Grantee: Bently Spang
Installation, performance and video artist Bently Spang blends the sacred and the seemingly mundane to interpret the multifaceted nature of contemporary life as an Tsistsistas/Suhtai (Northern Cheyenne) man from his studio in Billings, Montana.
Just as his ancestors – or “relatives in the past” – eagerly incorporated European materials into their traditional art forms, Spang employs whatever means or mediums he can to express his visions. His 2017 War Shirt series exemplifies this fusion of past and present. These installation and sculptural pieces take the form of the ancestral war shirt, traditionally believed to empower a warrior to protect his community. Yet Spang’s shirts are a riot of image, video, and sound – modern communications tools which have too often served to oppress, rather than lift up, Native communities. Their incorporation allows the Native artist to deconstruct and reconstruct the medium on a monumental scale.
Spang daringly borrows from the past while relentlessly pursuing the future as a multidisciplinary artist, observing that for generations of Northern Cheyenne artists, “There was this fearlessness about mediums that we don’t really have today.” His work is a direct reclamation of his cultural story while taking back ownership of the photograph and correcting inaccurate and often ridiculous depictions of his people. He is an educator as well, having created and overseen an arts initiative to “‘grow’ a new generation of Native voices that can help define our experience from within our community.”
He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
I am committed to gathering as many mediums and modes of expression as are necessary to express my experience as a contemporary Tsistsistas (Northern Cheyenne) man. I work to expand the one-dimensional definition of Native people created by Western culture and, instead, reveal my own complex, place-centered cultural experience.
Bently Spang presented his performance art piece “Tekcno Pow Wow III” in the University of Wyoming Union Ballroom, in conjunction with UW’s Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, 2014.