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And Now We Know: Indigenous Artists Write the World

11th Annual Native American Art Exhibit at South Puget Sound Community College

Visitation posters from Super Futures Haunt Collective. Photo credit: Alec Clayton

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This year's 11th Annual Native American Art Exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College is comprised of work from a year-long project called Yeha? that includes performances, videos, storytelling, and works of visual art. The exhibition title is And Now We Know: Indigenous Artists Write the World. An exhibition flyer explains the project is "inspired by the Coast Salish story of indigenous people from all tribes uniting around a common cause and lifting up the sky together."

More than 200 indigenous artists are participating throughout the area, but not all to be found in any one venue. The shows are held in many places, including Seattle Art Museum Community Gallery, Alma Mater Tacoma, Chief Seattle Club, King Street Station and more.

Visitors to the gallery at SPSCC should be prepared to spend a lot of time watching videos, listening to audio presentations, reading explanatory texts and carefully studying the art, and it is advisable to spend some time studying the website at before going to the show. The work is not easy to grasp and demands effort on the part of the viewer, but even if you do not understand it all, it would be worth the effort.

One large wall is completely covered with posters from Demian DinéYazi's "Decolonize Feminism" poster series. The posters fill the wall from floor to ceiling and each presents black and white images of Native American women with the printed words "Indigenous," "Feminism" and "Decolonize." The posters are arranged to create patterns in the manner of Andy Warhol's repetitive images. For example, one poster picturing a group of women is darker than all the rest, and it is repeated in such a way as to create diagonal bands across the wall. Other such patterns can be detected with careful observation. By way of this patterning and repetition, the message of decolonizing Native women is driven home like a hammer blow. 

Mounted on the wall on top of DinéYazi's poster series are two video monitors that use the posters as wallpaper. In Vi Hilbert's "Lifting the Sky", a woman tells the story of tribes coming together to do just that task. Sky Hapinka's video, "Wa Wa," features speakers of Chinuk Wawa, a Native language from the Pacific Northwest.

Another piece having to do with language is a group of four linocuts on paper by Whess Harmon with decorative letters spelling out phrases that are almost unreadable because of the complexity of the letters. These works constitute an intriguing puzzle that is lovely to look at because of -- as in the poster series -- variety of shapes and color within repetitive patterns.

The dominant compositional trope of repetition can be seen again in Catherine Cross Vehara's "Notes to Self," a series of silkscreen prints of stop signs and electric fans with slashes of color that in many instances are purely abstract shapes and in other instances depict animals or people. The contrasts and similarities of images is attention-grabbing, but the meanings of these images is not clear. 

There is a lot to see in this show. Conceptually, aesthetically, politically and historically, this show demands careful study. The gallery also hosts a library with selections of works by local Native writers.

AND NOW WE KNOW, noon-4 p.m., Monday-Friday, through March 8, South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia,

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