Cannupa Hanska Luger. Photo by Chip Thomas, 2018.

Cannupa Hanska Luger. Photo by Chip Thomas, 2018.

The customary practices of the world’s Indigenous people have been imprisoned to the past. Indigenous craft, when not cannibalized by western culture, is considered primitive, traditional, even extinct. As a Native contemporary artist and craftsperson of North America, I am motivated to reclaim and reframe a more accurate version of 21st century Indigenous culture and its powerful global relevance.

My practice is rooted in the traditions of generations before me and augmented by the requirements of survival. The tradition of making things work is what influences my practice most. I work with what I’ve got to make the object or moment that needs to exist. Given the legacies of cultural appropriation and annihilation brought on by colonization, the endurance of these traditions -- both craftwork and the practice of making things work -- is characterized by resilience, adaptability, and survivance. In recognition of this legacy and in order to reflect upon it, I find myself working between the realms of contemporary art and Indigenous culture, moving amidst academia and the front lines, in order to both illustrate and enact a more complex understanding of contemporary Indigeneity.

The materials that I use are emblematic of human civilization such as clay, textiles, steel and digital media. Clay signifies our connection to place, literally the ground on which we stand. We create textiles from plants, reflecting our truly embodied relationship between fiber and flesh. Steel has allowed humans to develop, build and dominate; it provides the physical structures for control and capital. And technology now provides an opportunity to question our civility and our connectedness through durational and situational media.  

Combining social collaboration with craft has become a primary technique. I use the methods of social media to create short call-to-action videos requesting objects to be created on massive scale. One such video resulted in communities building hundreds of mirrored shields as a tactic for front lines demonstration. Another involved disparate groups in the making of thousands of clay beads to commemorate lost lives. These engagement techniques combine technology and handwork to mobilize and even heal the communities who are facing immeasurable trauma from colonization.

Poet Bob Kaufman wrote, “…Creation is Perfect…” During the awkward moments of uncertainty, experienced between unwrapping a block of clay and expressing a cohesive idea, these words have carried me through. Creation is an action, a verb. The process of creation is perfect and beyond that moment, all things exist in a state of entropy. There seems to be a harmony between creation and destruction, one defines the other. A block of clay is destroyed to create a sculpture. It is then subjected to extreme heat, which transforms it to something fragile, that on a timeline difficult to perceive, will eventually breakdown and return to the earth. This is the creative process and a recapitulation of life’s ebb and flow.

The work I engage aims to distill this cultural reflection into the shape of an object, installation or action. Whether working with institutions, communities or with the land itself, this work has become inherently social and requires engagement. I aim to craft richly symbolic objects but moreover, I want to lay groundwork, to establish connections, to mobilize action. I want to make real impact and this motivation increasingly pulls me out of the studio and into the world, to collectively challenge the systemic conditions of capitalism while claiming space for urgent and emergent Indigenous narratives.

MMIWQT Bead Project . Cannupa Hanska Luger in process. Photo credit: Ginger Dunnill, 2018.

MMIWQT Bead Project. Cannupa Hanska Luger in process. Photo credit: Ginger Dunnill, 2018.