"Indigenous Strength and Wellness"
March 10 – June 4
Bainbridge Island Museum of Art , 550 Winslow Way E. Open: Wed-Mon 10am-4pm. Tue 10am-3pm. Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is free, open 7 days a week and a short walk from the ferry.
In Memory of Steve Charles.
Steve Charles, Curator of Sacred Circle Art Gallery from the late 1980s to 2002, pioneered solo exhibitions of many now highly regarded contemporary Indigenous artists some of whom are included in this exhibition. One example is Gail Tremblay (Mi’kmaq and Onondaga) also a curator of the exhibition with Robin Sigo (Suquamish) and Chief Curator Greg Robinson. Others famous artists you can see in this exhibition are Marvin Oliver (Quinault, Isleta Puebla and Laguna Puebla), Joe Feddersen (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Omak), John Feodorov (Mixed Navaho (Diné) and European), Preston Singletary (Tlingit), and Lillian Pitt (Wasco, Warm Springs and Yakama Nation).
“Indigenous Strength and Wellness” invites us to think about the huge contribution contemporary native tribes and artists are making to offering solutions to our current environment crises. Native peoples deeply understand our precious planet, its animals and plants, its intersections with humans and the threats facing us.
I will focus here primarily on artists with whom I am less familiar, all of whom demonstrate intriguing innovation in interpreting traditional media, forms and stories.
Totems are familiar to all of us, but the totems by Ed Archie NoiseCat (Canim Lake Band of Shuswap Indians and the Stlitlimx ) radically alter that format. We are all Wolves features an anguished steel mask/face on top of an abstract carving that suggests stressed animal forms. In “Scream” a monster-like black oil pipeline grabs an orca above and kills salmon below.
Linsey Logan (Tonawanda Seneca Nation) defiantly offers DAMNED Effigy, a washboard with a feather headdress, transforming into a mask. A mouth sewn up with red wire, fishing lures and other details suggest the abuse of the environment.
Masks appear in many guises. Jennifer Angaiak Wood (Yupik) drips ink over a mask/face in His X Mark. Giant ‘X” earrings and an antique pen headdress dramatize the dishonesty of mid nineteenth century treaty agreements with white colonizers. Linley Logan (Tonawanda, Seneca Nation) makes coyote masks out of recycled Clorox bottles!
Peg Deam (Suquamish) speaks to casino culture with her money vest woven from one dollar bills, George Washington prominently visible. Sacajawea gold dollars add another layer of irony. Indigenous casinos profit from white people’ vices then share the money in many good causes.
One of the most provocative younger artists is Alison Bremner (Tlingit). She dramatically places an imitation melting ice cream cone inside an historic cedar basket (of no value because it was damaged) suggesting our current condition comes from the ignorance and disrespect of historic practices.
The ever-original RYAN! Feddersen (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation) gives us Coyote and the Sea Monsters Yet to Slay, a long thin image of tiny people struggling to escape from inside a sea monster.
Other well-known artists are addressing our crisis ever more emphatically.
Joe Feddersen’s (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation) Purple Rain includes his familiar symbols of the outlines of electrical towers, but now even those are being assaulted by pollution from the sky, as horses gallop wildly away in the foreground.
John Feodorov addresses pollution on the Navaho reservation with Yellow Dirt, flat yellow squares evoking uranium as an ironic twist on the squares of Utopian modernist painting.
Corwin Clairmont (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes) depicts the devastation associated with the Alberta tar sands in a selection from his multipaneled installation “Tar Sand Two Headed Arrow, Gummy Bear.” Both photography of the destroyed environment, and symbolism, such as the two headed arrow, point to our current choices between extraction and life.
Don’t miss the Teachings of the Tree People near the end of the show. Small cedar squares designed by artists from over fifty different cultures all over the Pacific created a healing collaborative project for the House of Welcome-Evergreen Longhouse, Evergreen College.
Finally Finding our Way Home, a wall sculpture by Jennifer Angaiak Wood: a kayak carved from old growth cedar painted with the outline of a seal, and a sun surrounded by dried seal intestine. Angaiak Wood gives us a sense of peace and hope.
The exhibition includes ribbon shirts and beaded COVID masks by Suquamish artists, that were part of an Indigenous fashion show in April, as well as poetry readings, films, history, and dances.
On May 13 there will be an afternoon of Indigenous Stories and Performances.
~Susan Platt, PhD www.artandpoliticsnow.com