In What Was Always Yours and Never Lost, Ho-Chunk/Pechanga filmmaker Sky Hopinka curates a diverse selection of film and video works that shine a light on the contemporary Indigenous experience. The exhibition at Yale Union, which will also be featured at this year’s Whitney Biennial, consists of films that explore native identity within and beyond colonial history. Some engage with semiotics, resulting in an experience of collaged sounds rather than direct language translations. Others focus on landscape and location to create room for Indigenous perspectives.
Yale Union is large and airy, with towering windows welcoming in floods of natural light. For this show, monitors are housed in minimalist wood structures that center focus on the films while also functioning as subtle wayfinding devices. There is only one entrance/exit point, and the installations are organized from north to south in an undulating line. The films create a metaphorical territory for revitalizing Indigenous language and representation while employing cardinal direction to explore this territory.
Hopinka’s own First Annual thoughtfully documents a powwow held in the gallery in advance of the show. Powwows are adaptable, often defined by the gathering within a location, rather than the location itself. This flexibility allows for the continued reclamation and occupation of diverse spaces, like a gallery. In the novel There There, Cheyenne/Arapaho author Tommy Orange writes, “We all came to the Big Oakland Powwow for different reasons. The messy, dangling strands of our lives got pulled into a braid … And we’ve been coming for years, generations, lifetimes, layered in prayer and handwoven regalia, beaded and sewn together, feathered, braided, blessed, and cursed.” Hopinka illustrates the intense, vibratory energy of the event. Sound echoes throughout the immense gallery. MC Fred Hill is nearly unintelligible, his words becoming a hazy, lilting song. Hopinka pairs the energetic footage with moments of calm — still shots of ocean waves and lush green spaces remind the viewer of the foundational relationship between humanity and the land.
The Violence of a Civilization Without Secrets, by Ojibway filmmakers Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil and Tlingit artist Jackson Polys, stands out as a compelling study on indigeneity and the claiming/reclaiming of something lost. It deconstructs the aftermath of the 1996 Kennewick Man discovery. Skeletal remains of a prehistoric Paleoamerican man were found in the Columbia River in Washington state, beginning of a years-long battle between the Umatilla people and the United States government over whether the remains should be reburied under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The initially unclear origins of the remains fueled the racist notion that ancient Europeans were on the continent prior to recognized Indigenous peoples. The film tells the story by compiling news reports, court testimonies, and images of skeletons against an ambient musical backdrop by Éliane Radigue. Interspersed is an ethical critique of the museum as an institution. It illustrates the postmortem violence of colonization, white supremacy, and theft.
James Luna’s The History of the Luiseño People offers a more intimate narrative of loneliness and isolation. In the film, the Luiseño artist makes a series of phone calls from a darkened room on Christmas Eve. References to Americana are woven into his conversations with his family. These calls feel like modern storytelling; Luna at times bends the truth depending on who he’s speaking to, but his diction remains the same.
Plains Cree filmmaker Thirza Cuthand and Algonquin filmmaker Caroline Monnet’s works create ultra-sensory worlds. In the darkly comedic mockumentary Reclamation, Cuthand envisions a near-idyllic planet without white people. Monnet’s Mobilize is comprised of rapidly shifting landscapes, city scenes, and archival depictions of Native American craftsmanship, all set to the intensity of Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s “Uja.”
Faces in the Crowd, an installation by Colectivo Los Ingrávidos, is the exhibition’s crescendo. The 17 films in this collection all respond to the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Iguala, Mexico at the hands of police and the army. The students were en route to Mexico City, where they had traveled each year to commemorate the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre. The films blend together to create a trance of repetition and frenzied urgency. Heavily saturated color, ambiguous visuals, and rapid editing cultivate tension and anxiety. Several experiment with the translation and abstraction of language. Moments of silence highlight the gravity of the incident, pauses in between screams. Positioning Faces in the Crowd as the end of the show feels like a battle cry, or as the installation’s film The Sun Quartet puts it (quoting David Huerta’s Ayotzinapa), “a vibration thick with tears, a long howl.”
What Was Always Yours and Never Lost is on view at Yale Union (800 SE 10th Ave, Portland) through June 9. The program will play at the Whitney Biennial September 20 and 21.
Memories So Fair and Bright
Kimetha Vanderveen’s paintings are about the interaction of materiality and light, the bond between the palpable and ephemeral world in which we live.
Artists Contemplate Sovereignty in Santa Fe
The Santa Fe Art Institute’s 2024 International Thematic Residency focuses on what sovereignty means for artists from across the world.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
How Did Early Modern European Craftspeople Pass On Their Knowledge?
A new book about object making critically examines a written history of working with materials.
Dual Portrait of Old Master Rachel Ruysch Holds a Trove of Secrets
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has just acquired the rare painting, which depicts the Dutch artist at work surrounded by her signature flora.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Did Van Gogh’s Disdain for the Eiffel Tower Inspire “Starry Night”?
Art historian James Hall argues that van Gogh replaced the Eiffel Tower with a towering cypress tree and its inaugural light shows with the night sky.
Greek Museum Welcomes Dogs For World Stray Animal Day
Furry friends and their pawrents can visit Athens’s National Museum of Contemporary Art for free this weekend.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
Ai Weiwei Recreates Monet’s “Water Lilies” Using 650,000 LEGOS
It’s the artist’s largest LEGO artwork to date.
Did a Simpsons Episode Predict the Florida “David” Outrage?
The episode, which aired 30 years ago, made a dark prediction about conservative politics in 2023.
NYU Steinhardt Opens 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibitions
Taking place at 80WSE Gallery in New York’s Greenwich Village, Part I is on view from late March through April while Part II opens in May.
Coasting the Topography of South Asian Futurisms
As part of Hyperallergic’s Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators, Sadaf Padder presents an exhibition to offer insight into her curatorial process.
I’m a Florida Drag Queen and I’m Scared
I’m truly at a loss for what to do for work and what kind of life I can expect to live.