Indigenous Artists Radically Imagine a New Future

This session began with a song of welcome from cultural practitioner and filmmaker Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu (Native Hawaiian, Kanaka Maoli) that opened up a space for radical imagination and relationship. Artists from the 2021 cohort of NDN Collective’s Radical Imagination Grant shared their work from the project, which invests in Indigenous artists’ community-based expressions of “a radically imagined, more just and equitable future.”

Engaging with this work—whether it be taking in fine art photography and film, hearing Native languages spoken and sung, or learning about specific customs and ceremonial practices within the context of decolonization—is about experiencing the gift of centering Indigenous worldviews and knowledge.

Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), a contemporary fine arts photographer, shared images that visually express her people’s cultural landscape, presence and connection to the water, land, flora and fauna of the Mojave Desert of Southern California. “People outside the reservation have little idea about contemporary life of Natives on the reservation. Everything is taught as historic and bygone. From an early age, I knew I wanted to change this narrative,” she said. “I want to counter the narrative that we were historic and bygone, with an emphasis on our modernity, resilience, and the beauty all around us.”

Cara’s series of #Tongvaland images are a powerful disruption of the invisibility and erasure of California First Peoples, such as the Tongva of Los Angeles. Billboards with #Tongvaland and stunning images of Native women in regalia next to oil refineries or in natural springs that remain still amidst L.A. industrial spaces, the Hollywood Sign reimagined as TONGVALAND—these are examples of how Cara’s art radically educates and shifts understanding about a place like Los Angeles. “Los Angeles is a holy place,” she asserts, pointing out that it is second to Manhattan as home to the highest population of inter-tribal Indigenous residents.

Marianne Nicholson (Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nations) is a visual artist whose project undertakes the reclaiming of meaning and repatriating of material culture forcibly removed from her people, whose homelands are on the coast of British Columbia. That work entails rebuilding her own understanding and knowledge, and designing community-based platforms to share and return the knowledge to the tribe. This included the carving of a 14-foot traditional feast dish, which was given to the community with a feast being planned around it.

Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu’s animated short film, Kapaemahu, tells a Native Hawaiian story hidden from history, that honors legendary healers who embodied two-spirit, dual male and female energy.

“My work focuses on the movement and advancement of my people, where the U.S. continues illegal occupation of our land. We struggle to know what is our identity because the colonization has been so great, the loss of language,” Hinaleimoana said. “My work is dedicated to challenging the norms, and sharing how our people understand the world.”

All 10 artists from the 2021 Cohort are featured at the Radical Imagination virtual festival on November 12, 2021.