Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to ICT
The latest: A century-old Native Congress reunites in art, blues from an Ojibwe singer, and a scholarship from a revered artist's estate
ART: Installation recreates historic 1898 tribal meeting
A bold exhibition at The Broad Museum in Los Angeles spotlights 20 artists as they explore the symbol of the American flag.
The exhibition, “This is not America’s Flag,” is titled after artist Alfredo Jaar’s 1987 work, “A Logo for America, This is Not America’s Flag,” which examined what the flag means to national identity and artists as citizens.
Perhaps the most startling installation in the current exhibition is “Indian Congress,” (2021), by Wendy Red Star, Apsáalooke, a multimedia artist whose work challenges historical and present-day narratives about Native people by examining the intersections of colonialism and Indigenous principles.
“The Indian Congress” metaphorically recreates the 1898 Indian Congress, a gathering of more than 500 representatives from 35 nations in Omaha, Nebraska, during the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition. The vintage photos are drawn from the Omaha Public Library’s collection of photos by Frank Rinehart (1861–1928), a Nebraskan famous for his portraits of Indian Congress members, including White Swan, a well-known Apsáalooke scout.
Red Star’s work seats White Swan with hundreds of other members of the Native delegation, who were brought together to investigate both the Apsáalooke and Indigenous histories of Omaha.
The piece features a Congressional gallery draped in a red-white-and-blue banner, and features scenes of Apsáalooke people on their homelands in Pryor, Montana, Red Star’s hometown. The sepia and black-and-white photos were taken by Adolph F. Muhr, assistant to Edward Curtis, at culturally significant sites.
Red Star positions them on a tiered table decorated with gold-tipped goose feathers. Behind them is Red Star’s photo mural depicting modern-day Baáhpuuo (Where They Shoot The Rock), a sacred site for powerful beings known as the Awakkulé (Keepers of The Land).
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“I want to have an experience of what that gathering would feel like,” Red Star said in a statement. “It’s another way of not just pushing these images and these people off in the past, but really a way for people to feel the gravity of that extraordinary gathering.”
The exhibition continues through Sept. 25 at The Broad Museum, 221 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles.
MUSIC: Blues from a powerhouse singer
JUNO Award-winning singer-songwriter Crystal Shawanda, Ojibwe Potawatomi, is back with a new studio album, “Midnight Blues,” set for release Sept. 30 on True North Records.
It is the eighth studio album for Shawanda, whose name translates to “Dawn of a New Day” in Ojibwe, and her fifth since switching from a chart-topping career as a country artist.
The first single, “How Bad Do You Want It,” showcases her love of the blues and her powerful voice. It was produced and engineered in Nashville by her husband and long-time collaborator Dewayne Strobel.
“Growing up, all of my favorite music had these breadcrumbs that led me to the blues,” Crystal said in a statement. “I often quote Willie Dixon: ‘Blues is the roots and everything else is the fruits.’ Even today’s pop music, there's all this influence that derives from the blues. I was just always really attracted to the rawness and the realness of the blues.”
The collection of original songs includes the title track, “Midnight Blues,” a dance-floor groove, “Rumpshaker,” and a slow waltz, “Take A Little Walk With The Moon.” The album also includes covers of the Howlin’ Wolf classic, “Evil,” and her take on Celine Dion’s hit, “That’s Just The Woman In Me.”
“This is absolutely my favorite album I've ever recorded because I feel like my husband put me in a picture frame,” Shawanda said. “He really captured who I am as an artist. He let my vocal shine. He brought out the best in me and all the songs that we wrote really capture my live show and who I am.”
Born in Wiikwemkoong First Nation, on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario, and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Crystal was introduced to the blues by her family.
Her first foray as a professional singer was in country music in her early 20s, when she had immediate success after signing a record deal with RCA Nashville. The 2008 album, “Dawn of a New Day,” featuring the single “You Can Let Go,” which reached No. 1 on the Canadian Country Album chart and No. 16 on the Billboard Top Country Albums.
The following year she left the label and created her own, New Sun Records, and won a JUNO Award for Best Aboriginal Album.
“I love all styles of music, but there was just always something drawing me to the blues,” she said. “I had a country hit on the radio, and I would show up at country music festivals and I'd do a B.B. King cover or Buddy Guy or Etta James. Within country music, as much as I loved it, I had to restrain my voice a lot. It's very hard to hold back, and sometimes it was exhausting, whereas with the blues, I could just let it fly.”
ART: Denomie estate awards first scholarship
Red Lake Ojibwe artist Jonathan Thunder has been named the recipient of the first Jim Denomie Memorial Scholarship, a $10,000 prize to recognize a Native artist who exemplifies Denomie’s commitment to excellence, generosity of spirit, and engagement with community.
Thunder is a multi-disciplinary artist working in painting and digital media from his studio in Duluth, Minnesota. His colorful works of surrealistic paintings, digital films and installations address personal experience and social commentary.
Thunder has exhibited across the country since completing his studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Art Institute International.
The scholarship was created in partnership with the Denomie/Wilson family, All My Relations Arts Gallery, and Bockley Gallery to honor Denomie, a La Courte d’Oreilles Ojibwe artist known for his imagery, use of color and visual stories that combined humor with truth-telling.
Denomie, who died in March 2022 at age 66, was passionate about supporting and mentoring other artists.
“Jim’s unique vision as an artist was matched by his passion for championing young artists,” according to a statement from Bockley Gallery. “This scholarship embodies both, in the best way possible.”
Angela Two Stars, director at All My Relations Arts Gallery, said the scholarship will continue his legacy of supporting rising new Native artists.
“Jim Denomie impacted and influenced so many artists, and we at All My Relations Arts fondly remember his generosity, humility, humor, and his incredible talent that we were lucky to display on numerous occasions through our gallery's history,” Two Stars said.
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