Prepare to be delighted and overwhelmed! As you enter the huge exhibition of contemporary Indigenous art on view at the new art space ARTS at King Street Station, the first work you see is an accumulation of objects hanging over the front desk by Catherine Cross Uehara (Uchinanchu/Hapa/Okinaway American) “between you & me & the Ancestors...” It includes photographs of her ancestors, a wedding dress kimono, memorabilia and much more.
Turn around and on the opposite wall is an archival film of the famous Vi Hilbert, (Upper Skagit) who singlehandedly saved the Lushootseed language from extinction, encouraging a community audience to “lift the sky” together. In her telling: “The Creator has left the sky too low. We are going to have to do something about it, and how can we do that when we do not have a common language? ...We can all learn one word, that is all we need. That word is yəhaw̓—that means to proceed, to go forward, to do it.”
So, go forward and plunge into the exhibition of 200 artists from 100 tribes. The curators, Asia Tail (Cherokee), Tracy Rector (Choctaw/Seminole) and Sapreet Kahlon, accepted all indigenous submissions. They include children and elders, professional artists and beginners, all media from traditional cedar, bead work and dolls to digital and audio. We see sculpture, painting, photography, printmaking, text, cartoons, games, performance, skateboard, maps. There are all styles from realism to surrealism, to abstraction, to traditional, but mainly there are many mixes as well as approaches that need new names, rather than these tired Euro-American terms.
To enjoy the exhibition simply embrace its mind-expanding diversity, then immerse yourself in one wall at a time, each a compact exhibition. But the exhibition works as a whole as well. Large paintings and sculpture of all sizes animate the large space. Gaps between the walls allow a view through to another part of the exhibition.
Timothy White Eagle (White Mountain Apache), performance: “Songs for the Standing Still People”
Timothy White Eagle (White Mountain Apache) performed “Songs for the Standing Still People” within a space hung with jingles and chains that we are all encouraged to shake to create our own music. He called us to action against the “vast forces” that “will ravage us if we do not act” though a story of rocks that came together and changed the world.
Traditional indigenous media mix with contemporary media throughout the entire exhibition. Cedar hats demonstrate stunning dexterity and expertise by Kimberly Miller (Skokomish), Nancy Burgess (Grand Ronde/Umqua/Dakota), Roquin-Jan Quichocho Siangco (CHamoru) and Celeste Whitewolf (Cayuse/Nez Perce/Nisqually/Pitt River’Karuk’Hawai’ian/Confederate Tribes of Umatilla).
Hanging in the stairwell is a mixed media homage to weaving by Sara Siestreem (Hanis Coos/Confederated Tribes of Coos/Lower Umpqua/Siuslaw) “Eagle Machine dancing the beautiful.” It combines a cotton wood bark skirt with her photographs and mixed media references to indigenous history.
Other favorites include: Maureen Gruber’s (Inuvíaluít) “Colonial Shopping Cart” made from a large Hudson’s Bay bag and lined with fur; Adam Sings in the Timber’s (Apsáalooke) photographs of young women in regalia re-asserting indigenous presence in various locations in Seattle; Susan Ringstad-Emery’s (Iñupiat) Nalukatuq, 9 foot banner with a little girl tossing a star back into the sky (based on a folk tale), and celebrating children as the future of change; Priscilla Dobler’s (Mayan) “El renacimiento de la Sociedad: The rebirth of society” in the stairwell, commentary on traditional Mayan embroidery as its threads unravel into a contemporary geometric enclosure; Jacob Johns’s (Hopi) “Water is Life” banner that speaks of freeing the Snake River, a reference to our threatened salmon and orcas because of the many dams on the Snake.
HollyAnna “CougarTracks” de Coteau Littlebull (Yakama*/Nez Perce/Cayuse/Cree), “BigFoot Lifts the Sky” (back view)
One of the most striking works is by HollyAnna “Cougar Tracks” de Coteau Littlebull (Yamama/Nez Perce/Cayuse/Cree) who upcycled 15,190 pieces of plastic to create a twelve by three foot “Big Foot” who “Lifts the Sky.”
The representation of elders in paintings and sculpture like “Ode to Ramona Bennett” by Taylor Dean (Puyallup) and the carved wood portrait mask of Vi Hilbert by Taylor Wily Krise (Squaxin), spiritually imbue the entire exhibition with their powerful spirits.
In addition to this huge exhibition there is a series of three Latinx/indigenous exhibitions at the Vermillion Café. The year-long exhibit also encourages new native curators at many venues, workshops for young native artists, films, and much more.
ARTS at King Street Station covers 7500 square feet, sponsored by the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture (ARTS) whose offices are in the same space. ARTS is dedicated to supporting and exhibiting people of color. Located at 303 S Jackson Street, it is open Tuesday to Saturday 10am–6pm and First Thursdays 10am–8pm.