Sunday, March 25, 2007
Ghost Dance is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, one of the few pieces of art with which I evacuated. It is the first one of a series I did about the Ghost Dance phenomenon. Growing up in South Dakota, I was heavily influenced by the culture of the Plains Indians. My fascination with Native culture is apparent in much of my work, and especially in this series.
I began this piece with an unusually shaped scrap of iron I picked up in a salvage yard. I layered the metal with a thin silver piece of sheet metal, an oversized reproduction of an Indian Head penny, a cylindrical metal choker and another odd shaped piece of metal, a hoop of copper tubing and sheet metal copper cut in the shape of sun rays, two metal Turkish crosses, a bent fork, and copper flashing strips and nails. The beads are of stone, glass and ploymer clay, and the support for the piece is painted plywood.
The Ghost Dance was a phenomenon which swept the Western Native American communities in the late 1800s. It began when a Paiute prophet named Wovoka prophesied a nonviolent end to white American expansion while preaching messages of clean living, an honest life, and cross-cultural cooperation. During a vision, Wovoka stated that he was given the Ghost Dance and commanded to bring it back to his people. He preached that if this five day dance was performed in the proper intervals, the performers would secure their happiness and hasten the reunion of the living and deceased. As the Ghost Dance spread from its original source, Native American tribes synthesized selective aspects of the ritual with their own beliefs–often creating change in both the society that integrated it and the ritual itself.
The Lakota interpretation of Wovoka's message was drawn from the idea of a “renewed Earth” in which all evil was to be washed away, including the European presence on their homelands. By 1890, this seemed to be the only way out of a desperate situation, and the Ghost Dance began to be performed frequently among the Lakota. The dances alarmed many reservation officials, and troops US troops were called in to discourage the events. On December 28, a small band of Sioux erected their tipis on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek. The following day, US forces opened fire on the camp. When the fighting had concluded, 25 U.S. soldiers and 153 Lakota-mostly women and children- lay dead. The Massacre at Wounded Knee effectively ended the Ghost Dance phenomenon, and Native resistance on the Plains.