Young Native Americans
On Contemporary Artmaking and Organization

correspondent: artist organizer Nayana

There is a generation of native Americans who feel there is something missing. Something they can’t quite figure out. Something just feels off, lacking. These young native Americans are part of the second generation of native Americans who are so far separated from a cultural identity that it feels as though something was physically taken from them. But these people never actually had anything taken from them, they grew up in the same America as any other citizen and experienced much the same life style. Still something always feels a bit off for them. Unintentionally following in the footsteps of their ancestors these people are finding ways to express this feeling through art in many different media.

I found myself part of that generation with the same feelings of something missing, something just a bit off. My family is of the Ojibwe / Potwatami band known as the Wikwemikong first nation located in southern Ontario. My generation was the second in my family to be completely removed from the reservation life style, and from all knowledge and inkling of identity. I expressed these feelings through art creating a body of work which spoke directly about that subject, the feeling of being out of place everywhere.

Through the internet I met others like myself each with their own stories of how their family lost all knowledge or recognition of their ancestry. The two artists who I spoke most with were Bunky Echo-Hawk ( ) of Colorado a member of the Pawnee/Yakama Nation. And Dan Loudfoot ( ) of Brooklyn NY a member of the Mashantucket Pequot Nation.

“Growing up in a non-Indian world, I was constantly faced with the responsibility of defining my identity as a Pawnee/Yakama Indian. We were not always away from home. We often traveled home for ceremonies and family reunions. I was always fascinated by the duality of the two worlds, and the juxtaposition of culture and identity. This is where my art has originated from: The pursuit of a true identity, and the need to share this identity with the world.” – Bunky Echo-Hawk

“Having yet to be recognized by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe Loudfoot’s work is fueled by the exclusion he has experienced from his own people. This isolation is portrayed through the paintings by his reflection on Native Americans. Today he is concerned with examining the impact of colonization and what labels and imagery contemporary society associates with Native Americans. Loudfoot warps early Native American iconography and contrasts it beside mascots and ads. Repetition is a key element in the work relating to commercialism and the in your face billboards exploring the irony of the images being used.”– Dan Loudfoot

After spending a while corresponding we decided it would be easier to start a group for discussions. Progressive Native Art is what came out of it. We soon turned our conversations about our experiences in this generation to those about art and specifically the art we had independently created on the same subject. We soon came up with the idea of a group show on the subject. This decision came after discussing our mutual difficulty in finding a space to show that work. It did not fit with the works of any other artists and many galleries were hesitant to give solo exhibitions to a theme such as ours.

We began by planning, all the small details of what we wanted, to have the show travel from location to location. The idea of which would be that each of us would be responsible for setting up a show in our area. To start this all off we wanted to have a show in NYC. Dan was in the process of moving there for school and I have a close enough proximity that I could help him with it. Bunky would come out for the event but could not make it for the setting up etc. The concept behind having it in the city would be to present the ideas in the show to an audience who would perhaps not be accustomed to art related to native American life.

The majority of venues showcasing work by native artists is in the southwest and because of this we felt the best location for this show would be the opposite of the norm. Our plan was to have the show in 2007 and then use any momentum we had from that to have the show move to two other locations possibly more depending on how many other artists we chose to involve in the project. We would spend the year in the mean time finding the venue, choosing a few more artists and promoting the event as much as possible. We wanted to get as much press for it as we could in order to aid our ability to have the exhibition travel.

During this time Bunky had back to back shows booked and was fortunate to be featured in Native People Magazine. Dan graduated from school in Boston and moved to NYC for more education. I found myself with a busy show schedule with my other bodies of work and planning the event became less and less convenient. We went from communicating daily with an urgent excited feeling of anticipation to communicating weekly, and then monthly. Each of us with the best of intentions.

We were able to gain the attention of a woman in the city who had a large venue which she often held private art exhibitions in. She was interested in our event and all we needed to do was sit down with her and decide on a date. Internet communication is not always the best means of getting things accomplished and we soon lost our momentum. We would communicate every couple of months with an email, a quick “how’s it going” and “we should get this back up again” but life has a way of running away with itself if you let it. Soon it was 2007 and we hadn’t done the promotion we had intended. We met via our internet group at that time and decided we would get back into it once our schedules had slowed down again which would not be until after the following new year.

Just a couple weeks ago I received a message “how have you been? Hope you are well, we should do that project we were talking about” In the mean time we had our own exhibitions of the work on the subject, our previous inability to find venues had become an over abundance but there was never enough time. Now we are left with this idea, bodies of work and the same feeling we always had, only now it was different. It was a feeling of something missing, but there seemed to be a purpose to it. We felt connected by our dys-connection and busy in our fully assimilated American lives.

We have spoken recently and would still like to do this exhibition, but now it is less about getting our own voices heard and more about getting the work and the idea out there. If this is in fact an entire generation of native Americans removed from their cultural identity then there must be others, more native Americans who are expressing this experience through art, and what an exhibition that could be.

Now we are communicating as much as we can and considering taking on more members and finding the right venue with the right audience. This exhibition would be as much about the audience who sees it as about the artists who created the work.

In addition to this project I have been a founding member of NAM, “new art movement” which was based on the same structure of this event, artists coming together and collaborating for a group traveling show. This was non-culturally specific however under the idea of having artists who could not find a venue coming together to make their own way. NAM is still in communication and plans to have a show in 2008 at a location yet to be announced.

Along with two projects under the same concept other artist organized projects I have been involved with are USED records, an independent record company, Skeleton Crew Theater, an independent theatrical production with hand built sets and animatronic characters and most recently as director and curator to d.Art Gallery, an artist run gallery not to be confused with an artist co-op. All of these have distracted me from this project. Dan and Bunky have just as many things going on for both of them. Organizing anything over the internet is difficult, but we plan to keep pursuing it until we are able to hold the event we originally envisioned.


#permalink posted by Nayana: 11/15/07 08:36:00 AM


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