Three current related exhibits continue the spirit of November’s Native American Heritage Month. You can see all three now: two at Fort Lewis College and one at the Powerhouse Science Center. FLC’s shows are contemplative and challenging. The Powerhouse exhibit interweaves Western science and TEK – Traditional Ecological Knowledge.
The newest exhibit at the FLC Art Gallery is a work in progress by multi-disciplinary artist Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe). Deal is the first Native American Artist in Residence at FLC. Since early November, he’s re-created the gallery as a working studio. With short breaks to complete other professional commitments and to visit his family, Deal is “in residence” until Dec. 16. The public is invited to meet him at a reception from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 8).
Affable and articulate, Deal 47, describes himself as a “disruptor,” challenging cultural stereotypes through paintings, graphics, film and performance art. Two weeks ago, he gave a public talk in which he described his life, family and career. You can check his online presence in a TEDx-Boulder talk and other filmed interviews about his provocative approach to art and culture.
“Question everything,” he said at FLC. “I tackle things like stereotyping, quantum blood and decolonization,” emphasizing the use of history and critical thinking as tools.
Outlining his path to art activism, Deal discussed negative and positive discoveries in college as a painting and film student, followed by a transformative experience at the National Museum of the American Indian. It was there Deal met James Luna, already a nationally known “Culture Warrior” and the first sponsored artist at the museum.
“Mucky-mucks asked him to exhibit in 2005, at the Venice Biennale,” Deal said. “Luna got a Ford Foundation grant, which included me. When I told my wife, she said: ‘Go. You have to find your voice.’”
In the years since, Deal has clearly found his voice and purpose.
“I juxtapose what Americans think we are, what Americans see,” he said about the romanticized nationalism that grips the mainstream, “and what we, Native Americans, see.” To underscore his point, Deal showed images from several of his projects including: “The Last American Indian on Earth,” “Existence as Protest” and “Invisible Loss Movement.”
“Forty percent of Americans think Native Americans are extinct,” Deal said. “Art gives shape to cultural change.”
“As Seeds We Grow” is on view at FLC until April. In contrast to Deal’s high-octane activism, the exhibition quietly explores student reactions to the college’s problematic history.
“The exhibit explores student identity and cultural resilience with consideration to For Lewis College’s history as a federal boarding school,” Elise Boulanger said at the opening last April. “We came together collaboratively to untangle the complexities of this history.”
A student when she first organized the show, Boulanger (Osage Nation) is now a curatorial fellow at the center.
Subtitled “Student Reflections on Resilience,” the exhibit contains a variety of responses to the boarding-school chapter as well as colonization in general. A spectrum of remembrance to contemporary commentary is apparent from Camela Manheimer’s (Navajo) photo prints overlaid with dried flowers to Maddie Sanders’ (Mvskoke and Mojave) gabardine shawl with nylon fringe and vinyl letters that read “Every Child Matters.”
In addition to current student works, Boulanger incorporated artwork from former students and archival objects from the center’s collection. A Germantown blanket from the 1880s contrasts with miniature weavings that Boulanger inspired in teaching sessions.
And then there is Paige Brown’s (Diné) oil painting, “Vengeance of the Virtuous,” which seems to be an outlier in this generally contemplative atmosphere for its violent imagery.
“I aimed to flip the script and allow the victims of a harmful gaze to indulge in violence as retribution against a long-time attacker,” Brown’s statement says.
Brown’s alternate view sits at one end of a spectrum that illustrates many modes of resilience. That multiplicity seems to be central to Boulanger’s curatorial vision.
“Roots of Wisdom: Native Knowledge, Shared Science” takes a balanced approach to the connections between Indigenous and Western ways of viewing the natural world.
The exhibit was developed in a partnership between a Native, nonprofit organization (Indigenous Education Institute) a large museum (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) and four Native communities. Each community shared stories of revitalization and restoration of land and waters. Throughout, the dialogue between Western science and traditional ecological knowledge underscores the importance of balance in accordance with natural cycles.
Divided into five thematic areas, the exhibit first introduces Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Western Science. Four sections illuminate topics from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Native Hawaiians, Tulalip Tribes and the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla. A different theme is introduced in each from re-establishing a Native plant to restoring fish ponds and rediscovering traditional foods. In addition to text panels, images and videos, artifacts and hands-on stations invite visitors to learn about the interconnectedness of nature. And as a bonus, the exhibit encourages visitors to examine personal connections to place and culture.
One of the most telling examples is a display of how Native origins and innovations over time impact our lives – from chocolate to popcorn, from duck decoys to surfboards. The connections are artfully displayed with interactive stations to make it fun for kids.
Yes, it’s educational, and yes, it invites reflection. “Roots of Wisdom” is one of a new breed of exhibitions that combine multiple world views so successfully.
WHAT: Native American Artist in Residence: Gregg Deal, Artist’s Reception.
WHEN: 4:30-6 p.m. Dec. 8.
WHERE: Art Gallery, Jones Hall, Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.
MORE INFORMATION: Email email@example.com, call 247-7379 or visit www.fortlewis.edu/art-gallery.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “As Seeds, We Grow,” Student Reflections on Resilience.
WHERE: Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.
WHEN: Now through April 5.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit https://swcenter.fortlewis.edu.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Roots of Wisdom: Native Knowledge, Shared Science.”
WHEN: Now through Jan. 1. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
WHERE: Powerhouse Science Center. 1333 Camino del Rio.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.powsci.org or call 259-9234.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.