The phrase “Mni Sota Makoce” in the title of a new exhibition at Highpoint Center for Printmaking refers to “the experience of the moment of seeing the reflection of clouds in the water” in the bigger lakes west of the Twin Cities, such as Lake Minnetonka, writes curator Alexandra Buffalohead.
This was explained to her by her grandfather, Bud, who said the phrase couldn’t be translated but had to be explained. It was important to her to make the Dakota language central for an exhibition of Native artists who have long-term connections to the land we now know as Minnesota.
In fact, the 12 artists represented in “Transference: Printmakers in Mni Sota Makoce” are of Lakota, Dakota, Ponca, Mohican, Oneida, Ojibwa, Ottawa and Anishinabee backgrounds, and they include some of Minnesota’s best-known Native talents. The show also scores well on gender balance, with an equal number of male and female artists.
Buffalohead, who is Bdewakantowan Dakota and enrolled at Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, is a fellow in the new Twin Cities’ Emerging Curators Institute, which aims to help curators build their practices. She has an unusually deep and personal connection with several of the artists. She grew up studying the art of her aunt, Julie Buffalohead, in her grandparents’ home and going to Jim Denomie’s gallery openings.
Works in the show — including two prints by her aunt made at Highpoint — deal with such subjects as the politics of land treaties, the revitalization of the Dakota language, the potential dark humor in colonialism, and the relationship between modern abstract painting and Lakota forms.
In the black-and-white linocut “Wheelie,” Duluth-based Ojibwe artist Jonathan Thunder creates an urban dreamscape in which a skeleton-like character with lightning-rod horns pops a wheelie.
Angela Two Stars’ linocut “Almost Fractled” — an eight-pointed star with fish, birds and turtles inside individual diamonds — includes text in Dakota as a way to raise awareness about the endangered status of Native languages. (Two Stars was recently selected for the Walker’s Indigenous Public Art Commission.)
Denomie’s humorous 2009 etching “Edward Curtis, Paparazzi — Skinny Dip” shows a group of Native folks enjoying a dip while Curtis, the controversial chronicler of Native life, snaps photos from behind a bush. In doing so, the Anishinabee artist calls out Curtis’ obsession, depicting him as an intrusive voyeur.
The 19 works in this show also include prints by Dyani White Hawk, Gordon Coons, Maggie Thompson, George Morrison, Tamara Aupaumut, Frank Big Bear, Andrea Carlson and Star Wallowing Bull.
There’s something bubbling below the surface in each of these pieces. In Aupaumut’s monotype and gouache work “Stolen Landscape,” we see what looks like a grassy field, yellow skies and a bird, but then the word HIStory appears in the sky. For Aupaumut, this was a vision of the Montana landscape she captured with her camera. As she transferred the image from her mind into a monotype, a shift occurred as she recalled the various American flags and crosses she saw as she drove — a lingering “American Settler Colonialism,” as she calls it, that ruined her view.
The exhibition’s broad curatorial premise — artists who have a connection to “Mni Sota Makoce” — leaves room for many perspectives on what a connection to a historical place means. It’s hard to go wrong with a collection of all-stars whose ancestors were on this land long before Dakota words were used to name it.