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November 22, 2013 - February 8, 2014

The innovative artists of Cross Currents add unique voices to the visual language of today. Declarations of individuality, rejecting labels and stereotypes, offer new models of selfascribed cultural identification. The works, layered in meaning and poetic expression, act as visual representations of indigenous cultures - growing, changing and surviving.

Cannupahanska • Nicholas Galanin Frank Buffalo Hyde • Merritt Johnson Sarah Ortegon • Wendy Red Star Sarah Sense • Marie Watt • Will Wilson



A current is constantly moving, shifting, and changing as it picks up contents from its surroundings. It is influenced by obstacles, while also shaping that which it encounters. A current has a past, the catalyst for its origin; a fleeting present; and a future that is shaped by all that came before. When multiple currents intersect, an exchange occurs and the waters are changed. The Cross Currents exhibition brings together the work of nine innovative artists. Although none of the artists share a tribal affiliation, they all reference an indigenous heritage, which factors into the content of their artwork. By utilizing mystery, metaphor and wit, the visual exchange is complex and gives form to brilliant, new expressions in the essential progression of contemporary art. Adding unique voices to the visual language of today, these artists present new possibilities for understanding the experience of indigeneity in contemporary life. They reject labels and stereotypes and offer new models

of self-ascribed cultural identification. Both direct and subtle these works encourage a dynamic exchange of thinking. Nicholas Galanin writes in his artist statement, “My art enters this stream at many different points, looking backwards, looking forwards, generating its own sound and motion.� Intersecting briefly at the Center for Visual Art, Cross Currents illustrates the strength of convergence.

I have a deep appreciation for the artists in this exhibition for sharing their vision. My gratitude to Will Wilson is endless for his honest conversations and erudite writing in this catalogue. Many thanks to the exhibition sponsors, internal to Metropolitan State University of Denver and external, that have collectively supported the Center for Visual Art in presenting bold exhibitions. Finally, thank you to my colleagues at the Center for Visual Art and MSU Denver for their creativity and encouragement.

- Cecily Cullen Creative Director, Center for Visual Art


Working in the fields of cultural signification, cultural misappropriation as compost for trans-customary Indigenous art practice.

Speaking to the importance of the expressive arts for historically subjugated peoples, author and cultural critic, bell hooks, has noted how we, “ to connect art with lived practices of struggle. Constituting a genealogy of subjugated knowledges, [we] provide a cultural location for the construction of alternative readings of history told from the standpoint of the oppressed, the disinherited, or those who are open to seeing the world from this perspective. Concurrently, [we] enable the articulation of cultural practices that are part of the reality of marginalized groups, not forged in the context of struggle. The assertion of a decolonized subjectivity allows us to emphasize resistance, as well as other aspects of our experience.”¹

This observation is a good place to start when considering the artwork in Cross Currents, and it is particularly poignant for understanding the issue of cultural misappropriation as it pertains to contemporary Native American art practice in the 21st Century. As hooks writes, part of our project is encoding material with stories drawn from alternative readings of history that often emphasize resistance, but also, are simply about who we are. This process is at once remarkably complicated and sublimely simple and almost always mediated by our struggle and play with cultural mis/appropriation.

Contemporary Native American art is intelligible at one level as dialogic responses to the racism of the dominant culture, but at another level involves acts of appropriation from that same dominant culture through which


syncretic forms of indigenized culture have evolved. In a process that author and scholar Gerald Vizenor has dubbed “survivance” these syncretic practices manifest themselves through an incredibly diverse array of cultural practice as they reassert our continued resistance and presence. One way to think about this range is to consider that today there are 566 federally recognized indigenous American nations each with its own language, economy, customary practice and state relationship to the United States of America. As cultural theorist, Kobena Mercer, has pointed out, “these modern relations of inter-culturation then expand and are made use of by other cultural groups and then, in turn, are all incorporated into mainstream mass culture as commodities for consumption. Any account of [Native American] cultural appropriation and production must take this field of relationships into account.” 2 From the characterization of our ceremonial garb within the fashion industry to the overtly racist “red Sambos” of professional sports teams that claim to honor Native Americans as mascots, cultural misappropriation constantly reminds us of our neo-colonial relationship to this settler state. Another way to think about cultural misappropriation is as the latest installment in a continued program of cultural eradication beginning with the ideology of “Kill the Indian, Save the man,” passing forward to assimilation, acculturation, termination and relocation, and now integration vis-à-vis the gains and pitfalls of multiculturalism. For an ongoing, critical, and dynamic discussion of these issues please check out the important work of three colleagues,

Dr. Adrienne Keene, Ed.D, Dr. Jessica Metcalfe, Ph.D. and Dr. Lara Evans, Ph.D., Native Appropriations (nativeappropriations. com), Beyond Buckskins ( Not Artomatic (, respectively, who have in many ways taken up the mantle of artist/activists like Suzan Shown Harjo, Charlene Teters, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. So we persist and thrive asserting agency as makers and engaging in this “field of relationships” as we work as trans-customary indigenous artists and citizens of our respective nations. Nicholas Galanin’s, Things Are Looking Native, Native’s Looking Whiter, 2012, for example, deftly plays with these fields of relationships in both subtle and explicit ways. Galanin’s mash-up of Curtis Hopi maiden/Lucas Princess Leia is not only an insight into American popular culture’s fascination with Indigenous hairstyles but a fascinating portal into the hidden subtext of colonial representations of subaltern insurgence. Princess Leia after all was secretly an insurgent member of the Imperial Senate and spy for the Rebel Alliance. The work is also prescient considering the recent translation of Lucas’ classic 1977 film into Navajo, a project of the Navajo Nation Museum designed to promote language survivance.

tions, Johnson exposes the relationship between writing, performance and historical memory on our continent. Through a process of masking and revelation, Johnson’s challenging work, “processes marginalization, fear of cul4 ture, difference, and the unknown.”

Engaging performance and installation art, Merritt Johnson, works between what Diana Taylor has identified as, “the archive and the repertoire.”3


In exploring this historic and cultural tension between the written archive and the performative repertoire of oral tradi-

The work of Frank Buffalo Hyde on the other hand moves between overt critique of Native American cultural misappropriation to more subtle commentary on the ways in which Native Americans have been portrayed in American popular culture. As Jessica R. Metcalfe points out, “ Hyde demonstrates the role that commercialism plays in building fallacies about Native lifeways and culture. Throughout his work he layers text, bold color shapes, visible brush strokes and paradoxical references to dismantle stereotypes of 5 Indian art and the American Indian experience.”

Other artists in Cross Currents resist cultural misappropriation by creating work that defies easy categorization as Native American art. Works by Marie Watt, Sarah Sense and Cannupahanska Luger, are as much about how engaging material can alter what Sherry Farell Racette

bell hooks, “Narratives of Struggle,” in Critical Fictions: The Politics of Imaginative Writing, ed. Philomena Mariani (Seattle: Bay Press, 1991), 59. 2

Kobena Mercer, “Black Hair/Style Politics,” in Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, eds. Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Cornel West (New York and Cambridge: The New Museum of Contemporary Art and MIT Press, 1990), 257-8. 3

Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003) 4

Merritt Johnson, Artist Statement, 2013


Jessica R. Metcalfe, “Frank Buffalo Hyde,” in Manifestations: New Native Art Criticism. p.110


has identified as “encoded knowledges,”6 as they are about the politics of representation. As Marie Watt notes about her Blanket Stories: Samplers series, “We are received in blankets, and we leave in blankets. The work in these rooms is inspired by the stories of those beginnings and endings, and the life in between. I am interested in human stories and rituals implicit in everyday objects.” 7 Watt’s majestic reworking of such primary material is a strategy shared by Sense and Luger who rework photography and ceramic forms respectively. In a remarkable tale, Sense explains how her Weaving Waters project took her on a global journey in order to work the customary weaving material of her Chitimacha forbearers back into the patterns of her evocatively woven photographs. She notes, “in northern Thailand I was weaving a basket with bamboo, and realized that for the first time I was making a Chitimacha basket with the same source material from my Native family in another continent.”8 As Jolene Rickard has written, “Sense continues to integrate landscape, the dominant genre of photography, into her work, except her version is a transcultural fusion of Chitimacha spatial ordering, Western science, and Hollywood hegemony.”9 Similarly, Luger employs a mastery of form and material to draw out knowledge embedded in practice and myth. Luger’s expertise with clay is combined with an uncanny ability to integrate recycled materials such as yarns, knitted matter, craft foam and felt into his works. Luger’s work is sensually powerful in the way it gives personality, spirit and agency to static form. When combined with the comfortably domestic associations of his recycled


materials, Luger’s sculptures gain an uncanny presence that both seduces and startles. What does a beautifully colorful cornucopia of viscera emerging from the thift-store afgan body of a ten-point buck entitled, (No)stalgia, 2013, reveal about Native America today? An answer may be found in Luger’s extended title for the work: “(No)stalgia, multi-media, (no)stalgia noun: from Greek, nostros, return home and algos, pain: A wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to some past period or irrevocable condition. The past is a construct of the mind and yet we pull from this place an idea of who we are. I will not tell you who I was, I will tell you who I am now.”10

Photography is used by many of the artists in this exhibition as primary material, often reconfigured through customary practice or juxtaposition to facilitate the telling of powerful multimedia stories. Will Wilson’s work however, takes on the process and exchange of a photographic portrait sitting as his artistic raw material. In his Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX), Wilson strives to indigenize the photographic exchange by emphasizing the relational aesthetics inherent in the process. Using the historic Wet Plate Collodion process Wilson invites sitters to collaborate in the creation of their own portrait. Wilson then gifts the sitter the resulting “tintype” in exchange for a nonexclusive right to use a high resolution of the image in his growing body of portraiture. As Wilson explains, “Ultimately, I want to ensure that the subjects of my photographs are participating in the re-inscription of their customs and values in a way that will lead to a more equal distribution of power and influence

in the cultural conversation. It is my hope that these Native American photographs will represent an intervention within the contentious and competing visual languages that form today’s photographic canon.” 11

Cross Currents artists also explore trans-customary technique and practice in order to organize and create works that make reference to indigenous technologies while engaging the beauty and difficulty of present day Indian circumstance. Sarah Ortegon’s work operates at the interstices of customary practice--in the form of complex stitch beadwork, substance abuse awareness and prevention, and the recuperative power of art to transform reality. Her, On the Mend, 2013, uses artistic practice to imagine and implement a reversal of the loss of, “Once meaningful practices...being replaced by the use of mind numbing substances, which is off-setting the balance of the communities on the reservation.”12 Beadwork is a labor-intensive practice, which requires a commitment that can lead to focused contemplation and healing. Through the process of beading her found “shooter” bottles of alcohol, Ortegon is capturing them as her own, displacing the damage they have done and opening a space for recuperation. Wendy Red Star’s star quilts combine real Crow “rez” colors and patterns with photographic images sourced from her father’s extensive personal archive. In mining her father’s Ektachrome museum of 1970s Crow life and embedding the images into customary forms Red Star is, “mediating our experience of Crow people in the twenty-first century

by honoring her home with a healthy sense of humor,” and in so doing, “She checks our expectations to explain the equivalences of life then and now.” 13 Red Star’s vibrant work makes the case that traditional art forms have always been about innovation. Her photographic star quilts represent contemporary, trans-customary, cultural production created from an affirmative position of survivance by a contemporary Crow woman. Within the competing logics of artistic inspiration and the politics of representation this is one framework from which the artists exhibiting in Cross Currents create counter-narratives that engage, challenge and play within a field of cultural signifiers of Native America.

- Will Wilson, Santa Fe, 2013 6 Sherry Farrell Racette, “Encoded Knowledge: Memory and Objects in Con-

temporary Native American Art,” in Manifestations: New Native Art Criticism, ed. Nancy M. Mithlo (Santa Fe: Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, 2011), 40

7 Marie Watt, “Artist Statement,” detail/category/blanket_stories_samplers/ 8

Sarah Sense, “Weaving Water project statement,” 2013.

9 Jolene Rickard, “Skin Seven Spans Thick,” in Hide: Skin as Material and Metaphor, ed. Kathleen Ash-Milby (Washington DC: National Museum of the American Indian), 94. 10

Cannupahanska Luger, “extended title,” php?projects=archive 11

Will Wilson, “Artist Statement, CIPX,” http://willwilson.photoshelter. com/#!/about 12 Sarah Ortegon, Artist statement, 2013. 13 Polly Nordstrand, “Beauty and the Blow-up Beast,” in Art Quantum: the Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art, 2009, eds. James H. Nottage with Jennifer Complo McNutt and Ashley Holland, (Seattle: University of Washington Press), 92.



Underneath It All, 2012

I make my work by beginning and working until I don’t have to think about what I am doing anymore. I get started on a piece and hopefully the form and I can meet somewhere in the middle. It’s a give and take and sometimes it comes right to me, and sometimes I have to really reach for what I am trying to achieve from a piece of work. My work is made out of everything I have done in my entire life up until this moment, and clay. Every piece has taken me my whole life to create, and I put all of me into each work I create, and there is still much more to come.


My art is a moment in my life. It is a snapshot of an amazing moment I have experienced. I can sit down and look at the work I have made and see them as the bi-products of my life experiences. My work is what is left after all of the really wonderful art, the whole process of creating the art, has happened. Once a piece is completed I no longer feel like it is mine, it has become a representation of a moment that I really enjoyed. I don’t get attached to the object itself after it’s completed, and I look forward to someone else enjoying all that I have put into and gotten out of the work and the process of creating it.

Born in North Dakota on the Standing Rock Reservation in a small town known as Fort Yates Cannupa Hanska Luger comes from a place of “...not knowing...”. His mother, Kathy “Elk Woman” Whitman, is faith, his father, Robert “Bruz” Luger, is hard work, and he remains the middle distance. His genetics are derived from Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Austrian, Norwegian and trace elements of suns and moons and dust. Cannupa Hanska spent his summers on his father’s ranch in North Dakota and learned the benefit of labor. His mother raised him and his siblings on art, it provided food, clothing, and shelter, and so self-expression was in a way mother’s milk. As an artist’s child he understands the ebb and flow of the life that artists choose and he too feels compelled to do the same. Now is the time to love and to fail and to learn and to decay, the universe is, and that is all ...and so it goes.

“ (NO)tsalgia, 2012


12 Familiar Faces (detail), 2013


Culture cannot be contained as it unfolds. My art enters this stream at many different points, looking backwards, looking forwards, generating its own sound and motion. I am inspired by generations of Tlingit creativity and contribute to this wealthy conversation through active curiosity. There is no room in this exploration for the tired prescriptions of the “Indian Art World” and its institutions. Through creating I assert my freedom. Concepts drive my medium. I draw upon a wide range of indigenous technologies and global materials when exploring an idea. Adaptation and resistance, lies and exaggeration, dreams, memories and poetic views of daily life--these themes recur in my work, taking form through sound, texture, and image. Inert objects spring back to life; kitsch is reclaimed as cultural renewal; dancers merge ritual and rap. I am most comfortable not knowing what form my next idea will take, a boundless creative path of concept based motion.

Things are Looking Native, Native is Looking Whiter, 2012

Born in Sitka, Alaska, Nicholas Galanin has struck an intriguing balance between his origins and the course of his practice. Having trained extensively in ‘traditional’ as well as ‘contemporary’ approaches to art, he pursues them both in parallel paths. His stunning bodies of work simultaneously preserve his culture and explore new perceptual territory. Galanin studied at the London Guildhall University, where he received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts with honors in Jewelry Design and Silversmithing and at Massey University in New Zealand earning a Master’s degree in Indigenous Visual Arts. Valuing his culture as highly as his individuality, Galanin has created an unusual path for himself. He deftly navigates “the politics of cultural representation”, as he balances both ends of the aesthetic spectrum. With a fiercely independent spirit, Galanin has found the best of both worlds and has given them back to his audience in stunning form.



Buffalo Fields Forever #3, 2012

In this year already we have seen a African American president sworn into his second term. In this atmosphere you would think that equality and acceptance were to be taken for granted. Not so, for the Native American, it seems there is an open season on cultural appropriation, from Urban Outfitters to No Doubt these images do not pay homage to the Indigenous people of North America. It is Red-Face racism that is effortlessly marketed to the masses.


Buffalo Fields Forever, 2012

At no other time in history have we (Natives) been so well equipped and educated and willing to fight these derogatory attacks on our image. So No Doubt removed their video, Urban Outfitters is still in court. This conflict of idea versus Ideals can only be won when we own our own image. So we Are and We do.

Frank Buffalo Hyde, a Southwestern born artist who traces his heritage to the Nez Perce and Onondaga people, has been recognized for breaking through the boundaries that many place around what they think Native American art should look like. He is defining himself as a Native American without being a stereotype dealing with what he calls the “fragmented contemporary life” of a Native U.S. citizen.

In-Appropraite (detail), 2013

Hyde grew up in central New York, and then returned to New Mexico to study at the Santa Fe Fine Arts Institute and the Institute of American Indian Arts. He’s been exhibiting his work for over 15 years -- since he was 18 -- showing in many Santa Fe galleries as well as in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. Having established himself in the competitive Santa Fe art market, he felt comfortable moving away and keeping up his career there from a distance.


MERRITT JOHNSON Diversion Pattern, 2013

My practice is a cross-disciplinary negotiation of discontinuity. Through my work, I explore the connections and oppositions between (and within) bodies and place.

difference, of the unknown. The real monsters remain hidden. The monsters we see, covered in drapery, give us direction and make us dangerous. Trouble comes in slipping into the monster (not the disguise) and My work with figures treats opulent interi- devouring everything to avoid being eaten ors and identifiable patterns, as the mate- by a strange curtain thrown over a _________. rial for camouflaging bodies; pointing to protection, aggression and the difficulty of My work with land, slides between the cross cultural disguise. Monsters are made representation celebrated in romantic by unknowing. By covering, we make landscapes, and what we cannot, or do the unknown. In this making we create not see- images are redacted or obscured; monster-imposters; of ourselves, of others, objects leak, drip and sag. I treat land, willing and unwilling. This work processes sky, clouds and everything, like survivors marginalization and fear of culture, of with agency, bent on continued existence.

The Clouds represent clouds. They are migrants, outside land-based agreements. It’s unclear if they’ve been shot out of the sky by anti-aircraft artillery (for weather modification), or if they’re hurling themselves to the ground to find alternate routes of travel, or if they are intentionally targeting things here on the ground. I’m interested in clouds because they are unlike us. They are non-human and difficult to anthropomorphize; seemingly incapable of benevolence or violence, but they exist without recognition of laws established by land-based nations, they are an example.

“ 16

Merritt Johnson is a multidisciplinary artist working in painting, sculpture and performance. Her practice considers physical and material limitation in relation to mediating experience and survival. Johnson has performed in various galleries and public sites such as the U.S./ Canadian border, the wall around the Capitol Building, the Denver Art Museum and the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Her work is included in private collections as well as the permanent collect of the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe NM. Her work has recently been published in Antennae The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture, and Salish Seas (Talon Books). Based in East Harlem NY, of mixed Mohawk, Blackfoot and nonIndigenous descent, Johnson holds a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University and an MFA from Massachusetts College of Art.

Waterfall Face (emergency mantle for diplomatic security and near invisibility), 2012


SARAH ORTEGON Fences, 2013

On the Mend is a body of work employing found objects paired with traditional Native American materials; leather, hair, and beads. A beaded large leather pelt surrounded by suspended miniature liquor bottles highlights reservation landscapes, all of which are beaded. Collectively these beaded objects express the healing process that occurs after tragedy. One of my inspirations includes James Luna’s performance “Artifact Piece.” He lays still in a display case, reflecting on the Native American culture that is sometimes viewed as being extinct. On the Mend takes his thoughts a step further and reflects on the current state of existence for the people and rural areas on the reservation. The central leather pelt portrays a landscape of an abandoned burnt out house juxtaposed with found alcohol “shooter” bottles, emptied of their “spirits” like lost souls. Once meaningful practices are being replaced by


the use of mind numbing substances, which is off setting the balance of the communities on the reservation. My work brings attention to the lost, deserted, and ignored, representing both the people and the objects. The finished bottles are suspended from hair; which is significant because when someone passes away in the Arapahoe culture, they are buried with the hair of their loved ones. Although, On the Mend concentrates on what was left behind, beadwork, a meditative process, expresses the slow progression of healing. Beadwork is time consuming, but in the end, a beautiful product is made from something that was once dismissed as trash. Taking the discarded, such as a scrap of glass and giving it meaning, is another way of giving it a purpose; allowing the healing process to begin.

Born in Denver, CO on September 8th, 1986. I am the lucky

All of these experiences are what inspired my art.

number ten, in a family of twelve. My Mom is Sharon Joy Enos Ortegon, and my Dad is Angel Ortegon, neither of them holding as much as a high school diploma. Ever since I was younger, I remember traveling back and forth from Denver, Colorado to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. One of my first memories was when I was three years old, watching the dancers during a pow-wow and trying to mimic their movements. From that time on I felt the drum beat in my heart, and I knew that I had to express this passion with the rest of the world through my art. My summers were spent on the reservation, swimming in the river, at my aunts playing hide and seek in the dark, riding our bikes, throwing rocks at the dogs that over populated the reservation who would otherwise, nip at our heels. The rest of the year consisted of going to school in Denver, Colorado where my parents bought a house.

Life experiences on the reservation are different then the suburban life style of Denver. In school, I do not recall being any different then any of the Caucasian kids until we had a thanksgiving reenactment, and I was nominated to be a Native girl. Since then, I started to see the differences between the two life styles. I noticed while I was living in the city, buildings were always torn down, rebuilt, new business introduced every so often. Where as on the Reservation, the abandoned buildings, broken down cars, forgotten trailers were left as eyesores on the landscape. The culture on the reservation is still alive and thriving, however, the reservation needs to grow positive affirmations for the people. Individuals can come together to create a stronger community for future generations, and that is why I decided to share my thoughts through the use of beads and traditional materials. Moving beyond the past and creating something to build upon, just like beadwork, will take time and dedication to finish.

Unpolluted Sky (detail), 2013

In the Clouds (detail), 2013




The Maniacs, 2011

Over the course of her practice, Red Star has worked within and between the mediums of photography, sculpture, installation, performance and design. Red Star’s multilayered work influences are drawn from her tribal background (Crow), daily surroundings, aesthetic experiences, collected snapshots of moments of the past and present, and stories that are both real and imagined. Through her photographs and sculpture a new cosmos is built, simultaneously urban-rural and high-low, conveying ideas and feelings through representations created from suggested associations of seemingly diverse sites, objects and ideas. HUD houses, rez cars, three legged dogs, powwow culture, indigenous commoditization, and Red Star’s personal collection of memories growing up as a half-breed on the Crow Indian reservation are used to excite a response in a form that can be experienced by others. The work represents an insider/outsider view that is rich with complexity and contradiction. Red Star’s unruly approach examines the consumptive exposure of a cross section of American cultures while also being a meditation on her own identity. Her works explore the intersection between life on the reservation and the world outside of that environment. Red Star thinks of herself as a cultural archivist speaking sincerely about the experience of being a Crow Indian in contemporary society.

The Maniacs (detail), 2011

Wendy Red Star is an artist living and working in Portland, Oregon. Red Star received her B.F.A. from Montana State University-Bozeman and her M.F.A from UCLA in 2006. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally. Her exhibitions include shows at the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Hallie Ford Museum, The Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship 2009, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Laura Bartlett Gallery London, The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Missoula Art Museum, St. Louis Art Museum, National Museum of the American Indian-New York, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Bockley Gallery. She has been a visiting lecturer at a range of respected institutions, including the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, Banff Centre, National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne), Portland State University, Oregon College of Art & Craft, Flagler College, Fairhaven College, Fine Artworks CenterProvincetown, and I.D.E.A. Space-Colorado College.


SARAH SENSE My Basket Story (detail), 2013

Sarah Sense received a BFA from California State University, Chico (2003), and an MFA from Parsons The New School for Design, New York (2005). Sense’s visual art practice is weaving photographs with traditional Chitimacha basketry techniques. Since 2010, Sense has been traveling and researching contemporary Indigenous arts throughout North, Central, and South America and Southeast Asia. She recently published her first book, Weaving the Americas, A Search for Native Art in the Western Hemisphere, a project based on a seven month journey from Canada to Chile. The project garnered her first traveling solo exhibition, Weaving the Americas, Tejiendo las Amerícas, premiering at Museo de Arte Contempráneo, Universidad Austral, Valdivia, Chile (2011). Her most recent project, Weaving Water premieredin Bristol, UK with Rainmaker Gallery, with curatorial


support from Max Carocci of British Museum (2013). Other recent exhibitions include: First Continental Biennial of Contemporary Native Arts, Museo de Nacional Culturas Populares, Mexico City (2012), HIDE: Skin As Material and Metaphor, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian, New York (2010); Pieces of Home, Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington (2010); Reimagining the West, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, AZ (2010); In/SIGHT, Chelsea Art Museum, New York, (2010). Collections include the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian, the Chitimacha Tribal Museum, Eaton Corporation, Tweed Museum of Art at University of Minnesota; and private collections in Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, England, and the United States.

Weaving the Bayou (detail), 2013 Bristol – Guadeloupe – Charenton explores slavery in the Caribbean, connecting the three locations through the little-known history of Native American slave trade. The installation is a photo and paper web of wallpaper donning British and French iconography mashed with maps of Louisiana, the Caribbean, and Europe. The photoweaving technique visually explores a research project linking the French Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe to Bristol, home of the European slave harbour in the United Kingdom to my Native American ancestry of Chitimacha and Choctaw. Weaving photographs is a way of connecting with a familial tradition that has dissolved into a hand-full of talent. Through photographic processes, cut paper and physical weaving, I have taught myself how to carry on the tradition of weaving Chitimacha patterns, bringing me into a life of meeting and knowing other traditional artists. Weaving Water was first explored in the Caribbean Islands, later transitioning to Southeast Asia where the majority of the series was created. The two final grid installations that were created for the Weaving Water series were Weaving the Bayou and My Basket Story. These two installations are woven into the Bristol – Guadeloupe – Charenton installation reconnecting my personal story of weaving and the Chitimacha Reservation landscape to the slave trade.

Weaving the Bayou is based on Bayou Teche at the Chitimacha Reservation in Charenton, Louisiana. In this piece there are fifteen different photographs of one sunset over the Bayou. I photographed these images in November 2008 and wove them together in 2013. Traditional Chitimacha baskets are made from river cane, an indigenous plant to Bayou Teche. My Basket Story is a piece that weaves together a handwritten story of how I came to my weaving practice fifteen years ago. The bamboo paper becomes my journal of experiences since I first engaged with the Chitimacha baskets as a teenager, until now, where I am on the cusp of learning how to do the traditional basket weaving. The piece is a part of the Weaving Water series and includes photographs from the Caribbean search project of November 2012 and Southeast Asia of January and February 2013. All of the bamboo paper interwoven into the work is from northern Thailand, replacing the natural material of river cane, which is the material for traditional Chitimacha baskets. While my story of weaving is woven into the piece, the text can only be deciphered on two of the sixteen panels. The lost language is covered and in places laid over it self and covering my story.


MARIE WATT My work explores human stories and rituals implicit in everyday objects. I consciously draw from indigenous design principles, oral traditions, and personal experience to shape the inner logic of the work I make. My recent work explores the history of wool blankets. As I fold and stack blankets they begin to form columns that have references to linen closets architectural braces, memorials (Trajan); sculpture (Brancusi for one), the great totem poles of the Northwest and the conifer trees with which I grew up. These blanket forms also present themselves in other mediums of my work足 such as with printmaking, bronze, and cedar. In the case of my wood cuts, I appreciate the warm tactile quality of the material. There is a familiarity and intimacy with wood that again reminds me of blankets. The material offers another layer of story that is physically and metaphorically woven into the work, like with cedar, which is considered to be a sacred natural resource for indigenous people of the Northwest or the hope chests in which blankets are stored.


Easy Chair (detail), 2012

Marie Watt is a multidisciplinary artist who lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Born in 1967 to the son of Wyoming ranchers and a daughter of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation (Iroquois / Haudenosaunee) Watt identifies herself as “half Cowboy and half Indian.” Formally, her work draws from indigenous design principles, oral tradition, personal experience, and Western art history. Her approach to art-making is shaped by the proto-feminism of Iroquois matrilineal

custom, political work by Native artists in the 60s, a discourse on multiculturalism, as well as Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Like Jasper Johns, she interested in “things that the mind already knows.” Unlike the Pop artists, she uses a vocabulary of natural materials (stone, cornhusks, wool, cedar) and forms (blankets, pillows, bridges) that are universal to human experience (though not uniquely American) and noncommercial in character.

Cradle Cobble (Brooklyn), 2012


WILL WILSON Sandra Lamouche (detail), 2012

William (Will) Wilson is a DinĂŠ photographer who spent his formative years living in the Navajo Nation. Born in San Francisco in 1969, Wilson studied photography at the University of New Mexico (Dissertation Tracked MFA in Photography, 2002) and Oberlin College (BA, Studio Art and Art History, 1993). In 2007, Wilson won the Native American Fine Art Fellowship from the Eiteljorg Museum, and in 2010 was awarded a prestigious grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Wilson has held visiting professorships at the Institute of American Indian Arts (1999-2000), Oberlin College (2000-01), and the University of Arizona (2006-08). From 2009 to 2011, Wilson managed the National Vision Project, a Ford Foundation funded initiative at the Museum


of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, and helped to coordinate the New Mexico Arts Temporary Installations Made for the Environment (TIME) program on the Navajo Nation. Wilson is part of the Science and Arts Research Collaborative (SARC) which brings together artists interested in using science and technology in their practice with collaborators from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia Labs as part of the International Symposium on Electronic Arts, 2012 (ISEA). Recently, Wilson completed an exhibition and artist residency at the Denver Art Museum and is currently the King Fellow artist in residence at the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe, NM.

Toward a Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange As an indigenous artist working in the 21st century, employing media that range from historical photographic processes to the randomization and projection of complex visual systems within virtual environments, I am impatient with the way that American culture remains enamored of one particular moment in a photographic exchange between EuroAmerican and Aboriginal American societies: the decades from 1907 to 1930 when photographer Edward S. Curtis produced his magisterial opus The North American Indian. For many people even today, Native people remain frozen in time in Curtis photos. Other Native artists have produced photographic responses to Curtis’s oeuvre, usually using humor as a catalyst to melt the lacquered romanticism of these stereotypical portraits. I seek to do something different. I intend to resume the documentary mission of Curtis from the standpoint of a 21st century indigenous, trans-customary, cultural practitioner. I want to supplant Curtis’s Settler gaze and the remarkable body of ethnographic material he compiled with a contemporary vision of Native North America.

In August of 2012, at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, I initiated the Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX). This was the initial spark for an ongoing intervention into the history of photography that I plan to undertake. I aim to link history, form, and a critical dialogue about Native American representation by engaging participants in dialogue and a portrait session using the wet plate process. This multi-faceted engagement will yield a series of “tintypes” (aluminum types) whose enigmatic, time-traveling aspect demonstrates how an understanding of our world can be acquired through fabricated methods. Through collaboration with my sitters I want to indigenize the photographic exchange.

I propose to create a body of photographic inquiry that will stimulate a critical dialogue and reflection around the historical and contemporary “photographic exchange” as it pertains to Native Americans. My aim is to convene with and invite indigenous artists, arts professionals, and tribal governance to engage in the performative ritual that is the studio portrait. This experience will be intensified and refined by the use of large format (8x10) wet plate collodion studio photography. This beautifully alchemic photographic process dramatically contributed to our collective understanding of Native American people and, in so doing, our American identity.

Ultimately, I want to ensure that the subjects of my photographs are participating in the re-inscription of their customs and values in a way that will lead to a more equal distribution of power and influence in the cultural conversation. It is my hope that these Native American photographs will represent an intervention within the contentious and competing visual languages that form today’s photographic canon. This critical indigenous photographic exchange will generate new forms of authority and autonomy. These alone—rather than the old paradigm of assimilation--can form the basis for a re-imagined vision of who we are as Native people.

I will encourage my collaborators to bring items of significance to their portrait sessions in order to help illustrate our dialogue. As a gesture of reciprocity I will give the sitter the tintype photograph produced during our exchange, with the caveat that I be granted the right to create and use a high resolution scan of his or her image for my own artistic purposes.


Our Mission

The Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Center for Visual Art is the off-campus contemporary art center that leverages bold exhibitions, innovative education programs and entrepreneurial workforce development programs to provide accessible, diverse, high-quality art experiences that advance the global urban dialogue

This catalogue accompanied the exhibition Cross Currents, curated by Cecily Cullen, shown from November 11, 2013 - February 8, 2014 at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s off campus art gallery, the Center for Visual Art.

The Center for Visual Art would like to thank our sponsors : Colorado Creative Industries Jan and Fred Mayer Fund MSU Denver Office of Institutional Diversity MSU Denver Student Advisory Board MSU Denver School of Letters, Arts and Sciences SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown at MSU Denver Three Tomatoes Catering U.S Bank

A special thanks to:

Bockley Gallery, Minneapolis Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle James Buss PDX Contemporary Art, Portland Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, Santa Fe

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Cross Currents Catalog  
Cross Currents Catalog  

This catalog accompanied the exhibition Cross Currents, curated by Cecily Cullen, shown from November 11, 2013 - February 8, 2014 at Metropo...