Cities Native American community members come together to share space and embrace creativity at the Community Art Night, inspired by "The Art of Resistance" exhibit at All My Relations Gallery from Feb. 17 to May 9. (Photo by Deanna StandingCloud)

Bottom photo: Finished canvases from NACDI's Art of Indigenous Resistance Community Art Night on Feb. 9. (Photo by Deanna StandingCloud)

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