The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation proudly supported a series of exhibitions, symposium, and cross-cultural international learning through the support of collaborative film and photography project Ga ni tha, curated by Nancy Marie Mithlo. Photographer Keli Mashburn (Osage), in collaboration with filmmaker Marcella Ernest (Ojibwe), presented the exhibition Ga Ni Tha from May 2 – 16, 2016, on the occasion of the 56th La BIennale di Venezia in Venice, Italy. The Venice Biennale is considered the oldest and more important international art exhibition. Multi-disciplinary artist Maria Hupfield staged a performance of Jiimaan (Canoe) in concert with the exhibition theme during its opening, and Native Hawaiian artists Kaili Chun and Kapulani Landgraf participated in the 2015 Ga ni tha symposium at the We Crocieferi facility. Chun and Landgraf additionally presented their work Ku Makua in an intimate workshop with peers, and presented a lecture to university students in residence.
Ga Ni Tha seeks to transform the classic landscapes and imagery of the American prairie. Mashburn states, “The prairie fire exemplifies death and renewal The tension isn’t so much between earth and sky. The tension is in what happens between them, the cycle of destruction and rebirth.” The filmmakers call the piece “a performance of sound that weaves language, song, prayer and land with resonance of the Osage.” Ga ni tha creates an embodied experience; a decolonizing gaze that interprets stagnant consumption of American Indian significance.
Click here to watch the trailer by Marcella Ernest.
Following the exhibition, the participating artists shared their experiences and insights with NACF:
I felt like I was quietly observing on many levels and from that I gained a lot of insight on what a broad European perspective of Native people might be. That is also why I absolutely agree that the importance of exhibiting outside of Native galleries and outside of Native Markets plays a crucial role in strengthening our presence over absence. Making impacts such as our show, to that particular audience, makes huge changes I think. Presenting Native people within contemporary landscapes and identity politics felt like it was totally outside of what they wanted Indians to be. That, I feel, is fluent in the US as well. Our contemporary selves have to be understood and seen and witnessed on a global scale in order for images of Native people to change.
Attending the 2015 Venice Biennale was transformative for me. The artwork was highly innovative, politically engaged, conceptually strong and without fear. It afforded me the opportunity to engage in politically overt artwork on a global scale. The Biennale showed how much other countries respect the voices of contemporary visual artists. The most exciting aspect was seeing the many art venues and the large size of the venues throughout the city. In Hawai‘i, exhibit space is almost non-existent especially large installation spaces. In Venice, they re-purpose their buildings, while in Hawai‘i they destroy and build new. I was amazed at the scope, organization and the overall logistics of running the Art Biennale every other year.
The participants, many for the first time, experienced a foreign country and a city that is a historic international hub for trade, art and culture. The language spoken in any given circumstance – with an audience member, a fellow artist or an organizer – was not a given. Artists were challenged to be constantly aware of the cultural diversity of exhibiting and seeing art in a global context. In addition, this global context is quite sophisticated about art, yet completely unaware of Indigenous realities. Communication becomes a key consideration of the total art-making process.
Nancy Marie Mithlo