Throughout the history of the Southampton art scene, Shinnecock Nation art and artists have remained just outside the spotlight. Despite their art-rich culture and central location in the Southampton Town (or rather, Southampton’s location in what was once much larger Shinnecock territory), Shinnecock artists haven’t been given many opportunities to showcase their works in the Hamptons’ prestigious art museums and galleries. Southampton Arts Center’s current exhibition is a step toward correcting that.
Created by SAC and the show’s curator Jeremy Dennis, Shinnecock artist and head of Ma’s House & BIPOC Art Studio Inc., OUTCROPPING: Indigenous Art Now is touted as Southampton’s first Indigenous-focused exhibition of this scale and scope. The show features nearly 50 Native American artists from across the country, 12 of which are Shinnecock. Given the opportunity to curate a show of this nature, Dennis could have kept the scope small and hyper-focused on his local community, but he saw a way to maximize the show’s celebratory and educational factors.
“I think Shinnecock artists — even though we’re a small community, and the artist community is even smaller — could’ve filled the space, but I wanted it to be a celebration of Indigenous art in today’s world,” he says. “I love the idea of Shinnecock as a sovereign nation and as an entity, and the fact that we can engage with other Indigenous groups and still retain who we are.”
Emphasizing the fact that no two Indigenous cultures are exactly alike, OUTCROPPING allows SAC visitors to peruse a wide variety of works that highlight the different styles and techniques but also the traditions and struggles of the featured artists (whose tribal affiliation and artist statement is included beside the piece). With sequential rooms focused on books and research materials, Shinnecock artists and other Native America artists, several important topics are brought to the forefront of discussion and, hopefully, greater understanding.
“In this exhibit, we’re really happy to get the public to engage with Indigenous artists and to understand some of the issues that we face today,” Dennis says. “I would say a lot of artworks deal with land back initiatives, histories of genocide, cultural identity, loss and assimilation, and just going back to tradition, connecting the past to the present.” He adds that there has been a great deal of engagement with this “huge learning opportunity,” which may not have played out the same way were this a museum exhibit on Indigenous struggles of the past. “People come in with an open mind because it’s art,” he says.
Those open minds are a long time coming. Even the very definition of fine art has been historically exclusive of Indigenous views on art. “In Indigenous communities, we’re traditionally known for our dance and our craft — making beads and rocks into jewelry. I think craft is one of those things that is still on the margins of fine art,” Dennis says, adding that passed down traditions and self-expression are mostly communicated through art in Indigenous cultures. “That’s one of the reasons why in Native communities, this is such a high demographic of occupation (30% of individuals in Native American communities). It’s just a way of surviving, practicing who you are and telling your story.”
OUTCROPPING artists include Dennis, Pauline Leilani Badamo, Matt Ballard, Greg Ballenger, Michael Billie, Lisa Bowen, Joe Don Brave, Tecumseh Ceaser, Leeanna Chipana, Marcus Xavier Chormicle, Mona Cliff, Selena Coverdale, Nathaniel Cummings-Lambert, Dennis Redmoon Darkeem, Kelly Dennis, Haley Greenfeather English, Jaida Grey Eagle, Vanessa Dion Fletcher, Kaysha Haile, Elisa Harkins, Beth Hazen, Durrell Hunter, Alex Jacobs-Blum, Margaret Jacobs, Chaz John, Jamie R. John, Matthew Kirk, Kite, Ian Kuali’i, Jay Laxton, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Ella Mahoney, David Bunn Martine, Richard Mayhew, Megan McDermott, Jenny Irene Miller, Ehren Natay, Shelley Niro, Krystyna Printup, Tricia Rainwater, Herbert Randall, Eric Roddy, Cara Romero, Denise Silva-Dennis, Skawennati, Gloria Smith, Kevin Umana, Tohanash Tarrant, Renelle White and Shane Weeks.
“Shinnecock has been here for thousands of years, and in all that time there’s never been a real presence of Shinnecock art or business or anything like that in Southampton Town or Village. I think this is historic in so many different ways,” Dennis says, noting how incredible it is to see an entire exhibition of Indigenous artists, rather than one token representative. “It’s a really awesome sign of change, so I’m really happy to be part of the process, and I hope it’s just the start.”
Running alongside the OUTCROPPING exhibition, have been several educational Indigenous-focused events at SAC organized by ancillary programming curatorial associate Shane Weeks. Programs have included a wampum crafting workshop, figure drawing workshops and a sold-out film night and Q&A with Shinnecock filmmaker Ginew Benton. Upcoming events include a final figure drawing workshop on Friday, February 25 at 1 p.m., an open house community gathering on February 25 at 6 p.m. and a Shinnecock medicinal plant workshop on Saturday, February 26 at 3 p.m.
OUTCROPPING is on view at Southampton Arts Center (25 Jobs Lane, Southampton) Friday through Sunday, noon–5 p.m., through April 9. Learn more at southamptonartscenter.org/outcropping.