Indigenous artists give traditional monuments a dramatic overhaul


By alex v. cipolle 6 minute Learn

The final 12 months has highlighted America’s deep divides over identification and its struggles with tips on how to memorialize the previous. Within the midst of those very public debates, indigenous artists are taking a totally different tack, creating artwork that encourages reflection and interplay as a strategy to begin conversations and bridge the divides.

A main instance of that is Okciyapi, the upcoming set up by artist Angela Two Stars, which will probably be revealed to the general public on October 9 on the Walker Artwork Museum’s Minneapolis Sculpture Backyard.

A rendering of Okciyapi by artist Angela Two Stars [Image: courtesy Urban Ecosystems]

Okciyapi is the primary sculpture by an indigenous artist commissioned by the Walker for the sculpture backyard, and it’s certainly one of many current public artworks by modern indigenous artists that envision a extra inclusive American identification. These items supply an antidote to traditional monuments, which for hundreds of years mythologized males and had been designed to maintain viewers at a distance.


Okciyapi is Dakota for “assist one another,” and the sculpture is an homage to the Dakota folks and their endangered however resilient language, and to all those that are working to make sure the language not solely survives however thrives. Two Stars posits that there are fewer than 60 fluent Dakota audio system from her tribe, lots of whom are aged.

Okciyapi by artist Angela Two Stars will probably be unveiled on the Minneapolis Sculpture Backyard in October. [Image: courtesy Urban Ecosystems]

Located close to the enduring Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, the set up will characteristic concentric circles of concrete benches, evocative of ripples from a water drop, and enamel panels engraved with Dakota phrases and phrases reminiscent of woksapé (knowledge), wóohoda (respect), and wóohitika (bravery). On the heart, there’s a reflective water vessel.

Two Stars—an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Dakota Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota—designed Okciyapi to attract guests in as they learn, replicate, and hearken to audio of tribal elders telling tales in what the artist emphasizes is a very oral language.

“I wish to create paintings that has a component of viewers participation,” Two Stars says. “I wish to make my artwork accessible to all people, to each native and non-native audiences.”

Within the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Might 2020, communities ramped up their efforts to take away a slew of monuments and statues throughout the nation that celebrated racist and oppressive people—from Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, to Christopher Columbus on the Minnesota State Capitol. There’s even a Wikipedia page that lists all of the monuments which were eliminated within the time interval since.

“It’s a clearly acknowledged concept that monuments about one individual are nonetheless claiming to be common, however privileging one group,” says Henriette Huldisch, chief curator of the Walker. “Angela’s piece is actually the other.”


Whereas Okciyapi is Two Stars’s largest public artwork fee so far, she has lengthy been raising awareness concerning the Dakota via her artwork. In 2019, she collaborated on a public artwork mission alongside the shores of Bde Maka Ska, the most important lake in Minneapolis. The mission highlighted the restoration of the unique Dakota identify from Lake Calhoun, which was named for John Calhoun, a former vice chairman of the U.S. and a sturdy defender of slavery. Two Stars can also be the director of All My Relations, a Minneapolis gallery presenting the work of American Indian modern effective artists.

Two Stars is certainly one of many modern Native American artists whose work honors a particular tradition whereas additionally prioritizing the cooperative, inviting guests in to hitch and transfer ahead collectively.

“To me it’s not shocking that native artists are inviting folks in,” says Kathleen Ash-Milby, curator of Native American Artwork on the Portland Artwork Museum and a member of the Navajo Nation. Whereas this isn’t essentially distinctive to Native American artists, she says native cultures prioritize group and the person’s duty to the collective.

Along with Two Stars, Ash-Milby factors to modern artists reminiscent of Marie Watt (of the Seneca Nation of Indians), Cannupa Hanska Luger (of the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold Reservation), Jeffrey Gibson (of the Mississippi Band Choctaw/Cherokee), Nadia Myre (of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation), and Alan Michelson (of the Six Nations of the Grand River).

Michelson’s 2018 public paintings Mantle is a spiral stonework in Richmond, Virginia’s Capitol Sq. that invitations guests “to maneuver throughout the symbolic circle of American Indian tradition.”

From 2005 to 2013, in the meantime, Myre invited folks to choose up needle and thread and stitch their bodily, emotional, and non secular scars into canvas for The Scar Project. Greater than 1,400 folks participated.

Jeffrey Gibson’s As a result of As soon as You Enter My Home It Turns into Our Home at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens [Photo: Mark DiConzo/courtesy the Artist; Socrates Sculpture Park; Sikkema Jenkins, New York; Kavi Gupta, Chicago; and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles]

Then there’s Gibson, who created the piece Because Once You Enter My House It Becomes Our House for the 2020 Monument Now exhibition at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens. Gibson’s large 44-square-foot paintings was impressed by the Serpent Mound of Pre-Columbian Mississippian tradition, from which Gibson’s band of Mississippi Choctaw Indians descended.

The ziggurat construction buzzes with the neon colours of wheat-pasted posters with statements like “POWER FULL BECAUSE WE ARE DIFFERENT” and “THE FUTURE IS PRESENT.” Gibson inspired the group to climb, dance, or go throughout the sculpture, the place extra artwork resided.

Dancers carry out Emily Johnson’s The Methods We Love and The Methods We Love Higher – Monumental Motion Towards Being Higher Being(s) on and round Jeffrey Gibson’s set up, As a result of As soon as You Enter My Home It Turns into Our Home. [Photo: Scott Lynch/courtesy the Artist; Socrates Sculpture Park; Sikkema Jenkins, New York; Kavi Gupta, Chicago; and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles]

With its backdrop of the East River and the Manhattan skyline, Malvika Jolly of The Brooklyn Rail stated it regarded like “the invention of a new America.”

Again on the Walker, in opposition to the backdrop of the Minneapolis skyline, Okciyapi invitations the group to be taught concerning the Dakota and the origins of Minnesota itself. (Two Stars factors to how Minnesota is derived from the Dakota phrase “Mni Sota Makoce,” which means “Land The place the Waters Replicate the Clouds.”) The paintings additionally invitations viewers to course of the trauma of the previous: the repercussions of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 are nonetheless extensively felt, as is the legacy of the state’s 16 American Indian boarding schools.

Okciyapi will probably be put in on the location the place artist Ben Durant’s Scaffold stood briefly in 2017 earlier than it was eliminated after a group outcry. Durant’s piece reconstructed seven totally different gallows from U.S. historical past together with these used for the 1862 hanging of 38 Dakota males in Mankato, Minnesota—an execution ordered below President Abraham Lincoln within the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota Battle. It’s the largest mass execution in U.S. historical past.


“It wasn’t even about Scaffold. We didn’t need the artist to really feel burdened by that historical past and people missteps,” says Kate Beane, who’s on the Indigenous Public Artwork Fee that fashioned within the aftermath of Scaffold and labored with the Walker to commission a new work. “On the identical time, we knew we wanted to decide on an artist courageous sufficient to create in that area understanding what occurred there.”

Beane, who can also be director of Native American Initiatives for the Minnesota Historic Society and a member of the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe in South Dakota, says they selected Two Stars due to how her paintings and course of have interaction communities. “It was not about her,” Beane says. “She actually got here in with out ego.”

Two Stars has ceaselessly spoken about how the inspiration for Okciyapi was her grandfather Orsen Bernard, who spent the final 15 years of his life devoted to the Dakota language. In her lifetime, she recollects seeing the language remodeling from a supply of ache for the elder generations, who had been abused for talking it in boarding and residential colleges, to a supply of pleasure for youth, together with for her personal younger kids. Now, she says she sees non-natives desirous to be taught one of many unique languages of Minnesota, too: “I’m inviting folks into what I name my language journey.”