'This is Displacement' at All My Relations Gallery

<i>A dark feather in a flock of white</i> by Sonya Kelliher-Combs

A dark feather in a flock of white by Sonya Kelliher-Combs

Currently on view at All My Relations Gallery is an extensive exhibition featuring the work of over 40 artists from 19 tribal nations exploring perspectives on being displaced as native people. The work in "This is Displacement" is varied in style, and includes paintings, drawings, sculpture, bead work, quilt work, art installation, poetry, video, and music. The common thread that the show carries throughout it is a sense of loss, and of ongoing struggle. Some of the works are political, others introspective. As a whole, curators Emily Johnson and Carolyn Lee Anderson have assembled a striking statement about the displacement of many different Native American people.  


Carolyn Lee Anderson says that the idea for the exhibit was inspired by a choreographed piece by Emily Johnson called The Thank You Bar, a dance that explores her own perspectives and emotions on being displaced. Johnson came up with the idea to curate an art show as a companion piece to her dance performance out of the desire to offer audiences many different perspectives and stories of displacement.
"My hope is that people will not only see the heaviness in the hardships that Native Americans have had to endure," says Anderson, "but they will see how we have adapted and overcome. I also hope that people see that there are many different perspectives and experiences of displacement--many artists in the exhibit actually have a very positive relationship with displacement--so I encourage people to not just see the negative because there is so much positive, and so much beauty in this exhibit, too."

The show has been on tour across the country. It started out in Ancorage, Alaska with only 10 pieces, and was meant to be a one-time companion piece to Johnson's dance work. When subsequent venues where Johnson was planning to perform The Thank You Bar found out about "This is Displacement," they expressed interest in hosting the exhibit as well. So the curators decided to have the it travel. After they premiered in Alaska, they went to the Living Arts' Ligget Studio in Tulsa, OK. The space where Johnson was to perform was too small for the 10 pieces, but through a connection with another venue, they merged with another exhibition that had just closed about the state of Oklahoma's centennial celebrations, according to Anderson. 
After the Tulsa show, the curators did another call for artists, and created a film series. The This is Displacement film series premiered at the Northwest Film Center as part of the Time Based Arts Festival in Portland, Oregon in September 2010. Other places the exhibit has travelled to include The Edge Center in Bigfork, Minnesota; Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota; The Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis; and DiverseWorks in Houston, Texas. 

One of the most beautiful pieces in the show is Gwen Westerman's Wicanhpi Heciya Tanhan Unhipi (We Come from the Stars), the enormous quilt of orange, black, blue, and white with a pale yellow background. In the center of the quilt there's a circular mirror, so that as you look at the piece you see yourself surrounded by the colors. The work invites the viewer to enter into a conversation with the artist, to imagine an identity, or to at least try to understand where the artist draws her own roots. 

Priscilla Naunugagiaq Hensley Holthouse also has a powerful piece in the show, called Quyagikpin Tauqsiqavich (Thank You for Shopping), which includes a dress made out of plastic shopping bags and a video of the artist entering a grocery store wearing the dress and capturing the reactions that she receives. She tells the shoppers that she is from Alaska, and her people traditionally made their own clothes, which they completely understand and appreciate. In the film, the artist makes decisions about the best ways to feed her family, given the limitations of a grocery store. For example, should she buy organic produce from Peru or conventional produce from the United States? The piece reveals both a longing to be connected with her roots, an acceptance that things are the way they are, a striving for the best way to exist, and care for her family. The film also has a certain whimsy. It is a delightful, thought-provoking piece, and the dress is simply fantastic.  
Another great work is Emily Johnson's CIB, a series that explores the notion of "certified Indian blood" through a display of Yup'ik blood on recycled and new freezer paper (used for wrapping fish). It also uses masking tape, the artists's mother's handwriting, a sharpie, and sand from Minnesota and Alaska. 

Robert W. Two Bulls' painting, Whatever Happened to Johnny Blackfeather? Is a devastating image of a man that once lived on the reservation where the artist grew up but disappeared. In the painting, Two Bulls depicts Johnny Blackfeather as homeless on the streets of New York. 

You'll have to check out the exhibit yourself to see the extent of all the great contemporary pieces. "This is Displacement" runs through August 11 at All My Relations Gallery (1414 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis). The gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and  weekends from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The film screens Friday, July 29 at 7 p.m.