Two of the most thrilling shows you are likely to see this year--both devoted to Native American art--are showing in New England
By Sebastian Smee
So, for instance, you might see a girl’s traditional fringed dress made from tanned hide, glass beads, bones, string, sinew, and thread within view of a contemporary digital photograph by Rebecca Belmore, which shows the bare back of a reclining woman (Belmore is one of several artists who appear in both shows). That back is traversed, troublingly, by a long scar from which a fringe of red strings descend, like rivulets of blood. The connections between the two pieces, and many more nearby, do not need spelling out.
This is effective, but I think it would be even more effective if the strands were drops of blood rather than blood-colored strings.
Conceptually, the work--an inversion of things that happened (more or less) to Native Americans who were treated as “specimens” by both scientists and artists--may be a bit elaborate. But as theater, it’s effective, and it gets the show off to a spectacular start.
Even better, further in, is a two-part video piece by Nicholas Galanin. The first part shows Galanin break dancing to a traditional tribal song. The second shows a Tlingit dancer in traditional garb moving to the sounds of electro-bass rap.
The work, a condensed and haunting expression of cultural schizophrenia, is superbly eloquent, even without its achingly beautiful title: “Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan (We Will Again Open This Container of Wisdom That Has Been Left in Our Care), Parts I and II.”
Love the idea of the two performers dancing to each other's music. Sounds awesome!
For more on modern Native art, see Remix Riddled with Clichés?