Differences

Nakia Williamson (Nez Perce) "The Prophet" 2001, acrylic on canvas, 30"x40"

The picture above comes from Hitéemlkiliiksix: Within the Circle of the Rim, a travelling exhibition of Native American and Maori art organized by the Evergreen Lonhouse in 2002. I’d stopped at the Artist Trust offices on Monday to check out the resource room and came across the catalog from this exhibition. There are a lot of great things! In looking up the artist who’s work is shown above, (Nakia Williamson), I discovered an interesting site with a statement from him. One of the parts in particular seems to get at the things that keep jumping out at me as I’ve been reading two of Leslie Marmon Silko’s novels lately. Here is the quote:

“The function of what art does in our community is to perpetuate a way of life, to perpetuate a way of seeing the world and relating to the land that we still live on. The rivers and the mountains are still important to us. As a people, as all people, we depend on those resources no matter how far we separate ourselves from the actual gathering of the foods, or gathering of the different resources that we need. My work, whether it be painting or, like I said, traditional form, all kind of goes back to that connection with the land that is so important for me as a Nez Perce.”

I think this statement says a lot. No matter where we live or where we come from, we are all people. We all live on the same planet and come from the same origins. What separates us, is how we interpret the world around us, or perhaps our inner worlds. So much of it comes down to place. Land, memory, time, mindscapes. We have so many buzzwords nowadays in America about diversity and acceptance, but so much of it isn’t really authentic and still focuses on defining groups of people into categories based on their perceived exoticness. Here’s another quote from Almanac of the Dead about difference that sums up so much:

“Being around Mexicans and Indians or black people, had not made him feel uncomfortable. Not as his own family had. Because if you weren’t born white, you were forced to see differences; or if you weren’t born what they call normal, or if you got injured, then you were left to explore the world of the different

Root always remembered the last remark Calabazas had made that night, just as they were drawing near the basalt knob where the drop was to be made. Calabazas said, ‘Those who can’t learn to appreciate the world’s differences won’t make it. They’ll die.'”

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