Two Contemporary Indigenous Artists Will Exhibit at the DAM And They Want Public Submissions

Too often in today’s society, we value the end product of an artist’s work rather than the work of creating itself. That’s what John P. Lukavic — Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Native Arts at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) — thought when he started working on a new exhibition for the museum opening in May 2021. Titled Each/Other, the exhibition will be the first to present the works of two leading contemporary American Indigenous artists side-by-side as well as with one monumental community artwork.

The two artists are Marie Watt and Cannupa Hanska Luger, both of whom focus on collaborative artmaking. “Together, Watt and Luger show us the ways in which art moves beyond the end-product, beyond a static or luxury item, to become the very process of creation itself — unbound and limitless,” stated curator Lukavic in a press release. “Foundationally, collaboration is such an important element to each artist, but each in their own different ways.”

The exhibition will feature 24 mixed media sculptures, wall hangings and large-scale installation works.

Marie Watt (Seneca), Butterfly, 2015. Reclaimed wool blankets, satin binding, thread, cotton twill tape and tin jingles; 94 x 126 in. Denver Art Museum: Funds from Loren G. Lipson, M.D., Vicki & Kent Logan, with additional funds from Brian Tschumper, Nancy Benson, Jan & Mike Tansey, and JoAnn & Bob Balzer, 2016.1A-B. © Marie Watt.

Watt — an artist based in Portland, Oregon — has previous connections to the DAM, when she served as a Native Arts Artist-in-Residence in 2013. Her work Butterfly was acquired by the museum in 2015 and will be on view in Each/Other. Much of Watt’s inspiration comes from historical events, proto-feminism and Indigenous principles and she often works with materials that evoke their own narratives, like blankets or certain types of wood. As an enrolled citizen of the Seneca Nation, Watt’s emphasis on blankets is symbolic because her tribe gives blankets to those “who bear witness to important life events,” as the DAM explained. In her large-scale blanket installations, she employs the skills of an entire community to complete it.

Luger was born on the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota and is currently based in New Mexico. He gained international recognition in 2016 when a video he created launched an art project on a scale larger than he could have imagined. The video explained how to make a “mirror shield” for protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock so that law enforcement had to see their own aggression and anger reflected back at them when advancing. The simple shields were constructed with Masonite, some cords for handles and adhesive reflective mirror foil.

The Mirror Shield Project embodies Luger’s artmaking — relevant, revolutionary and only complete once it has interacted with the world. It’s hard to appreciate some of Luger’s creations — which include performance, storytelling and political action — in the sterile settings of art galleries and museums. But others offer a haunting juxtaposition in such white-walled confines, like Every One created in 2018 and set to be on display at the DAM in 2021. Made up of 4,000 individual handmade clay beads made by hundreds of people across two countries, Every One honors lives lost and is meant to help visualize the impact of murdered and missing Indigenous girls, women, queer and trans community members.

Cannupa Hanska Luger, Indigenous Artists

Cannupa Hanska Luger, “Every One” 2018. Ceramic, social collaboration; 12 x 15 x 3 ft. Photo courtesy of UCCS Galleries of Contemporary Art, Colorado Springs, CO.

Although the DAM will display work that Watt and Luger made in their separate practices during the upcoming exhibition, it will also provide the opportunity for the artists to collaborate with each other and with a larger community. Soon, the DAM and the artists will release a video invitation that will explain how individuals can contribute to this monumental collaborative artwork. 

“The public, with no limit on geographic location, will be invited to add to the work by physically sending what they create to the artists. Through this collaboration, it is the artists’ hope that participants discover something new about themselves, their neighbors and the world around them, while leading to a greater sense of understanding between people,” the press release stated.

The artists, once they have received all of the submissions, will combine them into a cohesive work that will be on display at Each/Other. That work will bridge the two separate spaces where their individual works will be showcased.

Each/Other will be on view May 23, 2021 through August 22, 2021 at the DAM. After its premiere in Denver, the exhibition will travel to additional venues beginning in the fall of 2021.   

All photos courtesy of the Denver Art Museum