“The character of survivance creates an actual sense of native presence over absence, over nihility, and denies the reductive themes of victimry all too common in journalism and popular literature.” – Gerald Vizenor

Vizenor argues that many people in the world are enamored with and obsessed by the concocted images of the Indian—the simulations of indigenous character and cultures as essential victims. Native survivance, on the other hand, is an active sense of presence over historical absence, deracination, and oblivion. The nature of survivance is unmistakable in Native stories, natural reason, active traditions, customs, and narrative resistance and is clearly observable in personal attributes such as humor, spirit, cast of mind, and moral courage in literature.

Survivance, an exhibition at Two Rivers Gallery
Survivance, an exhibition at Two Rivers Gallery

Location: Two Rivers Gallery (Minneapolis, MN)
On View: March 17th – April 21st, 2017

Promo text: A multi-disciplinary art show profiling Native American artists and performers. Photographic portraits of Aza Erdrich, Palas Erdrich, Maggie Thompson, Rory Wakemup, Isabella LaBlanc and Carolyn Anderson by John Ratzloff, alongside real life examples of their work. Featuring New Native Theatre Company’s “National Ten Minute Play Festival” with Rhiana Yazzi and “Against the Grain” with lead artist/film maker: Keri Pickett, mixed by Jason Takahashi and produced by Charlie Thayer.

My Review:

While at a casino, I once over heard a little girl asking her Caucasian father, “do Native Americans have kids?”  The father laughed at the question, but to this little girl, the stereotypes of Native Americans in society are probably all she has ever witnessed, so it really seemed plausible Native Americans exist in a separate reality; one where we are stagnant entities, sad and lost to history.  However, this exhibition challenges that tired stereotypical perspective of Native Americans by profiling Indigenous artists, performers and activists with the photography of John Ratzloff, who is a non-Native American.

The title of the exhibition comes from the book, Survivance: Narratives of Native Presence by Gerald Vizenor.  The word itself might mean survival + resistance, or survival + endurance, but either combination is a good understanding of the work showcased in the exhibition.

The Walls of Two Rivers Gallery are lined in either single or double-spaced rows of art and photography.  Presenting the sequences of the film Against the Grain by Keri Pickett as stillshots allows me to engage at my own pace. To others, it might have made more sense to be presented as a video, but watching a film in galleries can take an unknown amount of time.  In the ADHD world we live in, I appreciate being free to browse the photograph as I see it.

The black and white photography of John Ratzloff, a non-Native American, contrasts well with the colorful works of each artist represented.

Survivance, an exhibition at Two Rivers Gallery

The survivance aspect of the exhibition is represented in the occupations of the artists and performers highlighted:  a textile artist, writer, theatre director, gallery direction and fine artists as well as the work of activists.

The artist statements that stood out to me spoke of connections to our ancestors and our connections to cycles of life/death metaphorically as water.  The activism and lessons learned during the protests at Standing Rock were in a number of works: Oil vs. Water | Oil vs. Nature.

Overall, I was impressed by the exhibition: it was refreshing to see the many different ways Native Americans are breaking stereotypes and surviving in ways that continue to honor our ancestors and history.

Marlena Myles

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