The Vancouver Art Gallery presents Dana Claxton: Fringing the Cube, the first-ever survey of the work of the provocative Vancouver-based Hunkpapa Lakota (Sioux) artist Dana Claxton, which runs until February 3, 2019. Photography, film, video and performance documentation trace nearly 30 years of Claxton’s career and her investigations into Indigenous identity, beauty, gender and the body.
Kathleen S. Bartels, Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, says as a prolific multidisciplinary artist, Dana Claxton has been an important voice for reclaiming narratives around Indigenous culture through striking critique of stereotypes and ideologies.
“From the Indigenous portraits captured to stunning effect in her ‘fireboxes’, to the dramatic video installations that retell the stories of her Hunkpapa Lakota (Sioux) people, Dana’s emotive works compel audiences to re-examine their understanding of Indigenous art.”
Merging Lakota traditions with so-called Western influences, while utilizing a powerful “mix, meld and mash” approach, Claxton addresses the oppressive legacies of colonialism by critiquing representations of Indigenous people that circulate in art, literature and popular culture. Such potent criticism can be found in early video works such as I Want to Know Why (1994), a searing protest against the depredations of colonialism, and The Red Paper (1996), which parodies Shakespearian drama while providing an Indigenous view of the European invasion of the Americas.
Other early video installations that brought Claxton widespread attention are also represented in the exhibition, including the mixed media installation Buffalo Bone China (1997), which looks at the mass slaughter of the buffalo and the disastrous consequences it held for the Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains. These works are accompanied by multi-channel video projections, including Rattle (2003), which eschews narrative convention, taking the form of a visual prayer with its mirrored imagery and hypnotic audio comprising traditional Lakota rattles (instruments of healing) along with synthesizers and peyote singing.
Claxton’s widely acclaimed photographic works play a prominent role in the exhibition. These include The Mustang Suite (2008), five staged photographic portraits of a contemporary Indigenous family, with each member appearing with their own form of “mustang”—be it a car, bicycle or pony. Also featured are the AIM photographs (2010), Claxton’s images of declassified FBI documents on the American Indian Movement.
Complex questions regarding beauty, cultural appropriation and the construction of identity are prevalent in Claxton’s photography project Indian Candy (2013), a series of aluminum-mounted chromogenic prints, which includes Tonto Prayer, a work that portrays Jay Silverheels, the Mohawk actor from the 1950s television series The Lone Ranger. Claxton further confronts such questions in her brilliant “firebox” or illuminated lightbox works depicting Indigenous women as seen in Headdress (2015) and Cultural Belongings (2016).
“I am in awe and grateful that the Vancouver Art Gallery and Grant Arnold have selected to curate this survey exhibition spanning twenty-eight years. I am elated to be sharing my video installations, photography and performance with a Vancouver audience. Combined the work speaks of a Lakota sensibility of time/place/space/spirit and the complexities of our shared socio-political-cultural realities,” says Dana Claxton.