Indigenous Art – the original Indie
Culture goes hand in hand with art, so when emotional issues erupt in society, we often look to art for answers that science, politics, or religion can’t explain.
Art is a bridge to understanding.
It’s why art is so important.
Racism of all types was outed when Covid-19 and the death of George Floyd incited Black Lives Matter protests. Overnight, issues of racism in countries around the world came to light as society began to better understand the challenges that people of other races face every day.
Canada was considered to have had good relationships with Indigenous peoples. The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver painted a warm picture. That was yesterday though, because today in 2020, mid-pandemic it’s clear that systemic racism is rampant. We’re obviously not doing as well as many of us thought.
In late 2020, 60% of Canadians now think racism in Canada is disturbing.
APTN, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network has promoted Indigenous culture for over two decades, and is one of the most respected art and culture broadcast organizations on the planet. One series in particular, Future History is co-hosted by artists Sarain Fox and Kris Nahrgang.
Kris is a childhood friend. We lived next door to each other as kids in a small Ontario town and hung out together. I’ve been an avid fan of Kris’ art for decades, and I’m just starting to follow Sarain’s work in film, dance, and activism.
One of my favorite stories with Kris goes back to the early 90s. I managed a well-known performer at the time. In 1991 we produced a live show at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC to help enhance political relations.
President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara were special guests.
After the show we met in the green room.
At the time I was reading a translation of the Art of War by Sun Tzu, and I thought it would be beyond profound to have the, arguably, most powerful man in the free world sign it. My timing was a bit contentious considering that President Bush, an ex-director of the CIA, had just launched Desert Storm, the precursor to the Gulf War. The world watched in awe as the U.S. flexed.
I asked the president’s Secret Service “Special Agent” what he thought of me asking the president to sign The Art of War, and he walked away mumbling, “Best to pretend you never asked me, and I’ll pretend I didn’t hear it.”
His response didn’t give me a lot of confidence, but as he left he also mumbled something about the Nike slogan. After the show we went to the green room. To our surprise the president was sitting at a full size grand piano plunking away with two fingers and singing Camptown Races – Oh, de doo-da day.
He was very brave to attempt to serenade our superstar crooner, and when she said so, the room laughed and relaxed a bit. It seemed like the right moment to ask President Bush if he would sign The Art of War. When I did, everyone gasped and collectively super-sucked all the air out of the room. Secret Service agents almost imperceptibly leaned in towards me, while Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater slo-slapped his forehead and leaned heavily on the fireplace mantle.
The question had barely left my lips when George very loudly thundered,
“The Art of War? It’s my favorite book … my bible!”
In that frozen half-second of dead air after he spoke, all I could think of was Big Daddy propping Junior on his knee to read him a parable before bed. The poor kid hadn’t stood a chance, and it explained a lot.
The president signed with a flourish, and peace returned to the kingdom.
To make this long story shorter; When I returned from the tour I wanted to send the president a small gift to thank him for taking the time to meet us. I called my friend Kris and asked him if he had a sculpture he’d like to volunteer that would have special meaning. I also told him President Bush was hosting the first ever Earth Summit in Brazil, and I wanted to tie it into the event if possible.
Kris said, “Perfect, I just finished Spirit of the Earth“.
We sent it along with two B&W fine art posters, and the rest is history. I got to thank President Bush, Kris placed his work in the hands of a U.S. president, and we’ve told this story over and over for years. Art mission accomplished.