General 2-22-2006

Fully Four-Dimensional: Impacted Nations at Ancient Traders

Dean Seal went to preview the show "Impacted Nations" at the Ancient Traders Gallery. Native artists are working on environmental themes; it's good art on a desperate mission. It's opening with a reception Friday, Feb. 24, 5-9.

Modern Day Indian
The Prophecy
Chief Seattle
Downwind from Hanford
Generatiing the Winds
Produced Water
We Are Gods

If you think the Indian Wars are over, think again.

When nuclear waste is sent to a reservation for burial because the Native People cannot stop it, it’s another battle lost. When dams are built that rub out a valley, or coal mining eliminates a mountain, or gold mining and oil exploration leave behind a devastated countryside, rendering it lifeless, then you can see, if you look, another battleground of power against life and livelihood. Native people and Anglos alike lose in this war.

Here’s a chance to look– at what it means to the people who are fighting back.

Artists everywhere are trying to politicize their work so that it has an effect on a society they see as going hog wild in the wrong direction. Ancient Traders Gallery is showing 50 count ‘em fifty works (as part of a national tour) that deal with the clash between reverence for the earth and the economic power of exploitation. “The exhibit is in Minnesota because, historically, tribes here have been impacted by utility companies and energy development,” said Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth.

But this isn’t just polemics and doctrinaire propaganda. It’s also really cool art. Native art, in my experience, is a fully four-dimensional world where humor, style, political content and beauty all coexist. The context of art taking place in the world of a specific community is an expansive vision of what art is about. It is not just the handicraft of a specific genius, a reverence for one person’s “vision thing” that tells one person’s viewpoint. Here it is an expansive overview of the ongoing struggle of native people, being poked at with the big stick of big economics one more time, to strip the land of sustainability in the process of extraction of resources and wealth. These paintings tell the story of native efforts to gain control of their own energy resources (the building of a $1 million wind turbine in White Earth, for example) and the humanity displayed in the effort.

Two quick examples:

Produced Water, by America Meredith, shows J.R… Ewing walking a little white girl though an oil field. He has a big grin, she is from the salt boxes, and she is sowing the ground with salt, so that nothing grows there again. She is to this viewer emblematic of the innocence of American consumers, as the rapacious (that is, rapist-like) oil exploiters grin from ear to ear. This perfect piece of parody and message is nailed into place besides our headlines, cracking open our vision of what is happening when we drive our cars, and how little is our awareness of it; and also, how the Texas oilmen have never been happier than now. Painful and hilarious at once.

-Generating the Winds, by Thomas Haukaas, ink and acrylic on muslin. This is in the old-style art history method of showing a large event with many people, in the dedication of wind machines as an acceptable means of acquiring the power of electricity in a way that does not damage the land we are trying to live in. Peopled by drummers in ceremony, dogs and cars of the participants, wind turbines and houses with solar panels, and sacred symbols showing that the event is in harmony with he mother Earth, this is a clear-eyed portrait of life as it is lived, in a style true to those portrayed.

Space does not permit more discussion. But your timecard should be punched so that you can avail yourself of this exhibit. It is political art that is real, imaginative, rich in style, detail and color. And above all, it has meaning, it is connected to reality in a terribly effective manner. Art has never been harnessed better to teach us about reality.

Impacted Nations opens with reception on Friday, February 24, from 5-9 p.m. on Friday, February 24. The event is free and open to the public. It’s at
Ancient Traders Gallery, sponsored by American Indian Neighborhood Development Corporation, at
1113 East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55404-2922