Visiting the latest exhibit at the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art is akin to stepping into a strange and unfamiliar world. The installment, titled “You Can Fall: The War of the Mourning Arrows” (An Introduction to the Americas and a Requiem for Willem Ferdinand), features the work of Los Angeles-based artist Frohawk Two Feathers. On Sept. 28, Two Feathers presented a gallery walkthrough of his exhibit, which was curated by Mary Birmingham, curator of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey.
The contemporary art of Frohawk Two Feathers centers on an intricate imaginary narrative that draws upon actual historical events. The narrative traces a mythic war between two fictional eighteenth-century civilizations, the kingdom of Holland and Zeeland, and the empire of Frengland, and takes place across multiple different exhibits. The current exhibit on display at the Wellin Museum of Art focuses on one particular area of this created world, in what is known today as New York and New Jersey, and draws upon the history of the native Lenape-Delate and Iroquois tribes that inhabited the region during the eighteenth century.
“You Can Fall: The War of the Mourning Arrows” features a variety of artistic mediums. Ink-and-acrylic portraits depict some of the essential characters of Two Feathers’ imagined narrative, accompanied by textual explanations of their lives and struggles. The artist also created an assortment of artifacts, including a war drum, a variety of hand drums, native headgear, and an intricate death mask made of elk, deerhide, and horsehair. Each of the artifacts is woven into Two Feathers’ fictional narrative and meticulously mimics traditional Native American art and culture.
Frohawk Two Feathers’ unique body of work evokes a powerful message. As stated in the exhibit description, the artist “presents a new perspective on colonialism, imperialism, and racism.” “Featured characters of varied ethnicities offer an alternative to the Eurocentric version of history. By highlighting the diversity of his protagonists and bringing together native and colonial histories, Two Feathers challenges us to consider the untold story of the colonization of the Americas, or to imagine it differently.” During his gallery talk on Saturday, Two Feathers mused “history can be boring at times but I try to make it as happy as I can.”
Two Feathers’ installation features multiple pieces created specifically for the exhibit in the Wellin Museum of Art. One of the paintings, titled “They Already Got Yo Kids” (“Tricked my wisdom with the system that imprisoned my son”), will be added to the museum’s permanent collection.
“You Can Fall: The War of the Mourning Arrows” will be on display until Dec. 22, 2013, at the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, located on the Hamilton College campus. The museum is open to the public Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., and admission is free.