“It’s about being a maker”

Dear President Trump,

Last week when I was in Minneapolis for the annual alcoholism conference I attend there was some downtime Tuesday mid-day so I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Art to see a special exhibit called “Hearts of our People: Native Women Artists.” The show is going to Nashville next, but it will be at the Renwick Gallery (Smithsonian American Art Museum) in D.C. next February-May if you want to go see it. I know it’s a crazy idea that you would choose to go to a museum at all, let alone to see an exhibit of work done exclusively by women, but hey, one or two stranger things have happened. Ever.

Ok, I’m going to be real here and assume you aren’t going to go, which means I won’t spoil any surprises by telling you (or really your correspondence threat-detection team) a few things about the exhibit.

First, some basic information about museums and me: I’m usually impatient with the video clips that are now regularly and generously dispersed through major traveling shows. I typically prefer to take in the work on my own without the intermediary of someone telling me what it means or how I should think about it. However, this show has me reassessing that stance.

The entrance to the show is through a darkened, elongated portal where an image of moving, shimmering water is projected on the floor, quaking aspens are projected on the left-hand wall, and scudding white clouds against a blue sky are projected onto the ceiling. And on the back wall to the left of the entrance is a Native woman who is on a continuous loop welcoming everyone to the show. She speaks slowly and calmly and has her arms slightly out and her hands upturned; she looks as though she might hug you if she were really there sharing the space with you. She’s the one who got me to slow down and listen rather than doing my usual Mr. Rabbit (from Alice in Wonderland) race into the exhibit fretting about time.

I’m not sure if it was the second or third video I watched, but one of them included three generations of Native women artists sitting together, talking about the meaning of their work and the intergenerational aspects of it. The middle woman (both positionally and generationally) said something that had me pulling out my cellphone to type out a reminder note. I’m not sure I got it exactly right, but this is the gist of one of the things she said:

“it’s about being a maker; there is no label and there is no scale or measure – it’s about being a maker in the community”

She was talking about how the “art world” has come up with arbitrary ways of gauging the “worth” of objects and object makers that are generally very exclusive and hierarchical, male-dominated, and divorced from any recognizable context. She and several of the other women artists who spoke on this clip made the point that Native women’s art is radically grounded in their communities and the places they live, and that it’s principally about the act of making, not what some would-be purchaser might or might not think or be willing to pay.

It was a helpful reminder as I was gearing up to install my show this week (which got done yesterday). I can get myself into quite a twist wondering whether people will come, whether they will like my work, whether I will re-coup framing costs, etc. and it can be hard to stay focused on the art and the making of it. I tried to channel some of that quiet confidence the women (all of them) exuded in the film clips to see what that might feel like as I arranged my work and got it on the wall (thankfully, with Laura’s help). What will be really interesting is how it will go when I to try to stay grounded in that attitude when interacting with people about it. We’ll see. I’ll almost certainly let you know how it goes.

There are a few specific pieces of work from the “Hearts of Our People” exhibit I’ll probably tell you about tomorrow, but I think the main thing I’m taking away from the exhibit is that it’s really, truly ok for women artists, including me, to be settled and confident in our abilities and gifts. It shouldn’t be all that big a deal or radical in anyway, but it is.

May we all be safe to be confident about our work.
May we all let ourselves be happy with our work.
May we have healthy relationships with our work and how we share it with the world.
May we make space for peace, kindness, and creativity in our communities.

Tracy Simpson

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