First Nations artist Dana Claxton explores her 'acceptable edge'
By KEVIN GRIFFIN, Vancouver Sun
October 8, 2010

Paint Up, 2010 by Dana Claxton.
Photograph by: Handout, Winsor Gallery
Dana Claxton

Winsor Gallery, 3025 Granville

Saturday, Oct. 9 to Oct. 30; open daily

More information:

VANCOUVER -- After a career spanning more than two decades that has included 
exhibitions of works in several international biennales and in public galleries 
across Canada and around the world, one of the country's leading artists of 
first nations descent is having her first show in a commercial gallery.

Dana Claxton's exhibition at Winsor Gallery on South Granville opens today and 
continues to Oct. 30.

Born in Yorkton and raised in Moose Jaw, she's of Lakota (Sioux) descent. 
Claxton traces her ancestry back to the Lakota people who left Montana with 
Sitting Bull after he defeated U.S. troops led by Gen. George Custer at the 
Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876.

In her art, Claxton explores the continuing and powerful influence of history 
and colonialism on Indians. Her work takes a critical look at what lies behind 
definitions of beauty and how popular culture has portrayed the original 
inhabitants of North America.

"It's something I'm famous for - having an acceptable edge," Claxton said in a 
phone interview. "All of my work from the very beginning has had multiple entry 
points and double or triple meanings. It has always been that way. I'm coming 
at it from many different places.

"I'm interested in beauty, but I'm interested in going beyond that: What is 
going on beyond the surface? What does that mean coming from my background that 
has historically been so deeply oppressed? All these experiences have gone into 
the work. I think because we've had such a difficult history in Canada that's 
it's produced, as it's called, difficult knowledge. What do we do with that?"

One of the ink-jet prints in the exhibition that plays with ideas of troubled 
beauty is Baby Boyz Gotta Indian Horse. It depicts a young Indian man sitting 
on a gorgeous brown and white horse with perky ears and a lovely blond mane. 
The horse is frozen in a pose like a child's toy. The young man has a curious 
neutral expression on his face - one that Claxton called "not quite defiant." 
He's a contemporary Indian in red Adidas track pants who has been placed on top 
of the past: the horse with all of its important cultural and historic meanings 
for the Sioux and other Indians of the central plains. He's so out of place he 
doesn't even feel he can control his steed by grabbing the reins.

It's part of a series called Mustang Suite. All four images were inspired by 
Black Elk, a Sioux medicine man who recounted sacred rituals including the 
horse dance and the rise of a horse nation in his biography Black Elk Speaks. 

Claxton's work shows the critical distance between the centrality of the horse 
in 19th-century Sioux culture and the reality of the experience of contemporary 
Indians. In Daddy's Gotta New Ride, an Indian in braids, a dark suit and red 
shirt with a painted black and white face stands in front of a classic red 
Mustang car; in Baby Girlz Gotta Mustang, two young women in red dresses and 
mukluks are shown sitting on red Mustang bikes. 

All the figures in the Mustang Suite series meet the gaze of the person who is 
looking. They're not being deferential by looking away. They look with the eyes 
of people who want to be treated equally. Visually, one of the formal elements 
that links the works is the colour red. In Lakota culture, red is considered 
sacred and also refers to the common ethnicity of Indians as constituting a 
'red nation.' 

Again red dominates Onto the Red Road, a series of images that shows a woman 
progressively changing through variations in westernized and Lakota clothing. 
For the Lakota, 'walking on the red road' means being on a spiritual path. The 
woman starts off in a short sundance skirt and hot red stiletto-heeled boots up 
to her thighs; she ends up wearing a much longer red sundance skirt that 
chastely covers her legs but exposes her bare feet. In the final image, the 
woman is raising her hands over her head, her palms facing forward. In five 
steps, Claxton has made the woman transform from a sexual figure into a 
spiritual one.

Among Claxton's latest work in the exhibition are modified ready-mades: 
enlarged copies of declassified FBI documents about the American Indian 
Movement. AIM, which flourished in the 1970s and 1980s in the U.S., was feared 
by the FBI and considered a threat even though it was largely composed of 
disorganized groups of protesters who were part of the era's many liberation 

One document with sections blacked out refers to AIM describing itself as 
comprising "the shock troops of Indian sovereignty" and a gathering of about 
200 people in San Francisco on June 16, 1973. 

Claxton has enlarged the single 8½-by-11 page to about one metre by 1.7 metres. 
By increasing the size, the lines and shapes of the document are transformed 
into abstract visual images. The increase in physical size can also be seen as 
pointing to the growing awareness of the continued impact of colonialism.

Earlier this year, Claxton was one of 15 Canadian artists and curators, many of 
them first nations, who went to Australia for the 17th Sydney Biennale. For the 
biennale, artistic director David Elliott visited Claxton's studio at the 
University of B.C. and selected Claxton's Sitting Bull and the Moose Jaw Sioux, 
a four-channel video installation.

In addition to Claxton's work, Winsor Gallery is also showing the series Wood 
by photographer Thaddeus Holownia in the lower gallery. 

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Daddy's Gotta New Ride, 2008 by Dana Claxton.
Photograph by: Handout, Winsor Gallery

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]


Native News North
List info{all lists}:

Yahoo! Groups Links

<*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

<*> Your email settings:
    Individual Email | Traditional

<*> To change settings online go to:
    (Yahoo! ID required)

<*> To change settings via email:

<*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

<*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

Reply via email to