2017-07-13 / Voices

The Sounds and Sights of Nationhood


Last week, fireworks exploded and flags flew all over the United States; songs were sung, and there were countless readings of the Declaration of Independence. Citizens and enthusiasts of the United States, from coast to coast and border to border, celebrated the 241st birthday of our nationhood. Regardless of personal beliefs and practices and origins, we all belong to this nation. So too did many of our ancestors, and most likely our descendants will as well.

Through time and in spite of vast differences amongst us, we are a nation.

This nation is older than any of us living today, and it is intended to exist into the distant future. It is what binds all of us—and our ancestors and descendants— together. Some songs have been sung and passed on from Independence to today. Other songs are brand new, composed in the most recent decades or even days. Who knows how long they will be sung? It doesn’t matter; they are part of our nation’s history.

Whether sung or spoken, this diversity of sounds has been heard in our nation since its independence. Similarly, the visual arts created by citizens of our nation includes a spectrum of works that spans styles, genres, media and every other category for organizing art. The only commonality is that the artworks were, are being, and will be created by our fellow citizens. All of these creative works are part of the artistic history of our nation.

This idea came to mind last week during a reception for four artists of the Tapun Sa Win exhibit at the Journey Museum and Learning Center in Rapid City, South Dakota. The exhibit, curated by CAIRNS, relates the narrative of Tapun Sa Win, a Lakota woman who married a star, and whose son, Fallen Star, was raised by Lakotas before returning to his father’s relatives in the sky world. The exhibit divides the narrative into seven passages, each of which is interpreted by a sculptor, a musician or band, a painter, and a poet.

The featured artists that evening were Iris Sully-Sorensen, the band Uncommon Knowledge (Corey Bettelyoun, Daniel Hudspeth, Shane LaPointe, Cody Makes Him First, and Kyle Keller who could not attend), Angela Babby, and Mary Black Bonnet.

Ms. Sully-Sorensen carved a detailed tableau, “Returning Home,” of Wicahpi Hinhpaya ascending from a tipi village to his relatives in the sky world. The young men of Uncommon Knowledged rocked the Journey Theater with the heavy metal sounds and poignant lyrics of their song, “Fallen Star.” Ms. Babby’s enameled glass mosaic, “Fallen Star Returns to the Cloud Nation,” includes a colorful landscape of detailed paisley that represents the diversity of life on this earth, and a dark sky with white paisley designs representing constellations. Ms. Black Bonnet performed her poem, “Lel Waun (I am here),” after sharing that she, like Fallen Star, was raised by adoptive parents.

These artists are citizens of two of the six federally- recognized Lakota tribes in the United States. They, and all citizens of the six Lakota tribes and the one Lakota first nation in Canada, are citizens of the Lakota nation. As with all nations, it is diverse in the personal beliefs, practices and ancestries of its citizenry. The artworks of these citizens illustrate their creativity and imagination, as well as the national diversity they embody.

Exhibits like Tapun Sa Win, which feature Lakota artists, deal with Lakota topics, and are curated by Lakotas, demonstrate that art can be a powerful force for forging identity and independence. The artworks of such exhibits promote and perpetuate the sounds and sights of nationhood … Lakota nationhood.

*The Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies is an Indian-controlled nonprofit research and education center founded in 2004 and located in the Lacreek District of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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