Friday, July 22, 2016

Reframe Minnesota

I've written twice before about the artwork in Minnesota's Capitol, which at a minimum paints an overly narrow view of our state and at most represents racist triumphalism and white supremacism.

The final decision about what artwork to include has not yet been announced, and in the meantime, two Native art galleries in Minnesota have mounted a show called Reframe Minnesota: Art Beyond a Single Story to broaden the idea of what could and should be in the "People's Building." As one poster said in the gallery:

We want art in the Capitol — the People’s Building — to better represent the state’s many peoples and their contributions.
  • Is the Capitol a museum for historic art, or should the art be as vital and dynamic as our democracy?
  • Where are the images of people of color, and how could Capitol artwork better represent our state’s diverse people?
  • How can our art take an honest look at our past and look to our future as well?
I went to see the part of the exhibit at All My Relations Gallery, 1414 East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis and highly recommend it to anyone who can stop by to see it before it closes on September 9. It's free, but a contribution of $10 gets you an exhibit poster featuring the art of well-known painter Jim Denomie:

This painting is called "Non-Negotiable" and is well worth enlarging to see in more detail.

Denomie has a second painting in the All My Relations Gallery, "Casino Sunrise." It's a large canvas with some elements that are a bit scatological for my taste, but here are a few details:

Denomie's Wikipedia page specifically discusses this painting, saying:
["Casino Sunrise" is] Denomie's own remake of the Seal of Minnesota. Governor Tim Pawlenty is represented by "Pawl Bunyan" (a play on Paul Bunyan) and is shown with his pants around his ankles standing directly behind Babe the Blue Ox. Former governor Jessie Ventura is shown only wearing a thong and a feather boa; he has a cigar in his mouth, a fishing rod set with a grenade in one hand, and a fist of money in the other. No politician of recent Minnesota history escapes the wrath of Denomie's paintbrush; Norm Coleman sits on a toilet and Al Franken counts ballots behind him. Indian Country is represented as well through images of lynched Indians from Fort Snelling, an Indian funeral pyre, a Christian church, a member of the American Indian Movement riding a horse and more. A Minneapolis police car relating to arrests made of three Indian men and without enough room for them all in the car one was placed in the trunk, is also depicted. Of this painting Denomie said, "The Minnesota State seal needed to be updated. It's been a while...This is all history, all of it is history of Minnesota."
Denomie's painting is not the only work to refer to the Minnesota state seal (which I've mentioned before). Gwen Westerman's quilt with printed embellishments, "This Is Dakota Homeland" reframes Minnesota by using no frame at all to “limit the borders of our Dakota homeland":

The description of her work continues, "Before the grid lines of American surveyors, our homeland was defined by rivers and lakes. The Indian on the Minnesota State Seal has been re-appropriated to represent the travel of Dakota across the land from the southern shore of Lake Superior throughout the Mississippi, St. Croix, and Minnesota River valleys along rivers and trade routes in what is now the State of Minnesota."

Detail from "This Is Dakota Homeland."

Two paintings by Leslie Barlow represent the current perspective of a young woman in the Twin Cities. One is called "January 19, 2015":

It depicts a Black Lives Matter march to reclaim Martin Luther King day. This piece spoke to me because it directly addressed the experience of urban native people today, which is too often overlooked, and has much in common with the experience of African Americans when it comes to policing.

Christian Pederson Behrends' prints addressed both history and two of the specific paintings that have been in our Capitol for a century. As the accompanying card says, "Behrends uses images of children’s playgrounds, toys and games to underline the importance of play… presenting safety as integral to play…" He "reframes and satirizes the historical inaccuracies in 'Father Hennepin at Saint Anthony Falls' and 'The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux,' rejecting the colonial propaganda that characterizes [them]."

'No Father Hennepins Allowed' pushes Father Hennepin out of the frame (that's him in lower left with the cross) and rejects his proselytizing, while native people play beside the water fall:

'Ramsey Beaten at His Own Game' shows settler (and later Minnesota Governor) Alexander Ramsey, standing on a makeshift stage like the one in the "Traverse des Sioux" painting, losing at checkers in front of a crowd of his peers while native people are playing in the background:

Cole Jacobson's mixed media piece, "Two Yellow Moons," illustrates the "before and after effects of the boarding school era… The Dakota girl in both of the pictures is Yellow Moon…. [it] also speaks about how many native people, especially young people, must live in two worlds within our societies."

Jacobson, a Mdewakanton Dakota man from southeastern Minnesota, is an enrolled member of Prairie Island. He calls himself a ledger artist (check out the area of the work within the yellow moons) who uses beadwork and quillwork, plus floral and geometric motifs from Dakota material culture.

Perhaps the most visually striking piece in the show is "In the Centre of the Universe" by Christian Chapman. It's a painting of Dennis Banks, the Minnesota-born co-founder of AIM, who is also a leader, teacher, activist, and author:

Chapman writes, "He is also known as Naawakamig, translated from Ojibwa meaning In the Centre of the Universe.... Banks is a man of great stature. His portrait would be worthy to grace the walls of the Minnesota State Capitol."

I don't have a photo of Joyce Lyon's triptych of photo prints called "Where Trees Are Painted Red," but some of her text stuck with me:
“The images in the State Capitol, commissioned in the early years of the twentieth century, convey a world view based on Manifest Destiny, white power and subjugation of Minnesota’s first people…. Shouldn’t the images and stories that greet visitors and speak to those who govern represent the diverse perspectives and histories of all of Minnesota’s peoples?
Her triptych draws attention to a historical event “that is a painful part of Minnesota’s experience. When we are courageous enough to consider our failings as well as our successes, we are more honest and become more empowered to work together.”

The triptych shows trees marked with red at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, a place that was the center of Dakota creation stories. In 1862, 1,600 Dakota people were force-marched 150 miles to that spot to live in a concentration camp for the winter. Many died:
In spring, the survivors were transported…to a reservation in South Dakota…. Beginning in 2002, descendants of these Dakota ancestors…have reenacted the march as an act of commemoration, mourning and healing. Marchers carry wooden stakes tied with prayer ribbons… at the site of the concentration camp, a circle of memorial stakes [is] created in the low-lying clearing…. The prayer ribbons glowed red above the water…
It's hard to pick out one work that I liked the most, but I think Marcie Rendon's short film called "Go Back Home" surprised me the most. She describes herself as a White Earth Anishinabe “whose family was dislocated by war, the reservation system, foster care system and relocation has been puzzled forever why folks would willingly leave their beautiful country to live in another place, while denigrating each wave of immigrants that follow after them…”

Most of the film is made up of journalist-style stand-up shots of Rendon in front of various European-American cultural institutions in Minnesota (the American Swedish Institute, the Black Forest German Restaurant), extolling the virtues of these other countries and encouraging people to go back where their ancestors came from.

If you don't want to go back to the country of your origin, the film suggests, you can apply to stay here by visiting one of the tribes, such as the Red Lake Embassy in Minneapolis:

The requirements of citizenship to remain here are listed at the close of the film, clearly modeled on U.S. citizenship requirements:
  • Individuals must select a specific tribe to apply for citizenship to. Take time to learn which tribes exist in Minnesota so you can make an informed choice.
  • Tribes will provide incentives for certain occupations to remain, like nuclear physicists, neurosurgeons, alternative energy experts, excellent nannies, certain people who have already adapted to a nature based lifestyle.
  • Everyone else must apply for a work visa.
  • Interdependence will be practiced over individualism and must be able to provide documentation of willingness to do so.
  • It will be advised to find a tribal member who can vouch for you in the application process. Applicants will sign up to learn the indigenous language of the tribal member who vouches for you.
  • Each applicant will be required to attend an American Indian Movement survival school for 500 hours, constantly or part-time over the first 6 months your work visa is in existence.
  • Applicants will demonstrate how to skin and cook a beaver. Applicants will demonstate how to set a net and clean fish in an ecologically friendly manner.
  • Applicants must transfer all existing personal and business monies into tribal banks like Woodland Bank of the Mille Lacs Band and maintain a minimum balance of $1000.
  • Applicants will agree to acculturate into tribal life at each and every opportunity.
Where would I return to, I wondered? Would the people of White Earth or Mille Lacs or Prairie Island accept me if I were to apply?

All this and more at All My Relations Gallery, 1414 East Franklin Avenue:

They're open 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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