You are on the land of indigenous people. That’s the message Tracy Rector wants visitors to the Paramount Theatre to keep in mind as they walk through its doors. Rector is the curator of the art exhibition “Indigenous Centered Perspectives.” The show is located in the lobby bar at the Paramount, which now doubles as an art gallery called Re:definition. Works from Native photographers Kalen Goodluck and Adam Sings In The Timber reinforce Rector’s message and the show provides a venue for their self-expression.
“As Indigenous people we are creating our own future realism by acknowledging our ancestors, honoring the prophecies, and celebrating that we are alive and thriving,” Rector said. “Despite many genocidal policies of the lands now called the United States.
Re:definition launched in January 2016 in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The inaugural theme was “Illuminating Black Art in Seattle.” Five artists showed their work over the course of three cycles during the year. Seattle Theatre Group (STG), owner of Paramount Theatre, hired two curators: Jonathan Moore, a leader in Seattle’s art and music community who passed away last month; and Tariqa Waters, an artist, gallery owner and educator. The two helped redefine the historic space.
“The overall theme as we’re trying to continue this project is really how can we redefine our space, how can we address issues of race and social justice and equity and what would we like to see in this space that we haven’t been able to see before,” STG Marketing Manager Hilary Northcraft said. “Our curators are the ones who decide what the artwork is going to be, who the artists are, and we’re here at STG facilitating their vision.”
“Indigenous Centered Perspectives” launched earlier this year to a large crowd. Rector said the great-great-great-grandson of Chief Seattle set the tone for the event by offering words at the beginning of the night. It served as a reminder that they were on the territory of Coast Salish people.
Sings In The Timber is a Crow who spent part of his childhood in Billings, Montana, then later Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His work in the show documents other Crows at a fair in Crow Agency, Montana. The black and white pieces are striking photos printed on aluminum. In the portrait “Jessica Old Elk, Color Guard,” Jessica is wearing an elaborate headdress and her eyes are focused, a gloved hand holds onto a flagpole. According to Rector, in most Native cultures only men can wear headdresses but in the Crow Nation women warriors like Jessica can.
Rector has known Sings In The Timber for several years and described him as being generous with his time and skills. She’s watched his vision mature and wanted to showcase his talent.
“I truly appreciate his love of strong Native women of all ages too,” Rector said. “He portrays them as powerful, complex, beautiful and not at all as passive stereotypes but of dynamic women walking their own path.”
Sings In The Timber photographs also show a cowgirl, teepees and horses on the banks of the Little Bighorn River. The photojournalist knows many of his subjects and believes it’s important for Native people to tell their own story. He’s currently working on a book documenting Crow life.
“I think that we Native American people are better storytellers of our own people so we should not rely on a non-Native to tell our story,” Sings In The Timber said. “My passion in life is to photograph my people and present them in an honest way. As a Crow, I feel I have the best tools to do that.”
Rector is mixed race Choctaw and Seminole. She’s also a filmmaker and community organizer. In her role as executive director of Longhouse Media, she understands the importance of giving young artists a platform to show their work.
Goodluck comes from the Diné (Navajo), Mandan, Hidatsa and Tsimshian tribes and is an emerging artist who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Rector has known him for four years. Both traveled to Standing Rock in December. She spoke highly of his aesthetic and commitment to journalism. Goodluck’s work in the show reflects the harsh weather conditions activists faced while in North Dakota. In “Protectors and Veterans March on Highway 1806” activists hold “water is life” signs during a blizzard.
“For me, I’ve done a lot of documenting of oil boom politics especially on the Fort Berthold Indian reservation, which is about two hours north of Standing Rock. I spent a lot of time photographing there. I also have family up there as well,” Goodluck said. “I gained a lot of interest in how tribes react to energy development.”
While the protests lasted for months, it wasn’t initially covered by national media. Goodluck traveled to Standing Rock to be a Native voice telling the story and to share it with others. As news spread of the standoff between the government and water protectors, many non-Natives flocked to the area, but not all of them were prepared.
“I think people still have very much a mythical view of who Native people are. Unfortunately I think that’s also the reason why people go to Standing Rock too, for this romantic idea of who Indians are and what they stand for,” Goodluck said. “Not to disparage anyone who went there who wanted to fight for this cause. That’s one critique I thought of when I was there.”
People from all over Pacific Northwest came to see the show on opening night. Rector said it’s normal for Native people to travel across the region to support one another. It’s also the reason the artists in the show don’t meet the Western definition of local. The Native community is borderless.
“It’s really a close-knit network for Native people nationwide and often times with our sisters and brothers to the north and south,” Rector said. “In fact it’s important to acknowledge in the media work that I do that ‘the borders crossed us.’ These arbitrary lines do not keep us separated or from knowing one another.”
The current show wraps up May 24 to make way for another round of Native artists. The next launch is May 26.
Re:definition is bringing visual art to an audience that might not normally be exposed to the artists in the show. Because Paramount is a business requiring a ticket for its performances, those who don’t attend on opening night need to make an appointment with Northcraft or Emily Krahn to see the exhibition. It’s a logistical issue they are working to overcome.
“For us it’s really important to figure out, as we have new people and cultures in this space, how do we keep those communities coming back. How do we connect everybody,” Northcraft said. “It’s a huge learning curve and a learning process but really trying to figure out how to build a community around race and equity issues in the city.”
What: “Re:definition: Indigenous Centered Perspectives”
When: Runs until May 24, can be viewed by appointment. New launch May 26, 6:00 p.m. Featuring the work of Margie Morris (Tlingit), Bracken Hanuse Corlett (Coast Salish) and Amanda Spotted Fawn Strong (Michif).
Where: Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St, Seattle
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