Editor’s Note: This is part of the 2021/22 Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators, and the first of three posts by the author, the third of which will be an email-only exhibition sent to all Hyperallergic subscribers.
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SOUTHAMPTON, NY — Long before the dawn of the 21st century, Indigenous artists in what is currently known as the Americas had been envisioning our collective future. Wampanoag stories predict the return of a monumental figure named Moshop, who provided sustenance for their people and disappeared after promising to return when needed. In 2016, the world witnessed an ancient story manifesting in North Dakota: the Black Snake in the form of an oil pipeline and the coming together of Indigenous water protectors.
In addition to predicting the coming of colonization, environmental destruction, and capitalism, Indigenous artists have also envisioned a world where these things never happened. As a form of healing and self-determination, these ways of creating and thinking offer a hopeful and aspirational view of the future. Among the many desirable futures, a constant is that Indigenous people will remain here despite our hardships.
In the exhibition Outcropping: Indigenous Art Now, hosted at the Southampton Arts Center on Shinnecock’s ancestral homelands, themes of hope and future-thinking are explored by Shinnecock artists and Indigenous artists from various unique sovereign nations throughout the United States. Through paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, videos, and various other mediums, artists compellingly make Indigenous presence known and counter expectations.
“I hope to encourage others that art can help heal us, too. Spirit Horse embodies these feelings for me ten-fold. I practice art and beading to keep this tradition alive for my family,” writes Megan McDermott about her artwork.
The title Outcropping refers to Shinnecock’s translation into English as People of the Stony Shore and Shinnecock’s long connection to this land. After thousands of years of thriving in what is now known as Southampton Village, Shinnecock people nowadays struggle with issues of marginalization, maintaining tribal sovereignty and self-determination, economic development, wealth gaps, and being rendered invisible.
The curatorial choices for Outcropping came out of Shinnecock’s continued tradition of being a welcoming and friendly neighbor and host. When the first colonists arrived, Shinnecock created space for cohabitation. For the exhibition, artists were chosen by invitation and by an open call format.
The exhibition represents over 40 artists, and in an attempt to counter the constant erasure of Indigenous people, each artwork is accompanied by both the artist’s name and tribal affiliation, along with an artist statement or background information to contextualize each piece. Although only 12 of the artists are from Shinnecock, the Shinnecock flag and seal, and other materials, establish Shinnecock as host.
The exhibition is a first: there has never before been an ambitious, all-Native American art show in Southampton or the East End, despite the region’s long history as an art community. One might ask why it has taken so long for such a show to exist. Denise Silva-Dennis, a Shinnecock artist featured in Outcropping, shared a story about her experience trying to work with local galleries. The night before the opening date, she was told by the gallery owner “sorry to say, I have these other artists from NYC who are coming, so your [art] won’t be in the opening. It is not going to happen.” Another Shinnecock artist and mural painter in the exhibition, David Bunn Martine, experienced similar issues. Despite a 40-year history as a dedicated artist, he has had only two informal solo exhibits in the town of Southampton.
The Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton, New York, has long fostered a space to celebrate the continued presence of Native people by hosting the largest gathering of nations on the east coast at the annual Labor Day Weekend Powwow. Last year would have been the 75th annual Powwow. For the past two years, the cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic affected Native dancers, storytellers, and craftspeople by making it difficult for them to support themselves and their families as creatives. Outcropping came at a time of hardship, but Shinnecock artists still await the day of consistent year-round support for their art.
Until then, Shinnecock is now home to an up-and-coming communal art space known as Ma’s House & BIPOC Art Studio. Indigenous artists in the East End have been embraced by major art institutions including the Parrish Art Museum, Guild Hall, and the Watermill Center in the past few years, but there is still a clear need for Indigenous-led art spaces.