A List of Topics to Discuss other than Jimmie Durham

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There is a storm going on right now about a particular artist, Jimmie Durham. Many people are thoughtfully discussing issues around his identity. It’s an old conversation being rehashed anew. And with more online databases for genealogy, there seems to be a clear answer that no, he’s not a Cherokee descendant. This blog post is NOT about Jimmie Durham. I’ve been called to do interviews on Jimmie Durham and it just makes me cringe. I don’t want to be negative. I don’t want to bash, or call-out, or attack. I also appreciate that so many conscientious Native artists and Native scholars are crafting important, reasoned, and well-researched explanations of the issues and the history of these issues Jimmie Durham has provoked. Thank you to America Meredith, Nancy Mithlo, Ashley Holland, and many, many others. Thank you to students, art writers, academics, for asking about Jimmie Durham. But I don’t want to talk about Jimmie Durham right now. It makes me feel bad. It probably makes Jimmie Durham feel bad, too. It probably makes everyone feel bad and most of us have no choice about it.

I want to change the subject.

I hope the attention and efforts being expended on this topic to lead us to somewhere new and constructive. With that in mind, I made a list of  LIVING tribally enrolled artists who should have a LARGE TRAVELING SOLO Exhibition with a big 300-page catalog with MEATY  scholarly essays (but accessibly written for a general audience) at MAJOR ART MUSEUMS in the US and then traveling internationally:

  • Jaune-Quick-to-See Smith
  • Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie
  • Larry McNeil
  • Bob Haozous
  • Roxanne Swentzell
  • Shan Goshorn
  • Linda Lomahaftewa
  • Joe Feddersen
  • Anita Fields
  • C. Maxx Stevens
  • Edgar Heap of Birds
  • Marie K. Watt
  • James Luna
  • Nicholas Galanin
  • Postcommodity
  • David Bradley
  • Julie Buffalohead
  • Jim Denomie
  • Virgil Ortiz
  • Christie McHorse,
  • Nora Naranjo Morse
  • Wendy Red Star
  • Steven Yazzie
  • Melanie Yazzie,
  • Truman Lowe
  • Jeffrey Gibson
  • Frank Buffalo Hyde

Now, a word about how I populated the list above. The artists above have all had solo exhibitions before, but not a solo exhibition in a large PWI art museum in the US. I also limited this list to US tribally enrolled artists. The artists listed above have strong exhibition histories and have had some good scholarship written about them, but not nearly enough. Most of them have participated in very important international biennials/group exhibitions, but it’s time for a major solo exhibition. I have undoubtedly left people off the list who should be on the list. Please contact me and suggest more people to add.

If you, dear reader, are not looking to mount a major exhibition and are instead looking for issue-driven or thematic topics to discuss in at a dinner party, a bus stop, on that long long roadtrip with your friends, while packing sandwiches in a cooler for that tubing trip down a river, or writing an article for a major newspaper or maybe that hip art blog, here are some suggestions, in no particular order:

  • Let’s examine ties between traditional food practices and artistic practices being revived in tandem. Examples: Lutsel K’e Moose Hide Tanning Camps, including tanning camps in urban areas
  • There is actually a long  indigenous history of what is now being called “Socially Engaged Art.” Here’s a quick definition from wikipedia: “Social practice is an art medium that focuses on engagement through human interaction and social discourse. Since it is people and their relationships that form the medium of such works – rather than a particular process of production – social engagement is not only a part of a work’s organization, execution or continuation, but also an aesthetic in itself: of interaction and development. Socially engaged art aims to create social and/or political change through collaboration with individuals, communities, and institutions in the creation of participatory art. The discipline values the process of a work over any finished product or object.”[1]  Let’s talk about the Native artists and communities collaborating on meaningful aesthetic work and the place of art in community.
  • Let’s discuss the ways in which Native American artists and their artworks serve international diplomacy and sovereignty, from indigenous nation to indigenous nation, from indigenous nation to other world nations, and on behalf of United States diplomacy. This is a conversation going on in Canada right now, but not in the US.
  • What institutions are supporting Native/First Nations artistic production and the furtherance of study and scholarship on the topic? What resources, systems, and new institutions do we need in order to document work being made now so that future scholars have good materials for their research? How can this work be funded in ways that are based in community guidance? How can people learn the skills and ethics necessary to do this well? And how can they be paid a living wage?
  • What do we want the future to be like? How do we get there? How can the arts help?