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Nde'bwe'twa - Place, Relationships, and Ceremony - By Artist Jason Wesaw (Pokagon Band of Potawatomi)

by Curator Brie Stoltzfus | Dec 02, 2016
In December, the City Gallery, in partnership with the Eiteljorg Museum and Sagamore Institute, will celebrate Indiana’s Bicentennial year with a show entitled “Nde'bwe'twa - Place, Relationships, and Ceremony.” On display will be works on paper by Potawatomi tribe member and artist Jason Wesaw. As part of the Pokagon Band, he is a member of the unique group of the Potawatomi who have remained on their traditional lands in Northern Indiana and Southwest Michigan.

Because of their ability to remain on traditional land, Jason says, “the land itself is a direct connection to our ancestors...They lived here, died here, and are buried here. This place is home--we've continually inhabited these lands for many hundreds of years. And because we believe the spirits of our ancestors still roam around here and help us, we have a metaphysical means by which to re-learn our language, ceremonies, old songs, etc. These things reside in the rustling leaves in the woods, the gentle trickling of the water in the rivers, the way the birds sing talk to each other...this land teaches us who we are, just as much as human or story.”

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Artist Jason Wesaw

The story of Indiana’s land extends even farther back in history than its two hundred years as a State; the Pokagon Band’s stories differ on how long they have been on their lands, but in the early 17th century European explorers recorded seeing the Potawatomi in the Great Lakes region.1

Wesaw’s art celebrates the interconnection of his Tribe’s spirituality, worldview, and ceremonies by reinforcing how physical land is interwoven with the spiritual and non-tangible parts of life. His works on paper are strikingly modern, which is part of what drew me to his work as I researched potential artists for this show; Wesaw describes his work as a “minimalist re-interpretation” that “bridges traditional tribal craft and contemporary art.” Bright blocks of color, geometric shapes, and three-dimensional elements like tassels create mesmerizing visuals.

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Artist Jason Wesaw

In abstracting and modernizing Tribal beliefs and symbols, Wesaw celebrates the ways that his ancestor’s knowledge “will continue to change as the world around us changes...but also how the ancient traditions and ceremonies of my people remain vital in the fast-paced world we live in today.” In this way, he pictorializes the ways ancient beliefs endure and adapt throughout time.

In conjunction with the City Gallery Show, Wesaw will be the Eiteljorg Museum’s resident artist from November 29 through December 3, where he’ll be creating a couple of pieces inspired by his time in Indianapolis, which will then be included in “Nde'bwe'twa - Place, Relationships, and Ceremony.”

As curator, I had the pleasure of getting to see the thoughtfulness and sincerity with which Wesaw approaches his craft and the excitement he has to share his heritage with others in a beautiful way; it’s been an honor to help bring these pieces to the City Gallery.

Along with the City Gallery, Eiteljorg Museum, and Sagamore Institute, I invite you to learn more about an integral part of Indiana’s history, culture, and people, on December 2.

Bio: Brie Stoltzfus, on behalf of the Sagamore Institute, worked as curator to develop this Indiana Bicentennial event at the City Gallery.

1. http://www.pokagon.com/our-culture/history
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