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Two Spirit artists featured at All My Relations

<i>Laura Grizzlepaws</i>, 2015

Laura Grizzlepaws, 2015

When Graci Horne, the new gallery director for All My Relations Gallery, went to visit artist George Bettelyoun’s studio, she found one piece of art that she really liked. It was a colorful drawing of a face that had geometric divisions within it, and was further divided in that it was torn in half.

“I thought it was really cool,” Horne says. Bettelyoun responded that he had actually torn it in frustration, not as part of the piece, but felt bad throwing it away. 

[jump] There was something about the torn image that spoke to Horne, however, and she convinced the artist that they should photograph it. They sent the images to Orlando Avery, who curated the show “The World Through Our Eyes,” who loved it so much they eventually chose it as the poster image for the show. “It’s kind of like it was meant to be,” Horne says.

“The World Through Our Eyes” features Two Spirit artists, meaning people within indigenous communities who have both male and female spirits within them. “The definition of Two Spirit is derived from the Anishinabe people,” Horne says. “For us they are sacred and very talented in singing and painting and beading.” Historically, they helped with child rearing as well.

Minneapolis’s own Two Spirit Society has just decided to become a 501(c)3 organization, and so part of the idea for the show, and especially for the opening last week, was to celebrate that group and to raise awareness about Two Spirit people within the Native community. The opening event included a fashion show with music, food, and a live DJ.

The show’s curator, Orlando Avery, is the first in a series of guest curators All My Relations will be having over the course of the next three years who are from the four-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas. Avery, who is Oglala, had already been planning to do a Two Spirit show when he got into talks with All My Relations. “We right away swooped him up and wanted to do an exhibition with him,” Horne says.

<i>Beaded Shield</i>, 2002

Beaded Shield, 2002

The show boasts a diverse selection of art mediums and perspectives. Besides the torn drawing that became the show’s media image, Bettelyoun also shows the wonderfully playful Fools Bow, a whimsical, twisting bow and arrow made of traditional materials. While it may not actually work for hunting, it celebrates the advantages of thinking outside the box.

The show features some wonderful fashion as well, including the work of Jolonzo Goldtooth, who weaves feathers, animal fur, and vintage material into couture dresses; and Edison Ritchie, who uses found military regalia to create a contemporary look.

The real gems of the show are three photographs by Nadya Kwandibenz, an Anishinabe artist from Ontario. The works are from a series, called “Concrete Indians,” which are portraits of Indigenous people in concrete settings. For example, one photograph shows 10 indigenous female lawyers, while another shows Laura Grizzlepaws, one of the few people who dance with a grizzly hide. The photograph shows her crouching amidst cars in a busy street. Another photograph shows a famous Jingle dancer standing in a subway station, the figures around her blurred away. The three photographs, beautifully shot, capture an intriguing dichotomy of indigenous culture and urban city life.

Also part of the show is local Anishinabe artist, activist, and writer Sharon Day, who has several sculptural objects on view. In Moose Antler, Day carves into a moose antler, juxtaposing it with stone and wood. Another piece by Day incorporates a buffalo skull combined with turquoise and leather with sage. In addition, there’s a beaded shield Day created on one of the water walks she helped organize, which bring awareness to the sacredness of bodies of water. Day gifted the beaded object, showing a picture of an eagle to a friend, who gifted it back to the artist 10 years later because she felt it should be shown to the public.

In all, there isn’t necessarily a strong political message in the show. Rather, the pieces celebrate a diversity of styles and aesthetics from Two Spirit artists.

IF YOU GO:

The World Through Our Eyes

Through August 21

All My Relations Gallery

1414 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis