Art and activism collide
Written by Staci Golar
Native American Times
Monday, 22 March 2010 09:51
SANA FE, NM — Three poets and over 15 visual artists will explore the complex and often violent relationship between Native Americans and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the art show, Freedom of Information: The FBI, Indian Country, and Surveillance. Their works will examine the volatile times of the 1960s and 1970s, when the FBI’s COINTELPRO program sought to crush Indian activism, up to the present where technology allows intrusion into our personal lives to a previously unimaginable degree.
An opening reception will take place Friday, April 30th, from 6:00 – 9:00 pm at Ahalenia Studios, located at 1422 Second Street at Jay Street in Santa Fe. This event is free and open to the public. Cheyenne and Muscogee activist, policymaker, and author Suzan Shown Harjo will read her poetry at the opening reception. The show will be open to the public from 1:00 – 6:00 pm on the following three weekends:May 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, and 16. During the week, from May 2 to May 14, the show will be open by appointment, which can be arranged via firstname.lastname@example.org.
America Meredith and Ishkoten Dougi are co-curating the show. Meredith’s father, Howard Meredith directed the Indian Office of the Episcopal Church in the early 1970s. Because of his role, Meredith’s father had FBI tails and his phone was tapped. When as a teenager, she asked her father about the early 1970s, he told her to look up his FBI file, using the Freedom of Information act, giving the show its name. Ishkoten Dougi, a New Mexico native and prolific artist, has recently dealt with the FBI, which has been investigating the brutal murder of his little brother.
Indian Country has a much more intimate relationship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation than most of America. The Seven Major Crimes Act of 1885 gave the FBI jurisdiction over reservations when dealing with such major crimes as murder – and Indian Country certainly needs law enforcement. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, the FBI also famously launched COINTELPRO, a covert program to undermine activist organizations that the government deemed threatening, and particularly Native American rights organizations. Families, even loosely affiliated with activist organizations, were followed, monitored, and harassed. Ground zero for clashes between the FBI and Native peoples was Pine Ridge, South Dakota, from 1973 to 1975, when hundreds of murders have gone unsolved.
Today the federal government conducts warrantless wiretapping under the Obama administration. The intrusive surveillance familiar to Indian Country is now experienced by all US citizens. Equally disturbing is the amount of information about ourselves that we freely give away to corporations via social networking.
This art show will explore the personal experiences of artists who have been incarcerated, threatened, attacked, or spied upon by the FBI, but also artists who have worked with the FBI as prosecutors and who have been helped by the FBI in investigations. Artists explore the effect of these experiences on their personal lives. We also examine how, due to technological advances, surveillance has become utterly ubiquitous and even accepted in today’s world. Now most photographs and videos are taken by machines, not human beings. What does this lack of privacy mean to us individually and collectively? How does it change our behavior? And where ultimately will it lead us?
Participating poets are:
• Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee), president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., a founding trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian, and an award-winning writer.
• Ron Salkin (Oglala Lakota), a San Francisco bike messenger and published author.
• John Trudell (Santee Dakota), poet, national recording artist, actor and activist. Trudell worked with the American Indian Movement (AIM) serving as Chairman of AIM from 1973 to 1979.
Participating visual artists include:
• Marcus Amerman (Choctaw), bead, glass, and video artist, as well as painter as performance artist, whose alter ego is Buffalo Man.
• Ross Chaney (Osage/Cherokee), video artist and 2-D artist, whose drawings are influenced by his formal training in Japanese calligraphy. • Ishkoten Dougi (Jicarilla Apache/Navajo), expressionist and vision painter and printmaker, and show co-curator. This art show is dedicated to the memory of his brother, Naayaitch Friday, who was brutally murdered on 11 April 2009.
• Gina Gray (Osage Nation), painter living in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Gray left IAIA to join the Wounded Knee Occupation at Pine Ridge in 1973 for six weeks.
• Teri Greeves (Kiowa/Comanche), bead artist whose work is in the British Museum. She was featured in the PBS documentary, Craft in America.
• April Holder (Sauk and Fox/Tonkawa/Wichita), painting on fabric. Her father’s FBI tails actually stayed in the hospital when April was born in 1984.
• Alex Jacobs (Mohawk) painter, installation artist, and musician in Santa Fe.
• Saige LaFountain (Turtle Mountain Chippewa/Navajo) and Samuel LaFountain (Turtle Mountain Chippewa/Navajo) are brothers and award-winning artists. Saige is known for his bronze and stone sculptures and Samuel creates hand-stamped jewelry inlaid with an exotic array of stones; however, both will be creating experimental pieces in new media.
• America Meredith (Cherokee Nation) will exhibit mixed media paintings and sculpture.
• Leonard Peltier (Turtle Mountain Chippewa/Lakota), lithograph prints. The most prominent political prisoner in the United States, Peltier is currently in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
• Kevin and Valerie Pourier (Oglala Lakota), who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation, create polished buffalo horn carvings that are channeled inlaid with crushed gemstones. They marry tradition, aesthetics, and social commentary in his unique, utilitarian sculptures.
• Billy Soza Warsoldier (Cahuilla/Apache), Chicago Arts Institute and IAIA alumnus, successfully fought the California Department of Corrections for the right to not cut one’s hair for religious reasons.
• Stephen Wall (White Earth Chippewa-Seneca), creator of Technododems,which merge micro-technological artifacts with natural materials. Currently he is head of IAIA’s Indigenous Liberal Studies program and president of SWAIA’s board.
• Richard Ray Whitman (Yuchi/Pawnee) – a photographer, digital artist, videographer, actor and a longtime outspoken activist for Indigenous rights.
• Dwayne Wilcox (Oglala Lakota). Wilcox grew up on Pine Ridge and his historically informed ledger drawings offer humorous and biting critiques of contemporary society.