Monday, June 17, 2019

Hearts Of Our People - Native Women Artists At The Minneapolis Institute Of Arts

I've been missing writing stories, and then I went to the most spectacular art exhibit yesterday here in Minneapolis, and thought "This is a story for EVERYONE!," and as my Minnesota friends always read about my Venice/Los Angeles stories, I thought it might be nice for them to read about something in their own town, and L.A. to have something to try to get to before Hearts Of Our People: Native Women Artists ends in August (though I suspect it will be extended - it's so good). It was one of the best, most moving art shows I've ever attended, and everyone who can must go. I think I'll make "Clogtown" be my name for my Minnesota stories, after the popular Scandinavian shoe I wear all the time here.

The MIA is huge, so the ticket woman told us to "Look for the black El Camino", which we found easily (and was actually an art installation restored and done up in traditional pottery patterns by Rose B. Simpson - Santa Clara tribe) and collected our audio headsets to really understand the exhibit. Next to the ticket counter was a shelf with various native medicines to be made as offerings from Natives throughout the exhibit. As the sign said, "The center of the circle of life is respect."

You pass over an installation by Mona M. Smith (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate) of a babbling brook in the woods - to enter the exhibit, where another projection of a Native woman (Juanita Espinosa) welcomes visitors in the Dakota language. The state name "Minnesota" comes from the Dakhota word "Mnisota" - "land where the water reflects the sky". If you've ever flown into Minneapolis in the daytime, you know this to be true. I learned that the center of the Dakota universe is "Bdote" - "Where two waters come together" - which is the exact spot where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet. There is no better place for this first of its kind exhibit featuring all Native women to have taken place, and I couldn't have loved it more.

Each title card was written in both English and the Native translation (if available or chosen to do so), where some of the written languages were art unto themselves. The art dates back 1,000 years, and the show is so extensive, you will look at all of this and still have so much more to see. The audio tour was helpful (I've never nerded out and done that before, and now I'm mad at how much I've missed out on!), and when hearing the stories of the art in the artist's voice and with their emotion behind it, it brought chills and tears more than once. Like when learning about the Give Away Horses beaded dress and accessories by three generations of women.

Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty, her daughter Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty, and granddaughter, Jessa Rae Growing Thunder (Dahkota/Nakoda) all beaded this masterpiece together, and the proud legacy passed down is visible in each tiny bead making up the beauty of the whole. It's stunning, and such a piece of living history. The same was true of Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations, 2007 by Marie Watt (Seneca Nation of Indians). The blanket column is meant to resemble Greek columns, but also Native totem poles. Blankets are given for gifts at important life celebrations, and play a large role in Native tradition. How cool.

Also cool were the baskets of offerings that Native visitors have left behind, and all are to be used in a big celebration at the closing of this show.

While some of the art went back centuries, there was also very much a modern presence. In Hit, 2008 by Tanis S'eiltin, (Tlingit) comments on all the massacres of Native people connected with the modern U.S. military invasions. She understands how many of these missions are advertised as "Saving women and children", while really being greedy military actions. Still. Heavy.

Kaa, 2017 was a gorgeous photograph by Cara Romero (Chemehuevi) of her model, Kaa, who comes from a notable pottery family in Santa Clara. The ancestral Pueblo clay designs are overlaid on the nude form, and shows how the spirit of the clay is passed down thousands of years. Everything is tradition, and this show will most assuredly help to keep them all alive.

Another moving piece was Thinking Caps, 1999  by Shelley Niro (Six Nation Turtle clan)- a mixed media installation again showing how the Native arts are passed down from generation to generation. Four sets of images were side by side, each showing a different age of female, with hands from child to old woman surrounding each piece.

Different caps were in front of each one, designed to show the wisdom and growth over time, with the final cap having mirrored parts to reflect you in them. Every piece in this show would make me stop and think, and I probably need to return to process it all. This land is our land, but we took it from them, and the show bears both that heaviness, but also the light that comes from beauty, art and tradition.

One of my favorites was Nahookosji Hai (Winter In The North), 2018 by DY. Begay, (Navajo). It is a painting on textile of Lake Superior in Grand Portage, MN. It invokes the same sense of calm that I've always felt gazing at that Great Lake, with the serenity coming this time from wool, natural dyes and Begay's talent.

Another real favorite was the show stopping painting that serves as the model for the exhibit's promotional materials. The Wisdom Of The Universe, 2014 by Christi Belcourt (Michif) is so beautiful you truly gasp. It depicts the plants and animals that are endangered or extinct in Canada, and is meant to display gratitude for the natural world. It's something special huge ...

... and then you zoom in on the detail and it looks like it almost could be another exquisitely beaded piece (of a hummingbird!), but it's acrylics! I loved it so much.

As much as you were entranced by the beauty of everything, you are also learning a great deal during your walk through this exceptional undertaking. For example, I didn't know that "Bone China" was really Buffalo Bone China, 1997 by Dana Claxton (Lahkota) as buffalo bones were valued by Europeans for their quality and durability, reducing the buffalo population from thousands to a few hundred. For tea cups. Wild buffalo run by on a video installed over a pile of broken china pieces. Ouch.

... the sky is darkening ..., 2018 by Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora) is a remembrance of the passenger pigeons that were hunted to extinction, and this is Rickard's celebration of their song through her bead work. It is yet another gorgeous, but deeply thought provoking piece - as they really ALL are.

Like for sure Sunshine On A Cannibal, 2015 by Andrea Carlson (Ojibwe) which portrays the cultural cannibalism that our Western society always does ... objectify, consume, assimilate, erase ... and this piece asks us to stop and think about how our culture consumes others. Complete with a trigger warning.

Another piece that brings into focus that cultural cannibalism is Childhood, 2013 by Lou-Ann Neel (Kwakwaka'wakw). It is a photo mosaic made up of hundreds of photos of kids taken from their homes and put into boarding schools to try to erase their Native ways. This happened all over the country, and remains an outrage.

I was hired to write a script about this once, but it was for a horror film, and I thought the fact that they were ripped from their homes, made to cut their hair and not speak their native languages, etc ... was horror enough. All of these little faces making up the image of Neel's nephew in traditional costume is impressive, and once again very weighted. As it should be.

Another outrage is depicted in December 5, 2016: No Spiritual Surrender, 2016 by Zoe Urness (Tlingit), a digital photograph that portrays the pride and defiance of the Standing Rock standoff a few years back that remains as yet another blight on our nation's troubled recent history - and past.

And if we're talking about outrages - and we are - you can't forget The Garden, 2017 by Julie Buffalohead ((Ponca). It reminds us of when the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden thought it would be a good idea a few years back to include a piece of a gallows (Scaffold) where 40 Native men were hanged in 1862. People were obviously horrified, and the offending piece was removed. Buffalohead's work shows a wolf carrying off the Sculpture Garden's blue rooster in it mouth, "Revealing the ignorance and vanity of the predominantly white art world and its incompatibility with the Native peoples' lived experiences." - according to the title card. Burn.

Another personal favorite of mine was also called Childhood, 2004 by C. Maxx Stevens (Seminole/Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma), who suffers from memory loss. Family members trigger her memory with objects like a childhood dress - here hung with a light inside and a crow on the outside, for her protection. The unfinished quality is meant to illustrate the fragility of memory ... and this one made me cry again.

The Hide cradleboard, c.1890 by a Kiowa artist was beaded to honor new life, and again shows why Native culture is so beautiful with its symbolism and reverence for nature, family, and tradition. Every single item in this show holds nations inside of it, and the memories that keep them alive, I can't say enough good about it.

A beaded Woman's parka (tuilli), c. 1900 (Inuit) was stunning, and also functional, as they were made from caribou hide and used in the whaling harbors of Canada. They were often passed down from mother to daughter, and were treasured possessions. Of course, look at it!

Another heavy - maybe the most heavy - piece was Fringe, 2007 by Rebecca Belmore (Anishinaabe). This work addresses the violence toward Native women that is sadly not uncommon. The figure is in a traditional European painting pose, but her deep scar shows the trauma for Native people ... and is then sewn up with beads, portraying their resilience, strength, and ultimate survival. Wow.

I loved Women's Voices at the Council, 1990, by Joan Hill (Muskogee Creek and Cherokee), and shows the power that women hold to decide between war and peace. This piece is particularly powerful now, as we as a country attempt to navigate equal rights and less war, along with a renewed respect for women - we hope.

Women from all nations love their shoes, as the intricately beaded moccasins shown off in this exhibit clearly show, but perhaps none more than this stunning pair of Christian Louboutins, Adaptation, II, 2012 zhuzzed up in beaded and feathered Native style by Jamie Okuma (LuiseƱo/Shoshone-Bannock) that I deeply covet.

How could It's In Our DNA, It's Who We Are, 2018 by Anita Fields (Osage) not be one of my favorites? The brightly colored military coat is after those that were given to Osage men by U.S. government officials, but they were too small for them, so the women took to adorning them and wearing them for special ceremonies. Fields took this excellent one a step further by sewing treaties and photographs into its lining ... and adding a top hat that isn't explained. I loved it.

I loved every piece in Hearts of Our People, in fact. It is groundbreaking, it is exquisite, it is moving, it is beautiful, and it is important.  Important because it asks us to celebrate Native women and their art, but also to remember. To remember where and who we came from, and also to remember who we want to be. A poem hanging near the final works called Remember by Joy Harjo (Muscogee/Cherokee) really summed the entire show up for me. I'll leave you here with it, and urge you to visit this magnificent exhibit at MIA at least once during its duration.

Hearts of Our People 
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Now through August 18th, 2019

Thank you to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the Minneapolis Institute of Art for bringing this must see show to Minneapolis for all to enjoy and learn from. It is a tour de force.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Light Of Venice

We were recently shooting down on the Boardwalk for our documentary, 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED, when I finally really got down and looked at the wonderful tiles embedded in the benches all along Ocean Front Walk. Each depicts a classic time and place in Venice, and show what has always made our Community special and unique.

I know many of us feel that is all being threatened these days on several fronts, and that we often feel helpless to create positive change and reject the negative ... but we're not. We all have a voice, and you can exercise yours this weekend during the Venice Neighborhood Council elections by showing up to vote for the people that deeply care about the spirit of Venice, and wish to preserve it - not merely profit from it.

I can't be there for everything happening in Venice this weekend, as I'm in Minnesota taking care of things for my ailing Mother, so I extra get that feeling of helplessness ... but I can at least tell you what I think. There have been nefarious forces at work for some time on both the VNC and the Venice Chamber of Commerce, and I really think it's time to clean house in both of those organizations. You may recall the stories about the Chamber not letting Venice Pride use the Venice Sign for the annual sign lighting and party over strictly personal beefs and shady accounting. Well, now they've gone ahead and lit the sign rainbow ahead of Pride - not allowing them to have the countdown or anything - and the "scheduled maintenance" they said they were doing on the sign for the month of June appears to be another lie. Venice Pride had to go ahead and order their own sign as a backup plan, so now there will be a double rainbow during tomorrow's Pride celebration! Pride will never go down without the FUN.

The Chamber also scheduled their "Flower Fest" for the exact same day as Pride, and got the Art Crawl to join them. The Chamber/Flower Fest situation is what started all of the issues with Venice Pride, as the Chamber didn't have enough money in their budget to make it happen last year, so resorted to ever shadier tactics (which they wrongly accused Venice Pride of, hypocritically - and there's plenty of documentation to prove it) to throw the event - that pretty much no one attended. I don't have time to get into all of it here and now, as I'm dealing with pressing family things here, but I will tell you that you can trust me on the fact that I wouldn't cast a single vote for anyone who endorses the Venice Chamber hijinks. Or anyone that values property value or development over Community, creativity, and empathy. Who I WOULD vote for are who the people who share my deep desire to preserve that special light of Venice are voting for:

Community Officer: Jim Robb/Brian Averill
Outreach: Joselyn Williams
Chair of Land Use and Planning Committee: Alix Gucovsky
Vice President: Grant Turck (!!!!!!)
President: Ira Koslow

There are more categories to vote for, and I don't have time to get all the way into it now ... but for those I would definitely err on the side of the longer they have lived in Venice, the more chance they get my vote. Because they simply care more and GET IT more. There is a an all day (10-6) BBQ on Sunday at 1301 Main Street hosted by Robb, Averill, and Gucovsky that you can hit up before or after you vote - or both. Get to know the people that love and care about Venice and want to be stewards of what our late great poet, Philomene Long called "the light of Venice" ...

That the light of Venice
not be extinguished
Nor diminished
nor simply maintained.
But that that light burn, burn, burn
into a boundless luminosity!  

I look forward to hearing that the right people were elected, and that Pride was the best ever this year! Cheers, fun, and LOVE to all Venetians!!! 

*And do check out the marvelous benches, as well as the book about them - Art Tiles At Venice Beach!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Doors Of Venice

It's no wonder the band, The Doors, came up with their name in Venice. They were talking about The Doors Of Perception (by Aldous Huxley), but they could just as easily have been talking about the actual Doors in Venice. Just about every block has a house with some kind of a cool door, and that's one of the things that I've always loved about our little beach community - its creativity!

This one is tucked away on a dead end street near the beach, and I just love its little painted plants and sense of whimsy ... by someone called Luis P. Door. Adorable.

One of the few new homes following this fun precedent is on Rialto, and has a kind of desert oasis vibe ...

Then there's the one that looks like a gateway to a Balinese paradise ...

This little entryway in the Oakwood neighborhood made my day one day ...

And you have to have the Mosaic House in any conversation about doors ...

Though just a random sample of the cool doors around Venice, there are probably enough to make a cool book - just another of my million ideas that I hope to make happen one day. I hope that more homeowners will join in, as it's such an easy way to welcome people in a fun way! I also recently learned about embroidery on screens, so let's hope soon every door and window in Venice is a good time to look at.

 I love the famous quote from Joseph Campbell ...

Follow your bliss and the Universe will open doors where there were only walls. 

Feel free to send me shots of the doors you love - or your own when you follow your bliss and finish it!

Monday, May 20, 2019

The 40th Anniversary Venice Art Walk!

The forecast said rain for Sunday, and that would be a major drag for the 40th anniversary edition of the Venice Art Walk to benefit our Venice Family Clinic ... but the sun came out just in time, and the day was glorious in every way.

We were shooting artists and families for our documentary 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED, so it was extra great that the rain stopped, like PHEW. I didn't get around to as many artist studios as I usually do, because we were shooting, but I did get to race through the Google campus to see the silent auction part of the day. There didn't seem to be as much art in there as most years, but I didn't have as much time either, so all was well - and there was plenty of art to be seen.

The Gold's Gym parking lot was decked out as a family fun zone, complete with a rainbow balloon arch to welcome you, as we were looking for real rainbows in the sky.

So many local (and global) artists support the Venice Art Walk, and the Venice Family Clinic supports so many artists - and regular people too. Health care is such an issue in this country, and that we have a resource that looks out for everyone - regardless of income - is a special gift, and really the point of the entire event and day.

I had just been to the wonderful We Rise L.A. opening night a couple nights before, so my head was full of art that actually matters, and was happy to see that the artists representing Venice were also using their heads and talents to make their points.

There was a lot of great work, and I just quick snapped shots of the ones that I'd want to have in my own home, like the California Bear.

I met a woman named Kim Schoenstadt at a party the night before, and she told me her work would be in the Art Walk, so I looked for it and found it there. It's pretty cool, as it's kind of paint by number, and you buy the outline, then fill it in yourself for an interactive piece. Cool, right?

There was work by people you see on the streets of Venice every day, and there was work from people that aren't living anymore. There were things with low opening bids from up and comers, and there were real expensive pieces by dudes like Ed Ruscha.

The signature artist this year was Laura Owens, whose work was not only up for auction, but adorned all the official tote bags this year.

This year they had a bunch of Art Walk artists do their own version of a dog sculpture, and the individually decorated hounds were also up for auction.

There are always a lot of cool people roaming around the Venice Art Walk, but probably the coolest this year was Flea, who was not trying to blend in with his entirely purple outfit, yellow shoes, and pink hair.  Californication personified!

Andy Moses had a piece that reminded me of really good Spin Art, and it made me think of his dad, Ed, who we lost last year.

One of my favorite pieces inside was one that said "Good Night, Sleep Tight" with words made of a collage of hotel/motel ephemera from a Crosby, Stills, and Nash tour. How cool, and it also touched my heart because that is what our Mom has always said before we went to sleep.

The Beer Garden area was crowded and jumping, with people happy to be outside enjoying the sunshine and art.

I had to race off to meet back up with my film crew, but quickly stopped off to see the great work by M.B. Boissonnault in her studio. We had interviewed her for our documentary earlier in the day, as one of our favorite Venice artists and a woman with great things to say. There was a constant flow through her studio, so our visit was brief, but gratifying. Thanks, M.B.!

From there it was a short walk over to the studio of Tanja Skala and Greg Falk, who were our next subjects to film for an interview. I always love my visits to this husband/wife team and the incredible studio of theirs that they built themselves from scratch. Skala always does a riveting, profound performance piece for the Art Walk, which are always a highlight of the day for me each year. This year found Skala and her friend acting as doctors, giving prescriptions of "Empathy Pills" to the patients that came through.

They sat in front of a periodic table of human emotions, and as you stood in front of it, you really got that of all of the emotions that we feel, empathy is the one most needed in this world right now.

That is true for our film also, and in interviewing Skala and Falk (with his amazing work upstairs that includes a speed wheelchair made from skateboard parts! Giving back!) we realized what a good summation it also is for our project. In examining income inequality, homelessness, gentrification, and art in our community, the number one thing most needed right now IS empathy.

That is also true of the Venice Art Walk itself. Artists of all levels contribute to the event to give back to the clinic that helps other members of their community in a beautiful example of yes, Empathy.

I didn't get to see as much art as I would have liked this year, but what I did see was beautiful and moving ... and all for a wonderful cause! It was also great to see so many locals out and about enjoying art in and about the heart of Venice.

Thank you to the Venice Art Walk crew for another excellent year of art and empathy! Love.