ALBUQUERQUE — Archives have a particular meaning to Indigenous people. They contain histories and descriptions of Indigenous people from the colonial point of view, and they inform our understanding of Indigeneity even today. For example, efforts to record or preserve Native cultures have actually left us with an understanding of Indigeneity as “primitive” or in the past. The podcast Broken Boxes is an effort to counteract this tendency — to chronicle the contemporary Indigenous experience from the point of view of Indigenous artists and activists. To describe it as an archive of the present, then, is to suggest a more particular meaning than if we were to offer the same categorization for, say, This American Life or Radiolab.
Last summer, the host of Broken Boxes, Ginger Dunnill, was bouncing on a yoga ball to calm the baby in her arms, while explaining to me that she wasn’t interested in the conventions of radio broadcast — the transitions, the one-liners, the host with an agenda. Nor was she interested in the typical art-world conversation. Instead, Dunnill wanted to produce a show that would encourage artists to speak for themselves and to other artists. No planning, no editing, no time limit, and no celebrities. “I’m so irritated by the overglorification of the artist,” Dunnill says. “I’m so over the celebrity aspect of American popular culture that I wanted to do the opposite. What makes these people scared? How do they sound when they’re uncomfortable? They say ‘uh’ a hundred times. You know, like, whatever, leave it in.”
While friends in radio and film have encouraged her to “zaz” up the podcast, or at least shorten it, Dunnill has heard from artists who’ve been inspired by listening and who want to be interviewed themselves. This enthusiasm might be read as camaraderie — an experience Dunnill explicitly hopes artists will have — but it also constitutes a reaction to popular and ethnographic representations in which the Native artist herself is silenced. “The circles [of Native artists] are huge,” Dunnill says. “And if you are hip to this alternative art market — by ‘alternative’ I mean not white male (no offense to white males) —but what I’m saying is it’s really hard to break through into the art world because it’s so saturated. So, I wanted to allow a space for artists who are doing completely relevant and gorgeous work but aren’t getting the creds that they deserve.”
Dunnill’s partner, Cannupa Hanska Luger, who came into the room wrestling with their two-year-old, sees Broken Boxes as capturing an ascendant moment for Native art, whether or not it is represented at, say, last month’s Santa Fe Indian Market. (We should note that the market does exhibit many contemporary and performative Native arts and that a number of galleries and other institutions have used the weekend to host ancillary events that variously exploit and respond to the market.) “The peers that we come across as a family in this field … this podcast makes a collection out of all these people that we are, right now, too close to see,” Luger says. “I feel like it creates this provenance to this group, and you can see how interconnected it is.”
To date, Dunnill has produced 35 podcasts, featuring Native activist-artists such as Chris Pappan (episode 26) and Jessie Hazelip (episode 3), who do mixed-media work, or Rebekah Tarin (episode 8), a self-taught painter. But Dunnill also embraces the broader activities of artists with a wider view of their practice, such as the free-diving of Kimi Werner (episode 18), who’s also an ambassador for Patagonia, and the scholarship of queer Asian activist Miyuki Baker (episode 17), whom Dunnill describes as “a freelance artist, journalist, yoga and meditation teacher, barber, translator, seamstress, lecturer and performer.” Importantly, Dunnill’s subjects are almost always engaged in acts of protest or cultural recovery.
For episode 29, she joined activists in Gallup, New Mexico, for a portion of Nihígall bee Iiná (“Journey for Existence”), a 1,000-mile trek across the Navajo Nation and neighboring tribal lands to document the effects and protest the existence of energy development projects, or what they call “resource colonization.” The event also recalled ancestors forced to walk hundreds of miles into exile as a result of early US colonial efforts.
In a recent phone conversation, Dunnill said the Gallup episode represents the kind of work she plans to do more often, taking up not only the subject of Indigneous art itself, but more specifically the causes that Indigenous artists devote themselves to, such as Kanaka Maoli resistance to the development of another telescope observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i. These are, more often than not, indistinguishable — because, as Dunnill says, “What makes the human makes the art.”