Indigenous Art as Creative Resistance: A Conversation with Dylan Miner
On March 16, 2018 Wiisaakodewinini artist, scholar, educator, and activist Dylan Miner generously shared his time with the Terra Incognita Art Series at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. During his visit, he brought people together to share in meals, conversations, and printmaking.
Miner and I spoke about the ways his work resists commodification, extraction, linear notions of time, and other products of nationalist-capitalism. His projects actualize processes of slowing down, visiting, and reconnecting to land. His work excites movements that provoke critical reconfigurations about what the world is, was, and can be. In addition to his artistic practice, we also spoke about his book Creating Aztlán: Chicano Art, Indigenous Sovereignty, and Lowriding Across Turtle Island, published in 2014 by the University of Arizona Press.
Stream or download our conversation here. Interview highlights follow.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Alexandra Lakind: Because your practice is so multidisciplinary, could you tell us about yourself and the areas you work in?
Dylan Miner: I’m trained as an art historian with a Ph.D. in the History of Art from the University of New Mexico, where the program focuses on non-Western art histories, both indigenous and arts of the Americas. Part of the reason I did a graduate degree in art history as opposed to a studio degree is because I’d actually gone to art school for a year and dropped out, because I wasn’t interested in isolated studio work. As someone who saw my work as related to social movements, I wanted to engage with radical politics and think about the ways that I as an artist could do some of that work within the confines of the museum or the gallery. What I found in my program in New Mexico was that I could think about the relationship between art-making, art histories, and imagining new and better worlds.
AL: Printed images have played a large role in your work and in social movements like Standing Rock. In the print workshop you gave at UW-Madison, what images were you printing and what is the meaning to you of those images?
DM: Over the last few years I’ve made work responding to pipelines, extraction, what I see as ecological destruction—and the relationship between those issues and infringements on indigenous sovereignty. At the workshop, we printed the “No Pipelines on Indigenous Lands” image, as well as “No Pipelines in the Great Lakes.” This one engages with Enbridge Line 5, a six-decade old pipeline that runs from Superior in Wisconsin to Port Huron, Michigan. It runs right through the Straits of Mackinac, which is a sacred indigenous site and a very sensitive environmental location. Over the past several years, various coalitions have formed around shutting down Enbridge Line 5, which has leaked and spilled 1.1 million gallons of oil over its lifetime.
Some of the other works we printed at the workshop said “No Mines Near Sacred Sites and Rivers.” These are in response to a proposed open-pit mine called the Back Forty Project, which is in the watershed of the Menominee River at the border between Wisconsin and Michigan. The Menominee Nation sees these headwaters as their site of their creation, so it is sacred site for Menominee peoples and also a sensitive ecological watershed.
I’m a member of the print collective Justseeds, a group of about 30 people with members throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The collective has a graphics site where people can download creative commons images for people to use in alignment with social movements. I’m interested in using my work as an artist to confront, challenge, and engage in various forms of creative resistance. When we look at these images, we see the relation between art-making and social justice, which is at the core of much of what I’m doing.
AL: In your projects, relations to land are a reoccurring theme. This seems to be part of an effort to decolonize relations to land and understand the relationship that the history of capitalism plays in land and land access. You recently commenced a project Bootaagani-minis, or the Drummond Island Land Reclamation Project. Can you tell us about that project?
DM: Drummond Island is the island to the east of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in Lake Huron. In the early 1800s there was a Métis community on the island who sided with the British and fought against the Americans in the War of 1812. When that war ended and the Treaty of Ghent was signed, what is now the U.S.-Canada border was solidified, and indigenous people who had fought against the Americans were forced off the island. Within the last year I started a project called Bootaagani-minis, or Drummond Island Land Reclamation Project. When Métis peoples were kicked off the island, many of them maintained social networks and relationships and now, nearly two centuries later, we’re trying to acquire land on Drummond Island through legal purchase and turn it into a space for Métis knowledge-sharing such as harvesting workshops.
The project is about thinking of the island as still a sacred space and one that is being used within what is now the colonized United States. Our particular community, known as the Georgian Bay harvesting community, is one of the historic Métis communities in the Great Lakes. This summer, other project leaders and I will gather at Drummond Island and then move forward with ideas for future uses of the island.
AL: This fall, you’ll open a new solo show at the Grand Rapids Art Museum dealing with Great Lakes history and ecology. As we are your Midwestern neighbors here in Madison, Wisconsin, I’d love to know more about this work and the concepts as it relates to the Great Lakes watershed and our shared histories.
DM: The show, which opens in October 2018, is tentatively titled “When the Water was Sacred, Trees were Relatives.” The body of work will be these large-scale cyanotypes with soot, bitumen (fossil fuel), and old-growth wood that is being used as sculpture. Cyanotype as a process was invented in 1842, the year that The Treaty of La Pointe was signed between the federal government and tribes in Michigan, which ceded much of the Upper Peninsula. With this work I think about the relationship between the spirit and history of a place, and the way that these are implicated in the world we’re living in now.
Featured image: Dylan AT Miner.
Podcast music: “Gloves” by Julian Lynch. Used with permission.
Dylan AT Miner is a Wiisaakodewinini (Métis) artist, activist, and scholar. He is currently Director of American Indian and Indigenous Studies and Associate Professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University. Miner is also adjunct curator of Indigenous Art at the MSU Museum and a founding member of the Justseeds artists collective. He holds a PhD from The University of New Mexico and has published approximately sixty journal articles, book chapters, critical essays, and encyclopedia entries. His book Creating Aztlán: Chicano Art, Indigenous Sovereignty, and Lowriding Across Turtle Island was published in 2014 by the University of Arizona Press. Website. Twitter. Contact.
Alexandra Lakind is pursuing a Joint Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in Curriculum & Instruction and Environment & Resources. She is affiliated with the Holtz Center for Science & Technology Studies, the Center for Culture, History, and Environment, and is a co-founder of Terra Incognita Art Series. She is interested in environmental futures, arts integration, and educational pedagogy. Contact.