The Long Conversation: Dyani White Hawk and Jovan C. Speller

Matthew Fluharty:
Welcome to High Visibility, a podcast on arts, culture, and ideas in rural America and Indian country. I'm your host, Matthew Fluharty.

High Visibility is produced by Art of the Rural and Plains Art Museum, and as a part of a long-term collaboration of exhibits, publications, and events that share the richly divergent stories, experiences and visions of folks across the continent. As we go about this work, we are grateful for the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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As we open a new season of episodes, we are grateful to share Dyani White Hawk and Jovan C. Speller taking part in a podcast format we are calling The Long Conversation -- one that offers folks the chance to cultivate a thread of ideas and relationships without the presence of an interviewer.

This was an experiment, but one born from a desire to share with a wider audience what might happen when these two friends and collaborators had the space to relax into a conversation about life, art, family, land, and whichever topics and contexts emerged through that flow. This conversation was recorded over Zoom in late summer 2021, as both artists created work in their studios.

In the time that transpires here, occurring as it did in what Dyani referred to the “mid-pandemic,” we hear both artists at a point of transition between exhibitions -- with major projects ahead -- taking stock of what’s at stake in this cultural moment.

Their time together opens with the presence of intergenerational knowledge in their collaborative work Choosing Home, and expands to consider Jovan’s time spent with relatives in rural North Carolina learning family history, and Dyani’s time with Native women across the continent who speak the languages of their people. Rooted in these experiences, the conversation asks how artists, institutions, and communities can better honor and more deeply support the cultural histories and lived experiences that animate these connections.

Land is a constant presence and relational force throughout, ground on which we’re left with a deeper understanding of Dyani and Jovan’s creative practice but also with a sense of the kind of futures we could all inhabit.

Dyani White Hawk is a Sičáŋǧu Lakota visual artist and independent curator based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Most recently, her work was included in the 2022 Whitney Biennial, and also presented as a major solo exhibition at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Dyani also previously served as Gallery Director and Curator for the All My Relations Gallery in Minneapolis.

Jovan C. Speller is a multidisciplinary artist based in Minnesota. She has received a McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship and the Carolyn Glasoe Bailey Foundation Minnesota Art Prize. Her installation In Lottie’s Room was featured in the High Visibility Exhibtion at the Plains Art Museum, and her exhibition Nurturing, and Other Rituals of Protection was recently presented by the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Please sit back and enjoy this conversation between Dyani White Hawk and Jovan C. Speller.

Jovan C. Speller: Hi, Dyani.

Dyani White Hawk: Hi, Jovan.

Jovan: No, it’s really good. It’s so good. It’s so good to see you. [crosstalk] It’s been a very long time since we collaborated on any projects together really. But on Choosing Home, a right, a privilege, or an act of trespass, which debuted at The Walker Art Center, which was a part of their MN Artist Presents programming. So, that was like 2018. Right? That was a while ago. Yeah, it was two kids ago, for me.

Dyani: Two kids, a pandemic, well mid-pandemic and a whole lot of other work in between.

Jovan: A whole bunch of uprisings nationally. Yeah. And then, like within that the growth of our art practices and the growth of ways in which we wanted to collaborate and work together and the growth of friendships and all of those wonderful things, right? Yeah. So, I don’t know, I think it’s really cool to be able to reflect on that project with you, and then talk about where we began and where we are now. Because I feel like that collaboration was such a key moment in -- growth moment in my artistic career, and it definitely solidified our relationship, but also, like our ability to take risks and like, move our practices forward in really interesting ways. So, I’m excited to talk to you today.

Dyani: It was huge. And I’m excited to be able to revisit it too, because it’s been such a factor of change, I think, for us, for our, like you said, our friendship, our relationship, but then the work that we were doing at the time, and the way that that’s influenced where we’re at now, because it really has-- what was this one night event [crosstalk] It’s not a lot.

Jovan: Yeah. So, that premiered in May, I think it was May 7th of 2018. As a part of the free programming that they had, I think it’s like Thursday night free programming that they have in The Walker. And so MN artists created this proposal process where artists could basically apply to be like curators for tonight. And so the way that Choosing Home came to be was really it was like the beginning of an inquiry. I was working on some research for another project, which later became relics of home. So, I was researching the history of landownership in my family. And that got me just thinking generally about the concept of ownership. And how colonialism just really destroyed historical memory of places, and the people that occupied them. So, before I could really dig into the research, specific to my family, I felt like, in order to be like a responsible artist or responsible human, I should ask a cursory question about the land itself, and the people indigenous to this land.

So, yeah, like the proposal that I wrote was super loose. Which is awesome because then it also encouraged and invited collaboration, like the call itself, like invited folks to collaborate for that programming. And for me, it was this really awesome opportunity to work with artists across disciplines that I really admired, or at least to try to. So, I think initially, I had this idea of, okay, I have these questions that I want to explore. And I want to get these different perspectives in answering these questions. And so obviously, I went to you because I had been following your work and was a huge admirer of your work. And I had also originally proposed to you and then we did work with Alanna Morris-Van Tassel, who’s a dancer choreographer, and really wanted to understand her perspective on ideas of home and land as a woman, but also as a descendant of a Caribbean woman who migrated here. So, that aspect of that story, I think, was really important. And then after talking to you, I think, what, I emailed you. [crosstalk] Yeah, I emailed you and then you were like, I’m too busy. But I really want to.

Dyani: I’m too busy. But yeah, let’s do it anyways. So, do you remember what the panel was? You and I met when we were speaking on a panel together.

Jovan: Oh, my gosh, I totally forgot about that. At The Loft, right?

Dyani: Yeah. Do you remember what that was for?

Jovan: That was for that publication, what’s it called? Into, Into Minneapolis or Into MSP or MPLS or something. And that was a publication that surveyed or I don’t know, brought together artists of a specific region and so I think they did one in, I can’t remember the city in Texas. And there were a couple of others that they’ve done. But that was -- I forgot about that. I do remember you speaking on that. And I was like, ooh, she’s fire.

Dyani: Yeah. So, that’s where we fell in love. But we had this opportunity to -- What’s that?

Jovan: Thank you for the reminder of our love story.

Dyani: Yeah. So, we had this opportunity to meet on that panel. And I just remember thinking the same thing. I was like, oh, I like her, I want to get to know her. No, I love opportunities like that, where you get to be introduced to an artist that you don’t know yet and then you just have that moment of that -- That was, for me, felt very natural and instantaneous. So, when you reached out to ask if I might want to partake in this project, I just remember thinking, yes, this is a great opportunity to get to know her and her practice better. But the topic was so good, and the title was so good. Choosing home, a right, a privilege or an act of trespass. Coming from an African American and a Native American woman, the conversation that can be had on that sentence alone, is -- the potential is so rich and so important, and so timely and needed, even though I may have felt too busy, I was all in. I was like, I’m too busy, but I’m going to find a way.

Jovan: And you’re so right about that, the conversation, because I think that that’s kind of still where we’re at. We’ve only scratched the surface of the conversation. But that was the intention of inviting these collaborations was to begin the conversation, right, to begin to build networks across cultures, and to begin to examine these untold stories and untold narratives, and acknowledge the commonality, like we didn’t really have to search for it, right? But we just don’t speak of it. We just don’t really together in those ways. And I think that it’s so interesting, because I’m trying to remember… Oh, I remember. I’m trying to remember why that was important then in 2018, because I’m so steeped into 2020-2021.

Dyani: It’s been long.

Jovan: Right? So --

Dyani: And all consuming.

Jovan: All consuming, but it’s relevant now. Right? These conversations are relevant now. I remember one of the many reasons why this was an attractive concept for me is because I was in the midst of my own immigration battle, right? Right, because I was pregnant, super pregnant. What, eight-nine months pregnant during the course of this project, and yeah, Junior, my husband now, fiance at the time was in Cuba and unable to get to the country. So, that was a battle. And I was really just trying to hold it all together, emotionally, to hold the pregnancy together and together, and then to continue making work, and not allow that time and that trauma to derail all that I had accomplished to date. So, being able to collaborate with these strong, black and indigenous women kind of propped up my spirit and even my body, like propped up at a time where I really could have fallen. So, that collaboration and that relationship, it not only led to this amazing work that we were able to present, but also created the foundation for these relationships at large. Yeah, that was really important.

Dyani: One thing that I think is important for folks to hear as we’re trying to create a description of this project, in a manner where they’re hearing about it from an auditory perspective is that this project, this MN Artists Presents at The Walker, where they asked artists to curate, what it is, is a single night, a four hour period, right?

Jovan: Yeah, where you kind of take over the public spaces. So, we were charged with filling the space. And it was a curatorial challenge even because this was, for us, there was scheduled programming, but it needed to take place throughout the duration of the evening. And it needed to be something that engaged people that either had been there for a half hour and just finished in the galleries or were just arriving or maybe they came specifically for that, but it really needed to take into consideration every type of visitor. Like the audience as a whole. So, that was an interesting challenge for us as curators.

Dyani: One of the challenges for both you and I is that you are predominantly a photographer and I am predominantly a painter and mixed media artist. Generally our studio practices are based in 2D arts that hang on the wall. We’re not normally creating that kind of short-term public performance or programming. But we had this similar, or we had this foundation that you had built through the proposal of this questioning, this idea of Choosing Home; Choosing Home, is it a right, a privilege, or an act of trespass. And so as you and I sat down together, we thought through what that questioning means for us individually, as a native woman, as a black woman, and as women that are artists and as women that are artists on this land base, and the complexities of what this history, the history of this land base entails. You and I decided that we needed to fill the spaces of The Walker with the voices of black and native women.

And in doing so, we decided that we didn’t want it to be in your face directed towards you, but we wanted people to hear and experience these various performances and installations and video, and through the work, draw their own conclusions of the intersections between the histories, that have affected our communities and continue to affect our communities due to the forces of colonization. And we really wanted to celebrate black and native women and we wanted to recognize and celebrate, poetically, a point towards the intersections of our cultures that aren’t taught, that aren’t naturally celebrated in kind of national culture. We’ve been historically segregated in a lot of ways and that’s been a tool, right? So, we wanted to really draw out in our work, and celebrate one another. And then I think through our work together, you and I wanted to poetically encourage that folks start thinking about those realities and learning how to care for and nurture one another. But you and I also recognize that this is such a huge topic, there’s no way that two women can take on this thing.

And then even the history of The Walker here in this space, and the history of the Twin Cities at large and all of that. And so, I think we just recognize that -- But you had also had a limited budget and it’s four hours, right? And so we thought very carefully about how can we expand it beyond just our voices, just the two of us, but also continue on that theme. And as you mentioned, Alanna fulfilled a certain role in the fact that she’s a black woman, she’s an African American woman, but her history is specific to the Caribbean, right, to the Caribbean. And then my friend, Rosy Simas, who’s a choreographer, here in the Twin Cities, as well, I’m Sičangu Lakota and I have Dakota lineage as well. So, all that’s very much related to this area, this geographic region.

And Rosy is Seneca but her and her family have lived here in the Twin Cities for decades, and have been really involved within the Native community in the Twin Cities. And that’s an important part of the conversation as well, because although these are Dakota and Ojibwe, later Ojibwe homelands, the Twin Cities has been a very intertribal community for a long time. And that is results of a lot of governmental planning as well and governmental policies. And so that’s also a part of our history and part of the story of this land base too. So, it was important to me that we’re also featuring an artist who’s been a long-standing native artist here whose tribal affiliation is outside of this immediate land base too. So, I think we were just thinking through how can, in four hours with a super limited budget and this really compact timeline, how do we create the kind of largest intersection within this goal that we had to really celebrate the voices of black and native women?

Jovan: Yeah, yeah. Thank you for that. It’s one of those topics that is so huge that it was a beast, because I remember even just our collaborative meetings at The Walker, where we began and where we ended were very different places. It was always a presentation that brought together -- it was a presentation about bringing things together. Whether that was artistic disciplines or people, cultures, traditions, I think that exploration of tradition is where you and I focused. And so we realized that there was a tradition of nurturing across. And so we focused on family, we focused on mothers, we focused on care for women in our culture, right. So, we focused on race. And so that’s how -- I think that the other piece of this is that you and I were both ready to experiment with film. We wanted to be baby filmmakers.

Dyani: Right. We launched our illustrious filmmaking careers.

Jovan: Absolutely. We were ready. I think that my original vision of how my research of the history of land ownership by my family in Windsor, North Carolina, how that would culminate was through a film and I still have that idea. I have not finished it. But I still would like to bring that story together. And then you were also working on ideating or working on, I’m not sure what part of the process you were in at the time. But you did describe this vision that you had for a several channel installation, right?

Dyani: Yeah. Yeah. That was all in the thinking process at that point. It was in dreamland. We were working our way.

Jovan: Yeah, we worked our way over to Braids first, though, right?

Dyani: Yes.

Jovan: So, Braids was a short film that followed the narrative of our mother or through our nother’s voices, about their history of and relationship to hair, their hair stories almost, which leads to stories of self-care, of identity, of myth making and myth busting, as well within culture.

Dyani: And then of communal care and then of home. So, we asked them to speak about -- We asked them a series of questions, the same questions without either of them getting to hear one another’s responses. We did this independently. So, our video, so we did this collaborative project, right, that was our collaborative contribution to the night. And this video was shown in that main lobby. I don’t remember what the lobby is called at The Walker, but it’s on the Jumbotron that they have there. And it’s a 30 minute video, and we wanted to -- we created a series of questions together to ask our mothers about their experiences with hair and home. And it was amazing how you and I thought this thing, this collective commonality throughout our cultures, this idea of braiding and braiding one another, right? It’s a piece of cultural identity in both of our communities. It’s a way that we take care of our bodies and ourselves. But it’s also a way that we take care of one another.

And then there’s oftentimes intergenerational exchange within that practice. And that was something that as you and I got talking about how can we speak about our commonalities because we know full well that the experiences within our communities are extremely unique. We do not have the same stories through this colonial project. But we know that there’s this common force that has caused and perpetuated a great deal of the trauma within our communities. And through that, there are intersections within our histories and they are inextricably related to one another. We can’t kill them apart, but that’s not taught, that’s not talked about in a formal manner, and oftentimes, not even in an informal manner.

And so we are oftentimes without the language and the tools that we need to support one another in really meaningful ways and in ways that are helpful and nurturing. And so the idea for the video was to just show this intergenerational braiding practice, and then have these voiceovers of our mothers speaking about their experiences and ideas around hair and home and let the commonalities show themselves, which was amazing because it did. We didn’t know what they were going to say. We just put together the questions.

Jovan: I’m curious, were you shocked at all or surprised by any part of your mother’s story? I know that I was like, “Whaaat?”

Dyani: Yeah, I was. I had heard a story but one of the stories that she told, I had not heard her talk about before. And so I was definitely surprised by certain things. I mean, you think you know your parents’ life stories because you’ve heard them speak about them throughout your life, but we can’t obviously know all of it. And so going in on this interview style brought out things that I hadn’t learned yet.

Jovan: Do you know what -- I mean, I’m going to just be honest, right? Like one of the things that originally, especially then made me uncomfortable about the film, but now I think really speaks to, it now is a part of that story. The larger story was like the style in which we interviewed our moms as well. Number one, my mom was living out of state. I think she was in Tennessee when I interviewed her. So, it was like, definitely sounds like a recording phone call, which is what it was, which is fine. And yours, I think was just masterfully done.

Dyani: Thank you very much.

Jovan: Yes. Because I was like, oh, like, there was a way in which you spoke and listened, that I appreciated. And then when I was talking to my mom, I realized that she was very -- triggered is not the word, but there was a heightened vibration in her voice. And it was like, maybe triggered is the right word, right? Like, there was tremor there that she was fighting through as she was telling her story, because I don’t think that she ever had or that anybody really asked her some of these questions or that she had really reflected back. So, there was like a pace, there was, not frantic but there were moments that felt like it could have gone there. There were tears that we did not include. There was a lot of emotion in her voice and because we were over the phone, I found myself wanting to soothe her with a response. So like, mmm, yeah, like things like that; I hear you, I feel you, I’m here for you. So, the interview itself also became this kind of act of nurturing like, my mother like through her experiences, even though it’s not like my artistic ideal, like recording, you know what I mean? But I do appreciate, like at that stage, at that phase, that was part of the story.

Dyani: Yeah, I honestly, I know that it’s maybe not the, like you’re saying, it’s not what we’ve learned. This is the professional format, whatever. I really appreciate the raw nature of the recordings because they’re honest, they’re truthful, and you can tell they’re not scripted. It just yeah, it brings life into it in a way that if it was super scripted, or super professional might become more mechanical or more -- you’re still going to hear the stories, but they’re not going to be as conversational, which is life, right? Life is conversational. And really, these stories should be told in conversation, because it’s not, it can’t be a singular narration, right. It’s not a singular story. And they are tough to talk through.

It’s interesting to hear you say that though, because I’m just thinking about -- we’re talking about this video where we’re pulling out or alluding to, pointing towards, asking people to think about cultural commonalities and intersections. But also, it’s really illustrative of cultural differences too in that, like when you said that my mom speaks, and I’m sitting back and listening, I mean, that’s a cultural thing in and of itself. I like that. I like that there’s those elements in there that people can pull out as they see fit. But I’ve shown it a few times over the years for different artists’ talks and presentations. And I’ve had multiple women come up to me and just be so grateful and want to see it, where can I see it? Where can I show it to? My friends or relatives or… So, I know that even though we might be critical of it, our very first video project, people dug it. It did what it’s supposed to do, I think.

Jovan: Yeah, I agree. I’ve had the same response. I’ve shared it a couple of places as well, I’ve had the same response. I’ve gotten folks come up to me with emotional responses as well. So, it’s kind of like yeah, you know, when you’re talking to your mom, that comes out. So, it’s like the nurturing came through. That was -- Yeah. But I’m also, really just speaking of voices in space and that as an act of caring, honoring and nurture, I really want to talk about and hear more from you about what brought about the conversation, the performance that you carry at the Walker.

Dyani: Okay. So, in addition to our Braids video, so just as a quick recap, we had our collaborative Braids video on the Jumbotron. Alanna was doing her performance dance piece in one area of The Walker. And then Rosie was doing her performance dance piece in the theater of The Walker. And then within one of the galleries, there was a performance in quotes, air quotes, because it was not performative in the way that we might typically think of a performance piece. But if you have to find an hard category for it, I guess that’s where it would exist. So, the very -- I don’t even remember the exact timeline that the scaffold debacle happened at The Walker before our event, before our evening. So, for those who might not be familiar, all you need to do is a quick Google search. If you look up Sam Durant, scaffold, The Walker Art Center, and you’ll find plenty of articles describing what happened.

But essentially, the shortened version is Sam Durant is a very successful non Native artist who created this piece that was meant to be a commentary on our -- the history of violence within our country. And he put together, he basically created this composite various gallows throughout history that have been utilized in our country. But one of the gallows that he referenced, and it ended up very much looking like that gallow was from the 1862 hanging of 38, plus two Dakota warriors that happened in Mankato, Minnesota, just an hour and a half down the road from us. And it is a, very much a living part of history here, in the fact that direct descendants of the men that were hung that day, are living in our communities.

And this is, it is the largest mass execution in our -- organized mass execution in our country’s history and it’s very rarely taught within mainstream education. But it was a huge moment in Minnesota history and in national history and the trauma from that and the reality from that is still something that lingers in our communities. And we, I mean, as a community, there are organized ways that we memorialize those relatives every year. So, there are still memorial rides, horseback rides from South Dakota all the way over to Minnesota, and a memorial run that retraces the route from Fort Snelling to Mankato because the Dakota men that were hung that day were forced to walk from Fort Snelling in St. Paul, to Mankato to be hung, there is a memorial run for that route.

And that gallows looks like that gallows. So, when the Native community saw that piece, if you can imagine this is a living piece of historic trauma within our communities. And then we see that there’s going to be an art piece and the sculpture garden at The Walker Art Center that you got to drive by or walk by or bus by or see on a regular basis and think about that history on a daily basis. And then it was going to the proposal was that it was going to be open for people to be able to walk on and kids to play on. It was going to be the kind of public art piece that you could physically be on and engage with.

And the community here and beyond here was outraged, because here’s this non-native person bringing a huge part of native, very painful part of native history into a very prominent institutional sculpture garden in the Twin Cities where this history has taken place. But it’s being told by somebody outside of our community, and then in a way that didn’t feel like it was -- It’s not the way that native community would do it. And there wasn’t consultation with the Native community beforehand. And so all of that felt very wrong and there was a tremendous amount of protest. And eventually the artist and The Walker agreed to take -- it had already started construction. It was dismantled and the materials from the piece were taken care of by the Dakota community, and it was deaccessioned and then there’s new work that’s going up in the sculpture garden to replace that work. So, there’s a heck of a lot more to it. That’s just the somewhat concise version. It’s a complex history.

And right before that there was a Jimmie Durham exhibition. And Jimmie Durham is a problematic artist within the Native community as well, because he’s touted as a Cherokee artist within history, but he’s not a tribal member. And there is serious doubt, or I don’t know that -- I’m at a loss for the word I’m looking for. What’s another word for doubt, Jovan?

Jovan: Doubt.

Dyani: I’m looking for another word that -- Yeah, okay. Allegations? I don’t know. You know, his lineage hasn’t been -- nobody’s been able to find or prove his lineage, he swears up and down that he is but if he is truly a descendant, from most people’s understanding, his connection to community has been precarious, I guess. I mean, he had connection within the community here in the Twin Cities. And he did a lot of work within the community without a doubt, and nobody denies that or fights that. But his claim to Cherokee ancestry, that is doubted, and he’s not a tribal member. And so there was a lot of protest around his exhibition because within the catalog, and within the didactics for the exhibition, it claims that he’s a Cherokee artist, and a lot of his work is -- And then a lot of the writing on the work is written from the perspective of him as a native artist negotiating the mainstream art field. And a lot of Native artists take issue with this guy that’s got this super precarious descendancy claim, as a central figure to the history of native art. So, those things had just happened. And then we did our piece at The Walker right after.

Jovan: Right? It’s a funny situation to be in where -- I mean, let’s just be real, the role of the artist is to critique and challenge, right? So, on the one hand, it was an exciting opportunity to make space, take space. And then on the other hand, it was like, okay, here’s the labor. It’s on us to make, create and take space that center the narratives of black and indigenous people, culture, heritage, tradition in these mainstream spaces. And the other part of that, too, is that the relation of institutions, with the artist, every institution is very different. But I do think that it has become like the work of these like education programs. And MN Artists is like a tangential program of The Walker, and the education department to celebrate these stories and voices and artists, and not always the work of like the curatorial department necessarily. So, all have that to say we entered that space as a part of educational programming; which I think is an interesting place. But your performance was monumental, the performance that you curated was monumental.

Dyani: Thank you. So, that performance piece was titled Understanding Her (Here) in parentheses. And it’s alluding to understanding the land, understanding the Earth, her here, this space. And it was directly in response to all that had just taken place between our community and The Walker, which is on Dakota homelands. But our community was feeling very overlooked and undervalued and ignored, and historically just has been within that institution and most institutions, unless it’s from this historical perspective, from an ethnographic storytelling of native arts from outside our communities, people telling our history and whatnot. And so that was just a really illustrative moment that spoke to what has been the norm.

So, the performance, what it consisted of is I asked two Dakota friends of mine who speak the language to come. And we welcomed into a gallery at The Walker Art Center. And I asked them, I said, I’d like you to come and speak Dakota in one of The Walker galleries for length of about 20 minutes, it is up to you what you want to speak about and it is up to you how much you would like to share or translate to the audience about what you’re speaking about. I’m going to leave that entirely up to you. All I want you to do is come and stand in that gallery, and speak the language. And I want you to come and do that, inviting you to come and do that, I’m paying you to come and do that. And I’m also, I didn’t tell them this in advance, but I also made sure to follow our cultural protocol and gift them in the way that I would, or the way that we’ve been taught to do for one another when you ask something of somebody, because that was me honoring our relationship as Dakota and Lakota people, but also honoring our relationship as professionals and as artists and as valuable voices by paying them.

So, also adhering to the systems of capitalism at hand today; showing the value for what they’re offering through paying them. Because there’s also been a history of asking people to serve on diversity committees, or native art committees or black art committees or whatever it’s going to be, committees that are meant to right the wrongs of institutions, to increase diversity, to fight against what has been the historic exclusion of underrepresented communities. And we ended up getting asked to do the labor and oftentimes, it’s free of charge. It’s volunteer work, it’s supposed to be great for us.

And so the gesture was just I want you to come, be front and center in the gallery, speak the language that may not have been spoken in that building before, at least not in that manner, honor the language, honor the language of this land base, the indigenous language of the land that The Walker Art Center sits on, and then show those gestures of value by paying and gifting and giving them center stage in that space. And they were really gracious in the way that they participated in that. So, they came and they talked with each other and they spoke about Dakota language and vocabulary and dictionary. They spoke about Lakota star knowledge and just some introductory Dakota cultural ideas. And they did translate and share some of that with the audience that chose to come and sit and watch and listen. And they were kind and gracious in that sharing. And again, I gave the option for that up to them because for me, it wasn’t about putting them on display, and making them again, like an ethnographic. What’s that word when you’re going to the zoo?

Dyani: Looking for the right word. Oh, it wasn’t meant to be like voyeurism. It’s not about we’ll watch the pretty Indians speak their language. It was meant to be, we are putting you front and center and valuing you in this space and you have the control over what you’re sharing and what you’re keeping to yourself, and what you want to give away and what you don’t want to give away. That all felt very important for me to make sure that that was up to them. And so I felt really good about that. And I’d like to, it was the only time it was ever done, that particular performance, and it’s something I’d like to revisit at some point. But I guess one of the things that I’m so grateful for, for our opportunity to work together on this is that that performance and this video work, Braids, our collaborative project, they wouldn’t exist, had you not taken this curatorial challenge on and had you not invited me to collaborate with you. So, I’m really eternally grateful for the invitation and for your work.

Jovan: I’m eternally grateful that you said yes. As you are now you were in the midst of a really, really huge project. And I think you had like less than a year to create and you’re like, this is the time that I have scheduled to do that. So, you said yes, at a time where you could have easily been like I would love to but it’s not the right time. So, I appreciate you, I really do. But I think that just kind of talking about what we have worked on since then, like there was something about, especially for me, because I was also at that stage in my -- at that point in time, and at that stage in my career, I was making the decision, which for me was a scary one to make because I was freelancing, like self-employed. And a lot of the work that I was getting was related to my role as a curator. But my training is as an artist, and then my work experience kind of crosses both of those places. But I was making the decision internally to focus on my art making, which, because I was very pregnant and by the way, I had my first child two days after the presentation of Choosing Home.

So, I was like, oh, my life is changing, changing. So, time and the constraints of time are super real. And so I have to say, I have to embrace now and set new boundaries. And so I think that our collaboration gave me the courage to begin, and like having that, that was the last like, maybe in general, I think that might have been my last curatorial project, if I’m remembering correctly. I don’t remember one that I’ve done since then and it was important for me to participate in it too. I was like, I want to be on the walls of The Walker and I don’t know if I’m ever going to have another opportunity to. So, I’m going to put myself there. So, making space for myself and existing in the way that I wanted to exist as an artist and creator in community, like this kind of launched me into that phase of my creating as well. And then yeah, it gave me the courage to embrace working in other mediums.

Dyani: Yeah. And I want to hear about that because I’ve been really excited about the work that you’ve been doing lately, the last couple pieces that I’ve seen of yours. You and I have both talked about the -- and have, in private conversations, celebrated and been excited about the fact that we know that taking on that night, that singular curatorial night, knocking out what we did in four hours, but pushing ourselves to think through -- Like we knew we couldn’t bring in your photographs and my paintings and slap them on a wall for four hours. So, we really had to push and think through okay, how are we going to talk through these really deep, fascinating, challenging, traumatic, all the things, all the adjectives, conversations in that amount of time and make it impactful and make it meaningful? And it required us to branch out, right? And now we’re both continuing to do that.

And I think having a safe collaborator, and a safe collaborating relationship, and like we spent hours talking about these projects, before we dug in; conversation after conversation after conversation, thinking through this, thinking through all of these, the complexities of this concept, and then how we were going to take those on through these pieces that we created. And it’s beautiful because it’s continuing both of our practices. So, I’d love to hear you talk about some of your new projects. I think the Sounds for Survival, and Laid to Rest were two of those pieces.

Jovan: Yeah, happy to. Yeah. So, like I said, when I first conceived of Choosing Home, it was in relationship to this research I was doing in Windsor, North Carolina, related to the history of land ownership. But really more deeply, it was like a study of origin stories. And like, how far back can you go as a black person? Like, what if I’m trying to understand, which I always am, but especially at that time, as I was about to become a mother, I wanted to be like, I wanted to feel fully grounded and have knowledge and be able to to answer questions that came up about lineage and heritage and tradition, and even spirituality. And so I began on my father’s side of the family and the land that they came to own, but were originally enslaved people.

And so this was the, I call it the Speller Plantation, it was one of the largest plantations in the area. And there it’s off of a road called Speller Ferry Way. It’s still there. Looks like a brand new sign by the way, anyway, that’s a whole other… Yeah, and off of a port to the Roanoke River, a little muddy path where now people kind of like fish and hang out. But African people were brought there to be sold, auctioned and sold into slavery. And so that is where some of my ancestors arrived in this country. And it’s like, okay, so that’s as much detail as I kind of have, right? But then I wanted to understand the land, what memories does the land hold, like what was grown on these fields. And interestingly, cotton is still grown there, like now. So, my uncle acted as my guide, because you know, I have, it’s my father and I have two uncles on that side of the family, and they’re all like oral historians. I don’t know how they remember things that they do, but they are the keepers of family history. And so I’m really happy that I was able to do the project because it kind of archived a lot of those stories that would not have otherwise been archived.

So, that body of work, which I later named Relics of Home includes recorded conversations, right. So, that kind of began with our work; includes photographs of significant places on that land told by family members, not only my uncle, but other relatives that I had never met relatives there. And you know, there’s some polaroid, there’s some video, and then there’s some installation work. And so one of the pieces that’s my favorite is this cotton sculpture, I’m loosely calling it a sculpture of cotton that I sewed together, but my uncle yanked them out of the ground from like, whoever owns it now. They were growing at the time and he was like, yeah, let’s take this, and threw it in the trunk of the car and we drove off with the quickness. But the work later became like finding a way to house these stories. And so Relics of Home is like this photographic body of work primarily.

But then there are these separate installations. And so Sounds for Survival is one of those. And so the image in Sounds for Survival is a 40 by 40, black and white photograph of -- It just looks like a woods. But it is an unmarked grave site of ancestors, those that were enslaved and buried unceremoniously when they passed away. And there are other photographs that I haven’t actually exhibited, that was a chapel, there were other small grave sites that I did - I photograph these places. I wanted to know where I could kind of lay all of my questions, all of my uncertainty about identity and where I came from, like I could place it down somewhere. And so sounds for survival, that installation was created also in 2012, in the summer of 2020. And so it was after George Floyd was murdered. And so I was kind of like still thinking about this body of work, still thinking about identity and origin story and honoring history and ancestry. And then at the same time, existing within, I mean, it was just fire, right? Like, the emotions and the city, like everything was. And I was at the time living a mile away from where the city was burning. I gave birth to my second child in 2020 within that. So, it was like, in the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of an uprising with the National Guard guarding the Mother Baby Center, with like, huge I don’t know what kind of guns they were, but big guns that you have -- [crosstalk]

Dyani: There were tanks in our city, like literal tanks in the city, and yeah.

Jovan: Tanks rolling down our tiny residential roads. So, there was like, rightfully so a lot of, there’s a lot of anger. But I was also like, nurturing a new being. And I couldn’t really embody that at the time. I couldn’t really engage in that way at that time because it wouldn’t have been healthy for me and my family or this new baby. Like, whatever is housed within me, I’m passing through to my baby. So, I made the decision, I guess you can say, but really, I think I had to conjure a different future, or a different narrative, or explore and put forth concepts of freedom, and redistributions of power, and like the embodiment of healing, right, creating the space for healing, specifically for black bodies, fullstop.

So, for Sounds for Survival, I created this kind of like, a space that for me, was supposed to reflect black spirituality. And so I utilized reflective black acrylic across several walls and I had that black and white photograph. And beneath the photograph, I had a pile of black river rocks. So, it was kind of like, this marks the spot where these souls landed, with the last -- the resting place, and these souls have this ancestry. And then across the gallery space, I created this soundscape of a woman singing Yemaya Se Su. And there were sounds of the ocean, whale calls and then because the woman who was singing was also a mother, who was a mother at the time, the baby is cooing and making noises and occasionally crying within that soundscape as well. So, that kind of felt like where I was at and where I wanted to be spiritually, like bringing together ancestry and nature, land and calling oneself out of negativity into a higher place.

And so I created this space as a part of a three-person installation exhibition at the new Studio Gallery in St. Paul. I believe it was called at this point in time, or space for contemplation. That’s the whole title. So, yeah, that kind of began this interest and I’m still there in challenging narratives, and really creating spaces that center blackness and bodies that are considered other. Like, how can we start there, instead of making it like this side story? You know, that’s kind of where I’m at right now.

Dyani: Yeah. It’s a beautiful piece.

Jovan: And you came to see it, thank you for coming to see it in the middle of a pandemic.

Dyani: Yeah. Yeah, masked up, put it on, I wasn’t going to miss it. I remember I came over straight from playing traditional lacrosse. So, I got filled up first, which is good. And I sat in front of that piece for some time, and it’s one of those pieces that gives you chills, when you know, when you have this undeniable bodily reaction to a piece, it has another level of communication that can’t be ignored. And that when we stand in front of works like that, even if we don’t understand them, in every intricacy that the artist is thinking through and intending, there’s an understanding that your body is having, and that obviously your mind is a part of that as well. But I just remember standing there and being like, this is a really important piece. And it’s a really beautiful piece and it’s a moving piece and it’s a haunting piece and it’s a narrative piece and the fact that you know damn well if you’ve been paying attention at all, the history that leads up to work like this, and why it’s so important. And so it has that.

What I am enjoying is I like hearing you talk about it, that you are conjuring this future that is healing and beautiful. And this is the place for, especially from the place of being a mother and you’re creating that at that time of new life within your family. And even your firstborn is still really young too, so all sorts of new life. And that’s what we do as caretakers and nurtures and mothers, right? We have to do that. We have to create and then protect those safe spaces for our babies and our families. And yet, at the same time, through the use of that photograph of that burial site. That history is very much there within the piece. You’re not denying it, you’re not running away from it or pretending. It’s not utopian, I guess is what I’m saying. We may be hoping for these utopian futures.

But the reality is, you can’t really walk towards -- I don’t think you can walk towards a healthier model for the future without acknowledging the past. And that’s a huge if not the largest obstacle we have in this nation and in the world, is until we fully tell our histories and our stories, in all their honesty, in all their truths, we can’t walk towards the true healing, because we’re only -- we’re walking on half truths, and that’s not going to get us to where we need. You can’t ignore the cause of the problem and just treat the symptoms. We know that’s a faulty model. Right? And so I really appreciate that about that piece, that history is there, but you’re creating and celebrating this beautiful possibility in future. And so yeah, I really admire it. And I just really dig the fact that a lot of the work that -- and then you’ve done this, maybe you could tell us a little bit about your installation piece too. Is that one the Relics of Home?

Dyani: All of it is a part of that body of work?

Jovan: -- Relics of Home. Yeah. It was, I think, after I finished the kind of photographic series, I call them kind of portraits of the land, I started to focus more on the audio that I had captured. And I mean, there’s still also -- I haven’t done anything yet are the documents, all of the documents that came from the, what is it called, Office of Registrar. So, it’s like all of the documents going back to when things were hand written, like the transfer of land from one person to another. So, I went as far back as I could. And there were some names that we recognized and some names that we didn’t. My grandmother was in there when she got it back from -- she got some of the land back, it was about to be auctioned. And it was always people were not able to pay the taxes on it or something like that, right. Financial hardship led to the land or pieces of the land being sold off little by little over the years.

But I started kind of focusing more on the stories that I was being told about the family because that’s why I landed, so this like quest for an origin story, like I landed on, okay, it’s -- My origin story, it also lies within my memory, right? The components that I experienced growing up, I created who I am as well, right? There’s generational memory that, I believe, transfers through DNA, but there’s also this other active part, which is my memory, right? And so but like hearing all of these stories that I had never heard from relatives, like my great aunt Lottie was somebody who I talked to a lot, and I recorded a lot. And so she was my grandmother’s sister. I’d never met her prior to this project. And it was amazing, because she sounds exactly like my grandmother. So, that was super [inaudible] with a little bit more of a, like a Southern twang accent.

Dyani: That’s beautiful, though.

Jovan: Yeah, it’s like, you sound like my grandma, I could just sit here with you all day long. And then she was telling me about her upbringing, about her work in the Perdue Chicken factories and how she got injured down to the bone with scalding water and like her travels, her family, her mother and father. And so the installation that later debuted at the Plains Museum is called In Lottie’s Living Room. And so that was a part of the High Visibility exhibition. And so that was, the audio for it was her talking about how her father was poisoned because of jealousy of how he was perceived by white men who owned land and his ability to get work on that land. His friends put battery acid in his drink, and he slowly died over the course of an evening.

And so she’s telling me that story that she recalls him being brought home by these friends by his hands and feet being carried to the back room. And she remembers her mother asking what’s going on, what happened. So, she’s recounting that and the installation is a structure kind of like a skeleton structure of a house with a picture of her sitting in her chair with all of her pictures of her family behind her. There is the audio that plays on a record player on a shelf. There’s a cotton bouquet that hangs from the wall, and then a portion of a couch, kind of like a couch cut in half that leans within the space as well. And so it’s kind of talking about these fragmented histories, fragmented stories, and fragmented understanding of self and also like, myth and memory too, right. Because everybody, it was interesting. There were other family members that were there that they’re like -- So, there was no dispute that he was poisoned to death, but the reason was in dispute.

So, one of the reasons had to do with another woman. So, there’s all of this speculation about why. So, I was shocked by what was up for debate, like, what was in question and what wasn’t. Like the fact that he was poisoned, not in question, but like, why he was, that’s in question. That was shocking to me. And also, it was never reported, there was still a distrust, obviously, with beliefs. And so there was that part of the story in there as well. And that part, I don’t think was played in that installation. But I am trying to figure out, like, what am I going to do with all of these histories. And I am considering just really dissecting them into chapters and making an actual archive, at least for our family to be able to go to a website and play and listen to. There might be some warning labels on some of those stories. But yeah. So, that’s what a lot of those installations kind of became, though, was like moments of reconciliation, archive and honoring the stories that weren’t really mine to tell, but also helped create me, like they lead to me.

Dyani: Well, and it’s really amazing to hear, one, I can’t wait till I can see this piece installed again, because I got to see images, but now hearing you describe it, I just can only imagine how impactful that piece would be to stand inside of. And it’s, again, another one of these pieces that is not directly talking about national history, but it’s just, it’s riddled with it. You can’t -- That reasoning and the rationale for all of that, that what led to that kind of jealousy, what led to that kind of work, what led to those complex relationships within a family dynamic that are fueled by poverty that are fueled by… You know, I mean, it’s just on and on and on. I mean, even like thinking about your grandma being or your grandma’s sister, your grandma being injured at a Perdue factory, I mean my first thoughts are oh, she’s still feeding the nation and still being hurt by feeding the communities and feeding others outside her home and all of that. It’s just, without being direct, can be such important pieces to create those kinds of important conversations about the history of this land base, and how we walk forward while having this important journey through your personal history. And what a beautiful gift that you got to meet your grandma’s sister through that exploration too.

Jovan: Absolutely, absolutely. She’s a character and to me, the unofficial matriarch. But I’m also curious about how your work continued to evolve as well. Because like I said, at the beginning of our collaboration, you were talking about this vision of this several channel video installation, and then you created Listen. So, I’d love to hear.

Dyani: Yeah, sure thing. So, I just want to give a little moment of gratitude and acknowledgement to Jovan in this process. Not only did she invite me to be a part of this night, which we’ve already described has led up to so many positive things that come out of that. But at that time, I also had been nominated for a fellowship through which I had to submit a proposal for the work and then if the work was selected, it would be funded. And I had more than one idea for the proposal, but one of them being this video work that Jovan is referencing titled Listen, and it is currently an eight channel video installation, but as it continues to grow, it will be upwards of a 24 channel video installation.

And I had verbalized the idea of the project to Jovan and really, I had only talked about it to a very select few people. I talked about it to you and I talked about it with the curator that nominated me for the fellowship. And that was pretty much it -- it was something that had been rolling around in my head, but I hadn’t really spoken it into the world yet. Which, for you, young artists out there that might listen to this, speaking your ideas into the world is an important part of making them come to life. And once you start verbalizing it and speaking it into reality, it’s amazing how much of it’s supposed to be the support for that will come through. But it started with me thinking through some of the kind of fundamental challenges of what it means to be a native artist.

And one of the biggest challenges is that when we speak about our work to curators or to decision makers within the field, or when our work is on panels that are going to be selected for financial support or not selected for financial support, or anytime we’re asked to, in some form or fashion present our work. More often than not, the people know very little, if any, of the true history of this land base, they know very little about native history, and they know very little about native communities as we exist today. And the lack of that information makes it exceedingly difficult for them to understand the work as it exists today. So, oftentimes, when you have a curatorial visit, if folks have no idea what you’re talking about, you got to provide a whole history lesson before you can even get into the depths of what the piece is speaking about right now. Right?

And that’s exhausting and it often creates barriers because they don’t have the library of information in their mind to understand why it’s important right now, or to understand the impact of it or they, oftentimes, if it’s a blind panel, they might not be able to read the symbolism that’s embedded in a piece, or they might not be able to read the history that’s embedded in a piece because they don’t know the history. So, they can’t see the things that are alluding to it, right. But that’s a reality for me as an artist, but I also know that that’s the reality for any native person in any field. Or, I mean, in any work; in law, in medicine and journalism, in movies and TVs. I mean, anything. The rest of the country knows so little, because the truth of this history’s -- the truth of this nation’s history -- has not been taught in our formal education system. So, because of that, there’s just always this huge barrier.

But I started thinking about, well, how do you chip away at that? And because we don’t have control of our public education systems, solving that problem feels damn near impossible. And so I just started thinking about, well, if we can’t, there is no easy fix. And then especially me as an artist, like as a singular artist waving my paintbrush in a studio all by myself, how do I help that? I don’t know. And so I started thinking about that; how do you chip away at that gap of that chasm of lack of knowledge? And I thought, well, I don’t know how to solve it. But it made me think, Well, is there a way to even point it out to be like, hey, do y’all know that you don’t know? Do you understand that there’s this huge amount of US history you’ve never been exposed to? And that’s what led up to this video installation piece called Listen. Because what I started thinking about I didn’t feel like I could bring to life or bring to reality through painting or through the mixed media works that I usually do. So, it is a multi-channel video installation.

This first chapter of it, as it exists today, is eight monitors, installed in a gallery space, eight separate monitors. And within each monitor is five to six minute videos that are looping. And they are all native women speaking in their indigenous languages filmed on their homelands. And then there’s B roll footage of the land, of the geography from which that language is from. That footage is both audio and visual. And that’s layered over and within the image of this woman who’s speaking in the language. And each person speaks for five to six minutes, and then the video loops. And so as you walk into this space the didactics that explain the piece, the language that’s on the gallery wall, asks the audience to think about how many languages you can identify by sound.

So, as your kind of average American adult, if you go down the list and you think about all the languages that you could identify just by sound, that doesn’t mean you can interpret any of the words, you might not know what they mean. But that guy over there is speaking Italian, that woman is speaking German. I recognize Spanish, I recognize Japanese, I could tell the difference between Japanese and Chinese. I know what Mandarin sounds like. I know what -- I live in the Twin Cities, I know what Somali sounds like, I know what Hmong sounds like depending on where you’re at. And you could go down this list and most of us could probably identify upwards of 20 to 25 languages, just by sound. But all of those languages are from other places. They’re not from this continent, they’re not from this land base that we all live on and share today.

And then it asks, conversely, how many native languages do you think you can identify by sound? Most Americans would be hard pressed to identify one or maybe two. If they live near a native community or they’ve got friendships with Native people, they might be familiar with one or two. But there were hundreds of native languages that were spoke here before colonization. And so this video installation, it does not provide an interpretation of the language -- of what’s being said in the videos. It’s not about giving you a listen to this and here’s what she said. It’s about you get to stand in front of each monitor and be introduced to the language, to the sounds, to the cadence as it is related to a human being, to a native woman today, and the land base, the geography from which that language comes. And you get to traverse the space and hear, be introduced to a tiny sampling, just eight videos. But when you’re immersed in a gallery, like that, and you’ve got eight monitors speaking to you, it is an immersive experience.

And so it provides this opportunity for a moment of what I hope will be a moment of epiphany for people to understand how profound it is that most folks haven’t heard the languages that are from here. And how impactful it is to understand the tremendous impact that colonization has had on indigenous communities. And that it continues to have today because that’s not the past, it’s the past and it’s the present. These are native people that are recorded today. And it’s a spectrum of language speakers too. Some are fluent, some are first language speakers, some are language learners. And that’s a reality too because the colonization has had such a tremendous impact on our communities that a lot of people are fighting to save their languages, to keep their languages, to relearn their languages. And so, we’re going to continue -- I’m working with my friend Razelle Benally, who is a Lakota and Dine videographer because I’m not a filmmaker. I want to make these pieces but I’m not trying to pretend that I’m a videographer or filmmaker.

Jovan: You’re a director.

Dyani: So, I’m working with the brilliant Razelle Benally. She’s amazing. Her and I went to the Institute of American Indian Arts together. And she’s doing phenomenal work in and of herself, but it was really important for me to work with another native woman on this project. And so we go to each community and we’re gathering the video footage, and I’m looking to continue to grow the projects. We have three on the schedule for this fall. And I would like it eventually to be a 20 to 24 channel installation, which will be a substantial installation, but it’s still just a small sampling of the languages from this land base.

Jovan: I remember when you first said that to me that I think we were in initial conversations about Choosing Home. And you said, most people can’t recognize the languages that are from this land base. And I was like, oh, and you were just like, yeah, Spanish, Italian [inaudible] was like, yep, yep, yep. And then like, it blew my mind because it was one of those things that you don’t think about. If it’s not you, it’s not your history, you don’t think about it. And so that was the other reason why I think it was so important for us to come together and collaborate and continue to collaborate so that we can challenge each other and spaces, institutions, populations, audiences to think about the things that they don’t typically think about. So, I just appreciate you.

Dyani: Oh, I appreciate you. And that’s the part I think I started telling that and then I don’t think I finished it. So, I was nominated for this fellowship that ended up funding the first eight videos. But the reason why I was saying I wanted to give credit to Jovan is I had two ideas and I expressed both of them.

So, I had sent you both those proposals, or I talked to you about them, I can’t remember if I sent them or talked to you about them. And you told me to do the scary one. I can’t even remember exactly what words you said. But you were like, you basically said, don’t shy away, don’t do what’s safe. Do the thing that pushes you, that challenges you to take this opportunity. And I needed to hear that. There’s this other -- would have been a beautiful project too, but very much within my wheelhouse, and within what I had already been developing. And I needed a fellow female artist to be like, no, this is an opportunity for you to step it up and do that thing that’s terrifying.

And it really allowed me, you encouraged me to put the proposal for what the future or what could be possible, as opposed to what is already done, was already established. And I just remember being like, I had needed a friend like you in my life like that. It was so -- I just, I needed it. I didn’t hear it from anybody else. I heard it from you. We need that. We need other women and other people, support systems in our lives that are willing to believe in what’s possible in us and in our practices and know that sometimes you just need that extra nudge. And that vote of confidence from somebody that knows you and knows your work knows what you’re capable of, and is like no, go. Go do the big one. You got it.

Jovan: You have since repaid the favor recently, in recent conversation where I was stressing like what am I going to do? What am I going to present? It could be this, it could be this, it could be this, it could be this. And you reminded me that that Sounds for Survival and Laid to Rest was, like that iteration of it was really like the test. It was the prototype, because it created with my own bank account. And so there was a limit to the amount of materials I could obtain and how big the project could be. And you and I, you were, you proceeded me but you and I have now been, I am currently awardees of the Carolyn Glascoe Bailey foundation, right. So, the Minnesota awardees. And with that there’s a residency, there’s some financial support, and there is unbelievable networking and support that really does move your career forward.

And I will be showing some work in Ohio, California as a part of this in November, I believe, or it’s quite open, so I guess whenever I finish. But because there is a budget to work with for this exhibition, I can actually conceive of that work in the way that I originally envisioned it. And there’s -- you and I both have like five projects going on at the same time. We’re mothers, we’re partners, we oversee people that help us with our work, right? And we’re educators. We’re doing 12,000 things at once, and so it’s -- [crosstalk] All the time, all the time. It’s amazing how quickly you can forget your own inspirations.

And so to have a collaborator, a friend that can say, I experienced that work, that was amazing. You should revisit it and do the thing you said you wanted to do. It’s like, okay, I forgot I said that. Thank you for reminding me that I said that. And thank you for appreciating the work and encouraging me to revisit it. That’s exactly what I want to do. That was so easy. I already wrote to them, and said, This is what I want to do. It’s happening now because of that one conversation with you. So, these types of collaborations and engagement with your peers, it’s necessary. And I can’t say that I learned that in art school, or just as being a practicing artist. Like, there was something about the moment, there was something about following that initial instinct of like, oh, like when we’re on the panel. That’s me looking at you on the panel. Oh. Yes, ashe, I need to holler at her, and following those instincts. So, yeah, I appreciate you and I encourage other artists to do the same.

Dyani: Likewise. It’s been such a gift. There’s two last things that I feel like I want to touch on before we hang it up. But one is part of our -- the Choosing Home project at The Walker, we also insisted on having a panel discussion, which we didn’t mention. But I believe -- can folks look it up and watch it online?

Jovan: There’s a video. Yeah.

Jovan: Yeah. So, it was really important for us to we really wanted to make sure that there was a panel discussion afterwards because of these really complex histories that were embedded in the work and we wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity to dig into that and to help highlight those conversations and highlight fellow women makers and historians.

Jovan: Ding, ding, ding. It’s the historians for me, yeah.

Dyani: Yeah. So, we invited Crystal Moten who are both historians, native and black female historians who are both amazing people. And then Rosie and Alanna and myself and Jovan, and it was a really important conversation and it also was an illustrative conversation. If y’all choose to go and listen to it, we’ll let you find those discoveries on your own.

Jovan: No, that’s a better approach. Definitely. Take a listen all the way and to the Q&A.

Dyani: Yeah, the Q&A. And other BIPOC folks that watch this and hear us talk about the Q&A will probably already be able to guess some of the things that we were faced with during the Q&A, which is a whole nother conversation. I actually have a friend who’s writing on that, on the vulnerability and sometimes even like potential for aggression, or violence that can come out of Q&A when we’re allowed, when folks are allowed access to us in our work and in those ways. So, that’s a reality. That’s a whole nother conversation. But the other element that I wanted to bring up, so it was the panel and that folks have opportunity to go watch the panel that was in response to that night, that curated night. This was the last thing that I was thinking through is that this kind of conversation between black and native communities has been desperately needed for a really long time. And you and I sat down and talked about that reality in 2018, and that was where Braids came from that conversation.

And then this past year, a year and a half, through all of the uprising that has been happening within our country and the push back against colonialism in a really concentrated way, and the effects that it’s had on our communities. And it’s continuing, obviously, to have violence that’s happening. And it’s a really pivotal time for us to be coming together across communities to really learn how to support one another, but not just in a performative manner of like reposting Instagram posts and whatnot. But how do we really show up for each other? And the Braids piece was us exploring beyond that, how do we learn how to nurture one another? How do we learn how to support one another in a way that is healing, in a way that promotes each other’s growth, and then promotes the growth of what we feel like are necessary relationships, right, to fight against what has been our shared, what has been shared systems and policies and laws and forces that have worked against the health of our communities? So, how do we fight that fight together and alongside and with one another in a really loving way.

And that conversation has come to the forefront a lot more this past year, which is really encouraging to see. And yet you also see examples of the fact that we don’t quite know how to do that yet. Like, we don’t have the language built for it yet, or the approaches built for it yet. And so it’s new ground in a lot of ways. And I think it’s really natural that we’re going to fumble and fail and get hurt. And hopefully, continue through that, what can be scary spaces, but do so with compassion in a way that’s really focused on learning, and focused on listening and hearing one another and figuring out how to be there for each other and really substantial ways. That was something that I think drove the Braids project for us. But you and I have talked about the fact that we’re seeing that conversation happening more and more and more over this last year, and that’s really helpful.

Jovan: I agree. It’s definitely hopeful and hearing you speak makes me -- give me another idea for a collaboration with you. So, I guess, everybody, stay tuned. But I do think that somebody is going to have to initiate the really hard conversations that deal with the histories of black and native people in this country, and when they came together, how they came together, etc, etc. I feel like we should just go there. We just need to go there and have those conversations. Like, let’s just be the ones to do it publicly.

Dyani: And that’s where our amazing friends like the historians that we’ve mentioned, the people doing work in all sorts of different fields. I mean, it’ll take a lot of people and a lot of effort, so yeah, I could just encourage everybody to dig in.

Jovan: Yeah, I’m excited to dig in with you, sis.

Dyani: Likewise, likewise. Well, thank you for having the conversation with me. And thanks, Matthew, for inviting us to do this. We didn’t -- I guess the last thing I’ll say is we didn’t use the word rural when we had this conversation. [crosstalk] Yeah, but we talked about that a lot before we got on this conversation, before we logged on today is that through the platform of art of the rural, but for Jovan and I, it was really about a conversation of art of the complexity of this land base, and that the divisions between rural and urban and all of that, all of that is a part of that history, right. So, yeah, it’s all wrapped up.

Jovan: It’s all wrapped up in there to some degree.

Dyani: Well, thank you. I appreciate you. I’m grateful for you.

Jovan: Grateful for you. Happy beading.

Dyani: Thank you. Happy making. Good night.

Jovan: Good night.
High Visibility is a longterm, collaborative partnership between Art of the Rural, Plains Art Museum, and individuals & organizations across the continent. Please feel welcome to join us in this work.