White Hawk, known as the curator of All My Relations Gallery, has put together a bold body of work for her solo exhibition that primarily pulls from the past two years.
The exception to that rule is her 2011 painting “Self Reflection.”
“It marks the beginning of the use of that shape, which references moccasin tops,” explained White Hawk, a member of the Sicangu Lakota tribe. “I’ve referenced it a lot since then.”
While in grad school, White Hawk worked to marry what she’d learned from native arts and her mainstream Western arts education.
“How do I embrace all those things in my work? How could I communicate both very directly with native people, and with those who are more familiar with western art systems – especially modern abstraction and abstract painting?” Read more →
If we want to get better at having difficult conversations, we have to practice.
That idea is at the heart of “AKA Fathers/Sons,” a piece created by Harry Waters Jr, his son Jordon Waters, and Kevin “Kaoz” Moore.
The show, which they call a “performative conversation,” was developed out of their own conversations on sexuality, sex and masculinity.
“It’s about our remembering or revisiting the tension or dynamics of a conversation we had, or wish we had, or could have had with our fathers,” said Waters, sitting at a table at Bedlam Theatre before rehearsal.
Kevin “Kaoz” Moore, Jordon Waters and Harry Waters Jr Photo courtesy the artists
“Historically, anything revolving around sexuality and particular sexual identity is not something we have a way of discussing in our communities because it’s taboo, traumatic,” Waters said, “but it’s so present, how could we not talk about it?”
When asked why the focus of the show is on men of color in particular, Waters — who teaches at Macalester College — replies, “I have witnessed more white students and colleagues who have had some conversation with their parents about sexuality, but in about 99 percent of families of color, it’s not a part of our experience.
“There are uncles and aunts in every family that no one talks about, and those people are not allowed to talk to the children because of ‘what might happen.’ We tend to embrace these things because we respect our elders, but sometimes our elders need a new lens.”
The show includes dance by Jordon Waters, and spoken word by Moore. Some evenings include a D.J. The audience also gets to play a part. “AKA: Fathers/Sons” has been in development for years, with performances at Queertopia, Trans Youth Support Network,Kulture Klub, and elsewhere.
Moore, who is an HIV educator in addition to rapper and playwright, says too often youth are getting their information about sex and sexuality on the streets or from pornography.
“Porn is so prevalent, that kids don’t have the conversations anymore, they just watch a video,” said Moore. “Sex becomes objectified and there’s no explanation or exploration of what it means. It becomes an act devoid of connection to our humanity, aggressive and impersonal.”
Moore says having support systems in place makes people less likely to put themselves at risk. Those support systems are founded in honest conversation.
The trio also explore generational differences. Harry Waters Jr says his 86-year-old father is only just now willing to recognize Waters’ partner of 14 years. But Harry’s son Jordon embraces his father’s sexuality, and is proud to be sharing the stage with him.
“Growing up with a gay father, the teasing never affected me,” said Waters. “At least I knew where my father was! And now with the younger generation there’s a gender blur – everything’s queer.”
Jordon points out that “AKA: Fathers/Sons” is not offering any answers, just presenting possibilities.
“We hope to provide inspiration to bridge those gaps, to have those conversations,” added Moore.
“How do we know how to do this unless we practice?” said Waters Jr. “There’s no solution, there’s just what’s next. Ultimately we’d like for this show to travel, because there are so many communities that would benefit from an opportunity like this.”
Making reference to the 1968 Memphis Sanitation workers strike where the iconic “I Am a Man” sign originated, the performance inverted the sign’s statement, pointing to the importance of the Civil Rights protests as well as to their limitations.
Along with this historic resonance, the performance simultaneously addressed our era—racism is foundational to America and has not abated.
Despite assertions that America has entered a post-racial period, reality contradicts this: 1 in 9 young Black men are in prison; predatory lending policies have caused the greatest loss of wealth for people of color in modern U.S. history; Henry Louis Gates gets arrested “breaking into” his own home; etc. I Am Not a Man resides in the uncomfortable space between a race-free fantasy world and the lived experience of millions.
Oliver says she was inspired to assemble the exhibition after working on a retrospective of the art of Benjamin Patterson.
“When I came across Patterson’s work, I wasn’t really thinking about performance work,” said Oliver. “That set off a ten year odyssey to construct this exhibition. A lot of the work was oral history, talking to artists who led me to other artists. Strangely enough these artists were hiding in plain sight. They’ve always been here, they’ve just never been presented or recorded in this way.”
The galleries are filled with both documentation of performance pieces — photographs and films — as well as sculptures and other physical artifacts. But this exhibition is not just about events gone by. Tonight’s opening will kick off with several performance pieces, and artists will animate the galleries several times throughout the show’s run.
The works highlight the legacy of older performance artists such as Patterson, Terry Adkins and David Hammons, and the influences they’ve had on younger generations.
“Radical Presence” includes more than 100 works by 36 artists, and themes emerge among them.
“The schism of the binary between black and white is a recurring theme,” said Oliver. “And the pushing away from those binaries into other areas is another theme. Guerrilla actions, the idea of the spectacle in the streets, audience participation – all of these things get teased out over generations.”
While documentation of performance art in the 60s and 70s was usually of a more journalistic nature, Oliver says people are now looking at the documentation as its own sort of art object.
She says it’s important that the Walker Art Center is presenting the exhibition.
“Within the contemporary art landscape the Walker has always presented itself as the zenith of progressive thinking and scholarly practices,” said Oliver. “It really is an honor to have this show presented here. It says that these artists are undeniably a part of the performance art dialogue.”
Artist Maren Hassinger is in town for the opening weekend of the exhibition; she’ll be performing “Women’s Work” on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Hassinger says the exhibition offers incredibly interesting ideas for everyone, regardless of where they come from.
“Some people are black, and some people are white; the fact that they are divided is unfortunate,” said Hassinger. “I would hope in the future that we should have more quality and more diversity in our shows. This show is in the vanguard, and the next step is to take the black and white out of it.”
Minneapolis artist Beverly Cottman will be joining Hassinger in her performance of “Women’s Work.” She found “Radical Presence” eye-opening.
“This is a show where I am not at all ashamed to say, most of these artists I was not even aware of,” said Cottman. “And I was also not aware that this movement from the visual arts, putting performance art in the forefront. It’s collaborative and integrative – it’s fantastic.”
A performance artist herself, Cottman says she doesn’t separate her performance work from her visual work, but understands that audiences often expect things to be broken out into categories. She said seeing photographs and films of performances presented as art in their own right was inspiring, and made her think more about how she documents her own work.
But Cottman longs for a day when such an exhibition wouldn’t need the label “radical.”
“I would like to feel that my presence as an African-American artist is not so radical,” said Cottman. “It’s a big deal because I’m doing great creative work, but it’s not a big deal because I’m black. This show is probably a step toward that.”
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