Utah gallery cuts ties with Western artist over use of Aboriginal icons

A prominent Salt Lake City art gallery has cut ties with a famous Western painter, after complaints from indigenous activists that the painter’s work often appropriated and misused Native American icons.

Despite this, activists question why the gallery didn’t move sooner – and only after hearing criticism from them did the artists the gallery represent took action.

To Denae Shanidiin and Kalama Ku’ikahi Tong, some artwork has been posted on the Salt Lake City website Modern West Fine Art412 S. 700 West, was catalyst and insensitive to Aboriginal people.

business one, titled “Oh my God” It depicts a white woman and an Aboriginal woman standing side by side, as military aircraft drop bombs over Monument Valley. In the caps speech bubble, the white woman asks the Aboriginal woman, “Oh my God!! Was that your village?” The characters seem not so much from reality as from an old Hollywood movie, in stereotypical fashion.

Another work showed a nude Aboriginal woman wearing a headscarf in a boat. There are still other depicted spiritual deities, such as Ahula Kachina, which Shanidin and Tong viewed as cultural exploitation and abuse.

The respective works were created by Billy Schenka pop artist dubbed “The Warhol of the West” by the Southern Utah Museum of Art. set up an exhibition Some of his works and Andy Warhol’s western-themed work earlier this year. According to Castle Fine Art, Schenck’s art fuses “Navajo culture, modern-day cowgirls and linguistic humour.”

Chandin, a Salt Lake City artist from Dene and Corey, and Tong, who hails from the island of Hawaii, argue that Schenk’s work is inhumane, sexually abusive, stereotypical and cultural – making a profit from the indigenous cultures of the Southwest, particularly the religious or Navajo culture .

Shanidin said that the sexual aspects of Schenk’s work are particularly troubling, given the attention recently drawn to the plight of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls (MMIW). Shanidin and Tong organized events to celebrate MMIW Day, May 5, in Salt Lake City, to raise awareness that Utah is one of the top 10 states in the country for Aboriginal women and girls missing or murdered—with rates higher than those for other racial groups.

The modern West is represented by many Aboriginal artists, including religious artists Shunto PJ – whose work appeared in Online Gallery On site until May 31 – also Sheldon Harvey And Patrick Dean Hubelfrom the Navajo Nation.

“Every Aboriginal artist is in it The victim of this colonization and genocide is “represented in Schenk’s work,” Schneidin said. “They are inherently vulnerable by being in this gallery, along with their sacred work and living alongside Billy Schenk.”

Diane Stewart owner of the modern west And a member of the Salt Lake City arts community, confirmed that the gallery had ended relations with Schenk.

In an email statement to The Salt Lake Tribune, Stewart said the show does not support the exploitation or abuse of Aboriginal people.

Posted April 29 On the exhibition website, signed by Stewart and Shali Cooper Showroom Manageracknowledged that “having had no dealings with the last Billy [online] The show was a huge mistake on our part. The right organization would surely have provided us with the insight needed to see how the work does not align with the standards of our society, nor the standards of the gallery.”

The publication said that the exhibition will “pause our representation of Billy Schenk. We are taking this break with all of his work to understand the depth and breadth of his images’ impact on our society.”

In her statement to The Tribune, Stewart said, “We hope that discussions around this experience will enlighten and raise awareness of the changes required for a more sensitive and equitable treatment of Indigenous peoples. These are very large and important issues that cannot be resolved through the gallery, or even the art world alone, but we hope we can.” of doing our part to rebuild trust with a new and more informed perspective.”

Schenk, who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, did not respond to The Tribune’s attempts to contact him. in a recent photoSchenk filmed a terrified woman by the hands holding a rope behind her, speaking on the phone, “Oh, Jesus! The Awakening Police are here!”

In its April 29 post, the gallery requested feedback from other artists.

Laura Sharp WilsonShe, who identifies as white and recently completed her residency at Modern West, said she had considered taking part in the exhibition — and educating herself about cultural sensitivities in the art world.

“I’m having a big epiphany that white people need to do more work and indigenous people, BIPOC people shouldn’t have to do all the work,” Wilson told the Tribune. “It also made me realize that white people have learned to be blind to this kind of thing, which is why we still talk about this.”

Sarah Holenberg, who teaches art history at the University of Utah, said part of her job is to teach students to “recognize and begin to resolve the ugly mess of stereotypes, racism, and misogyny built into their historical and contemporary visual culture.” She added that choosing the modern West to represent Schenk “makes my job harder. It tells aspiring artists, art historians, educators, and future leaders that in terms of representation, it’s okay to look no further than the same old colonial narratives.”

Prior to Modern West severing ties with Schenck, Shanidiin questioned the gallery’s letter protecting the artist—and pointed to public comments from the Salt Lake City arts community to invoke the content of Schenck’s work.

Stewart told The Tribune that she and Cooper solicited those comments from local artists, and they acted thoughtfully but not slowly after initial complaints from Schneidin and another artist. She said they took two weeks to solicit comments and another week to finalize their decision to cut ties with Schenk.

Schneidin herself is an artist—she chose not to be represented by a major exhibition—and said her inspiration comes from her people and the landscape. She compared this to Schenk’s work, which she described as “threatening and controlling narratives about indigenous land, bodies, identity and art.”

revision • An earlier version of the story incorrectly described where Billy Schenk’s art was displayed. According to Modern West, it has featured some of Schenck’s landscapes in its Salt Lake City gallery, but the works that have drawn criticism have only been shown online.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for your local press support.