Danni Shen, Curatorial Fellow in Visual Arts, organizes and interprets exhibitions at Wave Hill.
Dennis RedMoon Darkeem is a multi-media artist whose work critiques contemporary social and political issues affecting U.S. and Native American cultures, from institutionalized racism and classism to displacement of people of color. An active member of the Wind Clan within the Yamassee Yat’siminoli tribe, Darkeem is also an interdisciplinary art educator, living and working in the South Bronx. He describes his work as both representative and reflective of his own life experiences. Utilizing drawings, paintings, collages, photography, sculpture and participatory installations, Darkeem’s practice often incorporates a craftwork sensibility that combines traditional with contemporary aesthetics, while drawing upon cultural and historical memory. During Wave Hill’s 2016 Winter Workspace Session I, from January 4 to February 14, Darkeem developed a body of work inspired by the woodlands and plant collections at Wave Hill, drawing on indigenous techniques for re-purposing and reusing natural objects.
The artist’s work is featured in The Bronx Speaks: Our Home, an exhibition at the BronxArtSpace and Andrew Freedman Home for NY Armory Arts Week 2016. You are invited to attend the opening reception on March 5, from 5 to 10PM!
Danni Shen: A kind of hybrid materiality seems to be important to your practice, which often combines traditional craft and found natural materials, as well as commonly found commercial items.
Dennis RedMoon Darkeem: Materials are definitely very important in my practice, as they set the tone of time and communities. When layered, the materials themselves create a way of storytelling. My mission with materials is to push the viewer into thinking about how we view waste, the environment, one’s self and cultural relations.
DS: How do those materials in your work relate to the particular critiques of social and political issues affecting U.S. and indigenous culture?
DRD: Through many of my materials, I connect cultural references that give voice to social issues. For example, Good Trade (2013) involves trading and borrowing, a tradition of many native communities. I asked people from my community and others to question the value of objects, which was an attempt to engage critical thinking, social dialogue, art, movement and storytelling. The materials in this case were the items that people were trading and observing to tell stories. Items and the materials were the connection. Changing Colors (2013) was another work which gave a voice to skin color in the native community. For that project, I pulled paint swatches from hardware stores that were named after people of color. For example, China white, Cherokee red and Cuban maroon. I then used these swatches to create a large-scale collage which prompted an examination of the decision-making behind these names and colors that we paint with. My work is also very much about issues of race and skin color in the U.S., relating to the scarcity of histories written by people of color.
DS: What does your process of engaging the public realm through workshops or hands-on participatory installations involve?
DRD: For much of my life, I’ve been an art educator, artist and performer. After studying the Theater of the Oppressed, I wanted to push my art training and practice and make art more accessible by bringing it to the community where I live and work. However, much of my work does start with the two-dimensional on paper or canvas, which then evolves into community projects that create an engaging experience. I’ve worked with all age groups, from school youth groups and senior citizens to people on the streets of New York City. Many times, the interactions may start off with some difficulties but usually end up very enlightening!
DS: You describe your work as reflective and representative of your life’s experiences. How do they inform one another?
DRD: Most of my work is representative of the things that are important to me. People are important to me, and that always evolves into great experiences, from listening to stories to asking questions. Conversation has been an important part of the experience for my work. Constantly meeting new people who can help evolve my thinking while also sharing my own points of view is also critical to my process. I truly believe that knowledge has no value if you don’t share it. From living in my community in the Bronx, and seeing the changes in neighborhoods due to high rent, I’m motivated to refresh the education system and play a part in teaching black and Native American culture and history.
DS: Where do you see your practice heading?
DRD: My new work is an exploration blending performance, music, photography, installation and sculpture. More specifically, I’ve been inspired by natural healing, and Native and African American traditional customs relating to the four seasons.
Pictured above, from the top:
Dennis RedMoon Darkeem, Trade Blanket, 2014, in New York, NY. Participants engage in a hands-on workshop. Courtesy of the artist.
Works in progress at Dennis RedMoon Darkeem’s Winter Workspace Studio. Image by Wave Hill.
Dennis RedMoon Darkeem, Stomp Dance (interactive station), 2014, Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education. Courtesy of the artist.