In 2019, Love Lives Here, an affiliate of the Montana Human Rights Network, held a few public panels that led to conversations about issues like human trafficking, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement and how to address those issues.
After hearing suggestions to host an art show displaying Indigenous women’s work, Barb Schelling, who sits on Love Lives Here’s Indigenous Allies subcommittee, and Laura Hodge at Bigfork Art and Cultural Center (BACC) started making plans to host an exhibit.
“Native women aren’t just victims or targets; there’s another part to that story,” Schelling said. “They want the opportunity to express themselves as leaders and educators and artisans and storytellers. We decided it was a really good idea to have an art show to support that.”
Originally scheduled for May 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Hodge to delay the exhibit for a future undetermined date. As COVID-19 guidelines began loosening this year, an opening popped up at BACC, and the gallery along with Love Lives Here put together a last-minute exhibit, which is showing through June 26.
“Expressions of Resilience – Art, Poetry, and Traditional Crafts by Indigenous Women” shows the work of 13 Indigenous women artists, including Schelling, ranging in mediums from poetry to beadwork.
While the MMIW movement started out as the basis for the exhibit, Schelling says it evolved into a broader show with themes like family and trauma.
Most of the work has ties to MMIW in some way, like Salisha Old Bull’s art drawing attention to Jermaine Charlo, who went missing in 2018.
“It started out to raise MMIW awareness,” Hodge said. “It’s a very sensitive topic that requires a lot of care, and we wanted to be deliberate and respectful.”
In addition to the artwork, many of the pieces have artist bios and stories to pair together. Each artist is local, ranging from Cut Bank to Missoula, and the art portrays work from various tribes, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai, Assiniboine, Crow, Navajo, Blackfeet and Chippewa-Cree.
Hodge is also excited to display poems for the first time in the gallery. She says showing literary work is tricky because artists don’t necessarily have a way to sell their work, but a donor subsidized the poets so they would be compensated.
The collaboration is also the first of its kind at BACC, and Hodge is hoping to do similar partnerships in the future.
“The thing I’ve found remarkable about the show is the depth that’s there,” said Monique Kleinhans, a BACC member artist. “It’s not only the creative expressions but the depth and life experience that’s portrayed. It’s remarkable to spend time looking at the work and reading the stories. It allows us to have a better understanding, and it’s a wonderful way for the people who’ve had those experiences to express them.”
“Expressions of Resilience – Art, Poetry, and Traditional Crafts by Indigenous Women” is on display now through June 26. For more information, visit www.baccbigfork.org or visit the gallery Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 525 Electric Ave. in Bigfork.
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