Artist and Historian: Frohawk Two Feathers

When we first talked on the phone I told him RACE AND REVOLUTION was an art show about the roots of racism in the United States and that I had read this-and-that book and such-and-such article. (More on the research in future posts)

Umar, also known as FROHAWK TWO FEATHERS,  listened patiently and quietly. I took this to mean I was pumping his brain full of knowledge. Little did I know I was about to get schooled.

Frohawk - Diptych                            Frohawk - Tent

Frohawk: When you say the roots of racism do you mean the colonization of the African continent?

Me: Sure, but the continent of Africa was colonized because of practices Europeans were already using before they arrived in Africa.

Frohawk: Well, if you really want to look at Europeans and racism, you need to take a look at this war and that war and . . . .

At this point my head is tucked so deeply in shame that it is hard to hear Frohawk’s voice through my phone’s earpiece.

As is evident from this re-imagined conversation and from his work, Frohawk Two Feathers cares deeply about history and is interested in connecting present-day audiences with stories of ancient wars and leaders. He is an intellectual force and clearly respects traditional art-making techniques. He paints narrative scenes on buckskin or aged paper, using coffee and tea, a time-consuming process, as shown above in both images. When I look at his work I am taken by this feeling that here is a man who respects and appreciates that history is an imperfect process. It has collected many failures, but within these failures Two Feathers is still able to find the dignity.

Please learn more about Frohawk Two Feathers and help make this public art show a reality by contributing HERE.

 

The Gallery Space as Art

Have you ever had that feeling when visiting an historic site, such as an old home or a cemetery, that you can sense, through the soles of your feet, the stories that are contained in the space? GOVERNORS ISLAND has that effect on me. It is having that effect on the artists who are showing in this summer’s Race and Revolution.

RACE AND REVOLUTION is a site-specific art show. Governors Island is the site because of its relationship to the American Revolution. (The above drawing is titled American Foot Soldiers, Yorktown Campaign, 1781, by Jean Baptise-Antoine DeVerger, from theAnne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library.) It shows the diverse population that made up the American Continental Army)

Governors Island History – in a nutshell . . .

  • The Lenape Indians, for centuries or millennia, referred to it as “Pagganuck” – Algonquin for Nut because of the nut trees growing there.
  • The Dutch claimed it after they arrived in 1621, renaming it “Noyten Eylandt” (Nut Island)
  • The British took it from the Dutch, in 1664 and used  it to house British royalty and government officials.
  • In 1775, the British were forced to leave New York – and Governors Island – until they could fortify troops with their naval fleet, which arrived in Sandy Hook, off the coast of Staten Island, in the summer of 1776. This time the Americans were forced to flee the island until the they won the war in 1783.

So how does an island inspire an art show? TALWST is measuring built-ins for what he is calling a “Cabinet of Curiosities”.FullSizeRender (2)

GILF! lit up when she thought about creating something using the stairs – there are seventeen of them – for what she is conceptualizing as history descending.gilf! at GI

History speaks to people differently. But something happened to these artists when I brought them to Building 8A, Nolan Park, the specific site  for Race and Revolution. They heard stories of centuries being spoken to them in the language of art. Together we will try to bring to light the stories of the African and Native Americans, who were also seeking independence from oppressors, just as the Americans wished for themselves.

You can help by making your contribution HERE.

Community as the Artistic Medium

Though the physical material Michelle Angela Ortiz uses may be paint, the community is the most important medium in her work. As shown in the image, she creates large-scale works that bring together artists and non-artists alike.

The objective of her work is to create awareness; therefore, she must confront her audience in places where the issues that inspire her work will be most noticed. She’s worked in Mexico, Philadelphia, Cuba, on walls and floors, in government buildings and schools. Planning the scaleShe empowers those she works with to understand that art is a tool that can be used as an extension of words and actions.

Angela and I have spoken about the work she plans to create for RACE AND REVOLUTION. As of now, all I will say is she is experimenting with a new way of approaching mural painting. What an honor that she wants to share this artistic exploration with the show. Not all murals are created on walls

In order to support Michelle Angela’s work in arts education, support her work for Race and Revolution by donating HERE.

 

The Photos and Collages of Jorge Alberto Perez

JORGE’S PHOTOGRAPHS AND COLLAGES, whether by themselves or as installations, capture moments. When I first saw his work, I related to it immediately because his pieces are studies, or they study, human nature, social stratifications, and interconnectivity.

Perez’s work asks the viewer to step back and look, not only at the image but at yourself looking. Because of this sense that the viewer is a part of the piece, his work can be disquieting. It is for all of these reasons that I knew his work would be perfect for RACE AND REVOLUTION. The way his work asks us to question our role in social experiences reflects how I have approached researching for Race and Revolution.

  • What has been my role as a white woman in maintaining the status quo?
  • What responsibility do I have to seek more or to seek better for others?
  • How comfortable am I with dealing with resistance and anger?

Perez’s work inspires these questions as I reflect on my role as curator. These questions make me doubt myself; they cause me to wonder if I can handle this project. But then I think of how Perez ask us to look at looking. I do that for myself: I look at my questions. When I look at them I realize they are based in fear and self-doubt. If I allow fear and self-doubt to win, then I become a passive player.

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This is the power of Jorge Alberto Perez’s work: it forces a philosophical contemplation of who we are and the role we play. How do we look, and when we do look what do we see?

 

The Pain is the Same

After Trayvon Martin was murdered and his killer acquitted, both news and social media sources jumped to draw comparisons between the senseless death of 17-year-old Martin with Emmett Till, who in 1955, at age 14, was brutally beaten and – allegedly – shot for flirting with a white woman. The men who murdered Till were, like Martin’s killer, acquitted.

Are these two unrelated incidences alike? Does it matter if they are? There are inarguable similarities, such as age, skin color, sense of purpose – both boys had been shopping in convenience stores –  and acquittal. Do we need to know who these boys were in their hearts to draw conclusions about whether or not these boys met the same inhumane fate?

When I look at this image I do see a connection between the past and the present. The connection is that the pain is the same; the sense of injustice is the same, and this sameness does matter. What matters is that someone thought to make this comparison, to create this mage of two dead boys side by side. The person who paired these two photographs is asking why this keeps happening, why through six decades and a massive Movement, does this keep happening?

Maybe the answer does lie in exploring the past, but this time I would like to hold history accountable. We can use history to understand from where this pain and injustice is rooted and to break its cycle, instead of judging the past from the viewpoint of how much things have changed. Please support this exploration of racism throughout history by donating HERE.

The Haunting Work of Nicholas Galanin

I needed to find eight artists for my first-ever curated show. I had found one, but the others were not going to just land in my lap. I had to start digging.

RACE AND REVOLUTION explores racism in the United States. While my larger objective, (and extremely important to my curatorial process) was to include as diverse a selection of artists as there are cultures in the United States, I also needed to find eight artists whose work addresses such a specific theme.

Enter the Google search.

After hours of searching I clicked on the beautiful, provocative work of NICHOLAS GALANIN, a multi-disciplinary artist from Sitka, Alaska. Some of his most striking pieces are masks that evoke his Native American background. Wood, metals, animal hide, and sometimes photography. Regardless of the medium, the theme is apparent: Tlingit history collides with American, what I’ll call, entitlement. His work forces the viewer to question the role he or she may play in cultural appropriation, imperialism, and consumption.

 

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I emailed him with my crazy idea for this art show, telling him I thought his work would be a perfect fit. And guess what . . .

He said yes.

It’s hard for me to put into words. When Galanin agreed to do the show, I not only knew I had found an artist whose work was necessary for the overall themes of Race and Revolution. The depth of racism levied against Native American peoples has been a shame, a darkness, this country has yet to acknowledge and address.

People will see the work of Nicholas Galanin, but I also want visitors to think critically about what racism in this country means.   I need your help. Please CONTRIBUTE and help make Race and Revolution as big as it needs to be.

Meeting Nona Faustine

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 7.42.29 PMThe first time I saw her work, I felt all of the air leave my lungs.

I had told a mutual friend that I was curating a new project called RACE AND REVOLUTION, with a view to stoke dialogue about racism from 250 years ago and racism of today.

He grabbed my phone so he could show me  NONA FAUSTINE‘s website.
The first piece I saw was her photo titled (above)  “From Her Body Sprang Their Greatest Wealth.”  I felt the ground give way beneath me. A nude body was laid bare in the midst of swirling New York City traffic. She had shackles on her wrists. All I wanted to do was slump down into a chair. Here was a woman in pain, shackled to the past, asking the world to, please, see her. Instead the world continues to spin.

The shackles referenced America’s history of slave ownership. She was standing, however, in modern day mid day New York City traffic, completely nude, which teed up the fact that freedom had not changed things. This connection to the past while confronting the present was precisely what I wanted to for my show. Nona’s work helped me articulate what I hadn’t be able yet been able to.

“Like a Pregnant Corpse The Ship Expelled Her into the Patriarchy” (pictured above). Nona’s body is draped over and blends into the rocks, making her seem more sculptural than human. It begs the viewer to remember the human bodies thrown off of ships during the Transatlantic Slave Trade,  the enslaved men  unloaded like human cargo at the Brooklyn slips, and the bodies lost at sea.

We may never know the stories of millions of individuals who experienced slavery or trauma, but it was precisely the imagery I wanted to for my show. By CONTRIBUTING we CAN and WILL create a new kind of conversation.

 

My Big Curatorial Idea!

When training for an Olympic sport, an athlete will observe greats who have come before him or her. , With my work in Education at the New-York Historical Society,  I’ve been observing master curators for six years. I often thought, “It couldn’t be that hard to tell a story through art. I throw some gallery labels on an exhibit. Maybe write an essay or two?

The question should have been: What was I thinking?  Come August 2016, I will be introducing the world to my first curatorial project, RACE AND REVOLUTION.  With it, I hope to stoke important conversations about how race affects our world today. But I had a long long road ahead of me. A wise person once advised, when overwhelmed, make a list.  Here goes:

  • Finding the artist(s): I cast a wide net, telling every one of my colleagues and friends that I was seeking 8-10 artists who worked in social/political themes. Through a mutual friend I met NONA FAUSTINE, a photographer whose work examines her identity as an African American woman by photographing herself posing nude in locations around New York City that are notorious, yet unmarked, locations of slave activity, such as the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan. She showed me, through her work, that this exhibition could be possible, that there were artists who were profoundly interested in examining their historical roots within the context of race and identity. I just had to find them.
  • Now Find Seven More: After I contacted and met Nona, she was excited enough about the project that she put me in touch with one of her friends and colleagues, JORGE ALBERTO PEREZ.  Two down. Six to go. This is when my computer became my best friend. I used Google. I used Pinterest. I used Instagram. Slowly, slowly, the artists responded. They responded because they connected with the show’s theme that racism today is still deeply connected to racism in the past.
  • Brainstorm options for gallery space: From my years working at the New-York Historical Society, I knew there were houses (pictured above) on GOVERNORS ISLAND available by permit. I needed to research how to apply. The wonders of the Internet made it possible for me to apply for my permit online. There’s a preliminary form that is the “ask”. Then you follow up with the Director of Programs, who sends you a ton of paperwork regarding next steps. This is where the real work began . . .
  • Become a Grown-up: I say this with tongue, firmly set in cheek. But I had to grow up. All of a sudden I had to think like a business owner, a mindset I had successfully avoided my whole life. There were meetings, networking events, insurance forms for artwork and businesses, more permits, hiring a staff, promoting, fundraising. Need I go on? Through all of these steps I kept telling myself that the fear is only as big as I allow it to be. Though I (daily) want to curl up on my apartment floor in the fetal position, I don’t. As I type this I cannot believe all that has been accomplished so far.

As much works as this sounds like, it is incredibly exciting. Working with and learning from the artists continues to inspire me and energize me, especially because they see the value in this project. Each day, I will explain how I found each artist and why I thought his or her contribution to “Race and Revolution” could elevate the conversation about race.

By making a contribution HERE you can help make all of this groundwork into something potentially groundbreaking.

 

How Visiting Berlin Changed My Life

Witnessing the footage of Sandra Bland being violently pulled from her vehicle, caused me to feel the kind of disbelief and anger that starts in your toes and then creeps up to your lungs until it becomes hard to breathe. Why was she assaulted by this young police officer? Why did he pin her to the ground? Why wasn’t she allowed to smoke her cigarette? Why does this keep happening? This last question would not let go of me. Why does this keep happening?

Around that same time I traveled to Berlin, a city that has borne witness to some of the worst atrocities in all of humanity. It is also a city that has worked hard to reconcile itself with its past. This was most evident at the Topography of Terror, a museum named for its location. Built on top of the site where the Third Reich had its offices and alongside a section of the Berlin Wall, from 1933 – 1989, this section of the city was a metaphor for human tragedy.  But the Topography of Terror merely presented this information without interpreting it, allowing the viewer to have his or her own experience. Document reproductions were positioned next to photographs in display cases. These cases serpentined inside of the space. More display cases lined the exterior. So Much history, so much information, none of it interpreted only presented.

An idea struck me:  I could curate an art show that presented the history of racial discrimination in America, but visitors could walk away with their own interpretations -minus the judgement – minus the editorials. I could offer the facts by using documents from American history and invite artists to create works that represented their experiences of how racism has impacted their lives.

My brain began to buzz with a flurry of ideas. What would I need? Who could I contact? Where could this show be held? Did it occur to me that I have no experience and that maybe this idea was a little crazy? Absolutely. But I kept asking, “Why does this keep happening?” That question was louder than the  voices that were expressing fear. The fear in moving forward with this project is only as big as I allow it to be. Stay tuned, and make contributions to the cause here.