Jim Denomie Paints Fearlessly About Contemporary Native Issues

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Jim Denomie, 2018 National Artist Fellow

Jim Denomie (Ojibwe) is a 2018 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) National Artist Fellow whose narrative paintings express a broad range of political and social issues influenced by historical events. During a presentation at the NACF 2018 National Artist Convening in September, Denomie explained that when he started painting, he wanted to paint what he knew and understood: “I paint about these things fearlessly and honestly, and for a long time it wasn’t accepted by both mainstream and Native communities because it was too far away from traditional imagery, and being identifiably Native… but I kept persisting.”

Denomie’s work pushes boundaries and explores new and old subject matter with vibrant colors and sly humor. His latest series of paintings depict events stemming from the Standing Rock movement. Inspired by the videos he saw on Facebook at the time, he started sketching as he watched the violence unfold against “water protectors” on social media. Denomie’s paintings possess multiple perspectives of blatant and potent depictions that can be appalling, appealing, ironic, iconic, distasteful and humorous all in a single image or viewed as a whole — either way; his paintings start conversations and tell stories of Native people through a unique creative lens that has reached an international platform.

During 2018, his NACF Fellowship year, Denomie developed a series of paintings capturing both the absurd and the reality of the Standing Rock movement. The NACF Fellowship award provided support for the development and production of three large Standing Rock paintings and about 30 other paintings during the course of the year. With strong interest in this series of paintings by curators and museums, Denomie’s largest Standing Rock painting titled Standing Rock 2016 was selected for the 21st Contemporary Art Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil | Imagined Communities — an international biennial event that will be held in São Paulo, Brazil, from October of 2019 through February of 2020. Denomie is the first American artist to be selected through Videobrasil’s open call process, as their focus has previously been on artists from the Global South. For its 21st iteration, however, Videobrasil decided it was important to include a global representation of Indigenous peoples whose communities have been burdened with the consequences of colonization for centuries.

Additionally, Videobrasil selected two more of Denomie’s paintings for the biennial event titled Eminent Domain, A Brief History of America and Off The Reservation (or Minnesota Nice).

21st Contemporary Art Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil | Imagined Communities 

From different shades of the political spectrum, nationalism has reemerged as a critical theme to understand the disputes that shape our time, raising questions about the duration and scope of this new regressive cycle. In this context, the 21st Contemporary Art Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil | Imagined Communities borrows the title of Benedict Anderson’s classic study of the rise of nationalism to investigate how poetics stemming from the South have been addressing the phenomenon. Without losing the geopolitical focus, the curatorial team of the 21st Biennial, composed of Gabriel Bogossian, Luisa Duarte, Miguel López, and Solange Farkas, intends to expand the repertoire of questions and broaden the diversity of the voices we hear. Thus, they consider stateless communities, indigenous peoples, religious or mystical communities, communities uprooted from their original lands, fictional, utopian, and clandestine communities, or those constituted in the subterranean universes of sexual experiences and dissident bodies.

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