Luzene Hill understands what it means to be silenced. First, she is Native American. Second, she is a woman. Society has repeatedly told her that her voice and heritage are not valuable. But when she started making art in the early 90s, she discovered a way to speak out and make her voice heard, and she uses that voice to explore the ways women and Native Americans are silenced. Violence against women has been a frequent subject of her artwork, but her most recent installation in the Eiteljorg Museum's exhibit Conversations, deals with her own rape in perhaps one of her most personal pieces yet.
In the early hours of January 4, 1994, Hill, who lives in Atlanta, was on a run in Piedmont Park. At the time, she was 47. A man grabbed her from behind, dragged her off the path and down the bank of a lake, strangled her to keep her silent, and raped her. He left her half-conscious in the mud and snow. After reporting the attack she later returned to the scene where she found the imprint of her body and the struggle. An image of that scene, the abandoned glove and messy bank, was seared into Hill's mind.
Today, the heap of red cords forming an outline of Hill's body on the museum floor are deeply unsettling, which is exactly what Hill intended in her piece "Retracing the Trace." The installation is ripe with symbolism. Hill's attacker strangled her with the cords of her jacket, and for months the red lines lingered, a constant reminder of that day. There are 3,780 cords in the entire piece. It is estimated that 3,780 rapes go unreported in the United States every day. NUVO wrote in detail about this installation back in May.
Hill isn’t the only one raising awareness of issues in today’s world. She is one of five artists awarded the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship this year and whose work is being shown in the new exhibit. The fellowship occurs biennially and features one invited artist and four juried artists, all contemporary Native artists. Along with awarding each fellow a $25,000 grant, the museum also purchases around $100,000 of art to add to its extensive collection. The exhibit, Conversations, reflects the common theme running through the various paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installations.
Mario Martinez of the Pascua Yaqui tribe grew up near Scottsdale, Ariz. and now lives in New York City. His painting, The Conversation, inspired the title of the exhibit and explores the collision of two very different cultures. While Martinez thrives on the vitality and energy of the city, it is important to him to preserve and celebrate his Yaqui culture.
Da-ka-xeen Mehner is Tlingit, the indigenous people of the North American Pacific Northwest and he still lives in Alaska today. His piece Language Daggers starts a conversation in a very literal sense. A collection of larger-than-life Tinglit daggers form a circle on the museum floor. On one side, simple Tlingit words and phrases are etched into the daggers, on the other side, the English translation. The daggers grow shorter and shorter, disappearing into the floor and symbolizing the near extinction of the Tlingit language at the hands of English speakers who colonized the area and forced the Tlingit to conform to their new culture and language.
Holly Wilson’s exquisite bronze sculptures explore the importance of family, heritage, and childhood. The collection of small figures less than half a foot tall tell stories of her experiences growing up on her family’s Indian trust land in Oklahoma. And Brenda Mallory, a citizen of Cherokee Nation who currently resides in Portland explores the ideas of belonging and authenticity through her stunning sculptural pieces like Colonization and Recurring Chapters in the Book of Inevitable Outcomes.
Conversations, featuring all of these works and many more by these artists, opens Saturday, November 14 and will be open to the public until February 28. Art is an opportunity to see the world from another person’s perspective and participate in a broader conversation. Whether you are a woman or man, a survivor of sexual assault, or part of a culture that has been suppressed, we are all an important part of that dialog.
Opening: Conversation Celebration
Nov. 13, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Contemporary Arts Party
8 p.m. - 11:30 p.m. Awards reception with Indigenous, Supaman and DJ Kyle Long and the 2015 Fellows
Eiteljorg, 500 West Washington St.