Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3
Contemporary Native art that defies containment
by Stephanie Douglass
From the July, 2014 issue
A Louis Vuitton quiver and a dream catcher bra.
Translucent coyotes spun from packaging tape.
And, coiled like a white snake, a MacBook Pro power cord beaded with a peyote stitch.
Created by contemporary Native artists, these works indicate a desire to boldly traverse cultural boundaries, to join tradition with modern life. This impulse defines the more than 130 works on display in the current UMMA exhibit Changing Hands: Art Without Reservation 3. The exhibit contains a variety of media, from site-specific installations to films to woven baskets and more, offering a broad look at present-day art by members of indigenous peoples from the eastern United States and Canada, including Native Americans, First Nations, Metis, and Inuit.
Curated by Ellen Taubman, the exhibit premiered in 2012 at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City and has since visited several museums throughout the U.S. and Canada. As the title indicates, it's the third in a series of exhibitions of Native art; the first exhibit focused on artists from the Southwest, and the second on the West, Northwest, and Pacific regions.
The current exhibit is organized into three thematic sections. In "Historical Provocation/Decoding History," the works are concerned with asserting authentic cultural identities following centuries of assimilation and marginalization. The Cree artist Kent Monkman's Shooting Geronimo (2007)--a marvelous silent short film set in the Old West--depicts a filmmaker (a white colonizer) who directs two Natives to act "Indian" for the Western he is shooting. As the fictional filmmaker pats his mouth and skips in circles, he fails to notice the arrival of a Lone Rider arrayed in platform heels and the aforementioned dream catcher bra--a camp embodiment of the Native trickster who queers the power dynamic between the filmmaker and Natives.
The section "Natural Selection" features works made of natural materials as well as representations of geographies and animals. Included here is that pack of translucent coyotes, a vertically suspended 2012 sculpture by the Toronto-based Metis artist David Hannan. Just as
dazzling is Prophecy II (2012), a sculpture crafted from fourteen-karat gold beads that depicts the waters of Niagara Falls flowing backward and upward, the vision of Samuel Thomas, a member of the Lower Cayuga band in Ontario.
The section "Evolution and Exploration" examines how modern Native artists are developing such cultural traditions as basket weaving, jewelry making, and beading. The Ojibway artist Dawn Walden of Faithorn, Michigan, has contributed an intricate basket, Anishinaube (First People) (2012), woven of cedar bark and roots and bear grass. And no BeDazzler clothing decorator can replicate the meticulous beading that Oji-Cree artist KC Adams applies to an iPhone case and weaves around that MacBook Pro power cord in Power Peyote Stitch (2012).
Changing Hands features dozens of unique perspectives and refined talents from Native artists exploring and reinterpreting their heritage. The exhibit runs through September 14.
[Originally published in July, 2014.]
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