Adrian Wilson, English artist and photographer, (@interiorphotography), should be in Nepal right now, he planned to be in the Himalayas bringing art to the locals, but his passport recently expired which kept him in NYC. So what did he do? He put on an art show highlighting Native Americans, which is currently running until November 28.
Artonement: An American Retrospective is now on view at 198 Allen St. and its timing to coincide with Thanksgiving is no accident. The artist describes the show as “242 years in the making,” that features quotes from various presidents with regards to the Native American population. Some quotes are shocking to read, but it's very important to take a look inside the minds of these presidents and get a better understanding of historically, how the government has treated Indigenous Americans. From Washington to Trump, who all appear to be holding up their own words, looking like a line up of usual suspects, form a full circle around the gallery.
"The show is about culture and text - the ethnic cleansing of a rich, spiritual, and creative culture which had oral traditions by a white, religious, relatively bland culture," said Adrian. "The president's bodies are uniform and their text are purposefully monochrome because they literally represent every white American and do so in the show."
To contrast, Adrian wanted to include colorful art by Native American artists. This past Friday night, he visited the American Indian Community House, (AICH), a not-for-profit organization serving Native Americans in New York City located on Eldridge Street. He asked if they wanted to participate in any way in the space and if they could contact tribal artists in NYC. Sparrowhawk Caught On Fire contacted him first and came with his paintings, including a portrait of Melania Trump. When Talon from the Community House came to do a sacred ceremony to bless the space, he brought three pieces of abstract art by Everton Tsosie, which Adrian grouped together.
On Sunday, just 4 days ago, Manhattan’s indigenous people, the Lenape Tribe, had their first Pow Wow in the city since the 1700’s. The Lenape Tribe, the ultimate native New Yorkers, (btw, thinks your complaining about gentrification is cute), they were the first to be driven out by the Dutch. The Lenape gave Manhattan its name calling it Manahatta island. Eventually a wall was built around New Amsterdam, which marked the beginning of the Lenape migration; being forced out of their homeland. That wall eventually became Wall Street. The Pow Wow was an
important way to let people know members of the Lenape tribe are still here!
Adrian said, "These people exist and contribute and create amongst us,
yet they are still invisible, dismissed or ridiculed."
Reagan's quote from 1988 - “We have provided millions of acres of land for what are called preservations—or reservations, I should say...At the same time, we provide education for them—schools on the reservations. And they’re free also to leave the reservations and be American citizens among the rest of us, and many do. Some still prefer, however, that way—that early way of life. And we’ve done everything we can to meet their demands as to how they want to live. Maybe we made a mistake. Maybe we should not have humored them in that wanting to stay in that kind of primitive lifestyle. Maybe we should have said, no, come join us; be citizens along with the rest of us.”
"The quotes by early presidents are abhorrent, but those were times when the immigrant whites were still at war with the Native Americans. In the 1980's there was more knowledge and understanding of Native Americans and the decade before, they had been granted many specific rights in law for the first time," Adrian said. "Reagan basically talks like he is in a cowboy movie suggesting that the Indians were spoiled with their gifts of free land and that maybe things would be better if they had been forced to 'be citizens like the rest of us' instead of be on 'nice reservations.'"
While going over the idea for this show, a friend suggested Adrian speak to EASY who is almost 100% Cherokee. Easy wrote a quote by Black Hawk (Sauk Chief) - "How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right." It wrapped around the inside of 198 Allen St., right above the presidential quotes. There was an extra space and Adrian suggested, EASY write Cherokee. He said, he’d written Easy for 35 years and never once wrote Cherokee, but he is really into the culture and heritage and it was nice to take note of his roots. It’s funny how things all came together in a symbolic way in just a few days.
Adrian said, "I love how the space has EASY on one wall, and his (Cherokee) heritage on the reverse of that wall - a proud statement of his background."
Art should provoke and make you think about things that may be uncomfortable and confront you at times that might not be the most appropriate. Many people are gathering around with family and friends giving thanks today, on the most American holiday of the year. We shouldn't forget the history of the founding of this country whether good or bad or how uncomfortable it may make you feel. It's the truth which is hard to find in this day and age of fake news.
"I was meant to be in Nepal right now and even though I am not a spiritual person, when they came before the opening to burn some sage and said a blessing for the show...it was so moving because I hadn't had to fly across the world to experience this, it was something that had been said and done by tribes for thousands of years in this very spot," Adrian said."They were grateful I had told the story in such a respectful and creative way."
Adrian did not make it to Nepal, there was no Namaste blessing, but this retrospective was an unexpected blessing sent from the universe keeping him here in NYC this Thanksgiving. It’s sometimes not where you wind up, it’s who you’re with and it's what you do for others. We are thankful for an art community that makes people think and search for the truth and not just accept things the way they are. We're also thankful to highlight and recognize the Native American community because they do create, contribute, exist and are thriving.
From the artist Sparrowhawk, a Ndé'ndai transcendental story artist from the East Village, the American Indian Community House in the LES, The Lenape Tribe, and graffiti legend EASY who is "98.5% Cherokee, Native Americans are among us and are cultured, creative, and proud of their heritage.
"As a white English immigrant, I can't say that I am proud of the heritage of my people in this place and would like to make my own small effort to educate about a rich past and inspire for a more respectful future between all communities in the USA," said Adrian.
"What else can you do for Thanksgiving except give?"