Ded Unk’unpi—We Are Here
Ded Unk’unpi—We Are Here opened last week at All My Relations, the relatively new and very impressive Native American Art Gallery on Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis. This show features the work of 20 Native American artists and their responses to the 150 anniversary of the 1862 U.S./ Dakota War, which was fought here in Minnesota , and the tragic events that led up to it and followed. This bloody historical conflict has slipped from the consciousness of most non-native people but it’s implications as far as Native American/White relations are huge.
Here is an oversimplified history lesson:
In the mid 19th century the U.S. offered a treaty to the Dakota people which offered them the option of leaving their homes and moving into lands where agricultural opportunities were poor and the hunting was even worse. In return, the U.S. government promised to regularly provide food and payment. The Dakota didn’t have many bargaining chips and “yes” was the only answer they were allowed. When the U.S. government decided that they didn’t really need to send anything consistently, the Dakota people began to starve. As you can image, this is when the shit hit the fan. When talks with the state and federal government broke down and the Dakota decided to take it upon themselves to drive out the settlers. A month later the U.S. had suppressed the Dakota and put over 300 people on trial with no representation. Of that group 38 where hung in Mankato, MN in the largest execution in U.S. history.
With that back story, it’s not hard to understand why the work in this show is dark and often disturbing. However, humor often accompanies deep sadness.
Dwayne Wilcox’s satirical drawing “The Crow is to Die For! “depicts the 1862 president Abraham Lincoln (here as an enemy, not the great emmancipator) being served crow and grass by Native American servants. The crow is for the only meat available in some Indian relocation areas. (Crow River, hence the name). The grass refers to the famous quote “So far as I am concerned, let them eat grass” spoken by local trader Andrew Myrick when asked for credit for food after negotiations broke down between the Dakota and the U.S. Government. This drawing is stark and deceptively simple, made in the style of Native Ledger drawing popular in the mid 1800’s.
Gordon Coons’ Flag Painting at first glance appears to be a take on Jasper John’s famous works but at closer examination a powerful political message is evident. This image of the 1862 U.S. flag has the names the men hung in Mantako written in relief underneath the pigment. Here the this horrendous incident is woven into the fabric of our national banner and identity.
The piece from this show that won’t leave my mind Jim Denomie’s Off the Reservation (or Minnesota Nice). This large painting dominates the room and is filled with horrifying and violent images representing tensions that still exist strongly in the present. This work expresses a raw anger that rarely comes through in painting. It is grotesque and disturbing and powerful. Denomie digs deep into something hateful and real expresses it in a way that is hard to look at. This painting is a very appropriate and visceral response to the incredibly nightmarish historical events that this show commemorates.
Be sure to catch this important show at All My Relation. And stop at the Pow Wow Grounds coffee shop on your way in for truly some amazing soup.
If you miss it, the show will be remounted at the James J. Hill house in St. Paul from Oct.13th- Jan. 13th.
All My Relations Gallery: August 3—September 28, 2012
1414 East Franklin Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55404
Gallery Hours: Monday-Friday 11-6, Saturday 11-3
James J. Hill House Gallery: October 13, 2012—January 13, 2012
240 Summitt Ave. St. Paul, MN 55102
Gallery Hours: Wednesday-Saturday 10-3:30, Sunday 1-3:30