Cannupa Hanska Luger Commemorates Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls through Ceramic Beadwork

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.: In January 2018, Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara-Lakota) put out a call for people from across the United States and Canada to create handmade clay beads using instructions he provided. For months, people across both countries worked individually and in groups to create 4,000 beads. On May 3, the beads were unveiled in their final form at the Ent Center for Contemporary Art, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Galleries of Contemporary Art as part of the Lazy Stitch exhibition.

“Every One.” Collaborative ceramic installation by Cannupa Hanska Luger. Photo courtesy of Celine Wallace.

The 4,000 beads were used to create Every One, a monumental sculptural installation representing Sister, a photograph by Kaska Dena photographer Kali Spitzer that is also part of a photography and sound installation honoring MMIWQT people. “MMIWQT” is the acronym for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Queer, and Trans people, and the exhibit featuring the installation opened just days before National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls, May 5. Each bead represents an Indigenous community member who was lost.

Prior to its installation at the Ent Center, Every One was part of a collaborative action on the campus of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA).

“I had all the beads sent to IAIA from across the U.S. and Canada to fire them, and I also stained them and strung the individual strands together on campus in preparation to complete the larger piece,” says Luger. “While on campus I connected with Elizabeth Stahmer who organizes with the IAIA Red Shawl Solidarity Project and The Women’s society. The whole process of this social engagement was in remembrance and prayer for our community members we have lost, so in preparing the work to be loaded onto the truck for installation in Colorado, we decided to create a prayerful action where the community at IAIA and beyond were invited to support us to carry each strand from behind the ceramic studio where I constructed it, to the main circle of the IAIA campus, setting up the completed piece together in an act of healing, solidarity, and ceremony. This action maintained the intention of the work as being all of ours; healing and collaborative and embedded IAIA into the work and created connection with The Red Shawl Solidarity Project, who works in holding awareness around MMIW.”

“Every One” installed on the campus of IAIA as part of Red Shawl Project. Photo courtesy of Cannupa Hanska Luger

“I was humbled by the response from communities across the U.S. and Canada that came together and created beads for this, sharing stories and awareness in their own communities through the act of creating together,” Luger says. “In reflection, the process of creating such a monumental piece with such vast geographic collaboration was on quite a short timeline. … And this piece would not have come to be if not for all the communities who created the over 4,000 beads with so much prayer, and intention and which I simply supported in bringing together for the final sculptural installation. This project has been the most humbling and important work I have done to date.”

“Shoulders of Giants.” Jesse Hazelip and Cannupa Hanska Luger. Photo courtesy of UCCS GoCA.

Lazy Stitch was organized by Luger, with collaborating artists Spitzer, Chip Thomas, Jesse Hazelip, Kathy Elkwoman Whitman (Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara, Luger’s mother), and the collective 1000 Tiny Mirrors. Along with Every One, the exhibition includes the following: Shoulders of Giants, a grouping of ceramic buffalo skulls by Luger and Hazelip, “referencing the effects of industrialization,” according to a gallery press release. The One Who Checks & The One Who Balances, a set of “futuristic regalia” created by Luger and Whitman that have been worn in political actions. Return of the Warrior Twins, a photographic mural installation of “performative acts of resistance to extractive industry” by Thomas. This is Not A Snake, a monumental sculpture by Luger compiled of an assortment of found objects and collective-made additions from participating artists referencing “industrial exploitation of the land and its minerals.” Everything Anywhere, a land art installation developed collaboratively between Luger and UCCS students and Outdoor Services staff.

At the opening, the collaborative performance project 1000 Tiny Mirrors presented a rope-work performance “honoring gender gradience.” The performance apparatus and video documentation will remain on display for the duration of the exhibition.

The exhibition’s title, Lazy Stitch, references lane stitch, a sewing method often used in Indigenous beadwork in which individual, multicolored beads are threaded and sewn one row at a time to eventually reveal the complex image. According to the press release, the stitch is a metaphor for “explor[ing]contemporary issues through collaborative practice, while revealing the potential for collective social agency.”

“This Is not A Snake.” Cannupa Hanska Luger with collaboration. Photo courtesy of Polly Nordstrand.

“The Lazy Stitch exhibition itself has been in process for over two years since I was invited to UCCS for an artist lecture in early 2016 where I met Daisy McGowen, who supported this exhibition becoming a reality,” said Luger. “It has been incredible to work in such a holistic way with other artists to create an exhibition which counteracts the myth of the master artist. The entire process of working in such a collaborative way created relationship and bonds that are immeasurable by capitalist standards.”

The exhibit runs until July 21. For more on the exhibition, visit Luger’s website or the website of Ent Center for Contemporary Art, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs Galleries of Contemporary Art.

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