Surviving the apocalypse
I have been re-reading N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain, which was an especially important text to me as I put together the written portion of my MFA thesis and zine. It has a strange structure: he weaves together ancient Kiowa tales with his own personal history. The falling stars were a meteor shower that collectively signaled the end of an era for the Kiowa. The buffalo had disappeared, and the U.S. government boxed the Kiowa people into reservations. The way his grandmother told the story, it was as if she had been there, even though it all happened long before she had been born. Momaday wonders in his conclusion,
This was an apocalypse: their entire world had been irreversibly altered. The idea that such an apocalypse occurred for so many indigenous people in North America is staggering. Ch’ééná, is the Navajo word for a longing and homesickness for a way of life that is gone forever. Ch’ééná only exists post-apocalypse.
After Stronger than Stone two weekends ago, I have questions about what we leave behind. Our discussions were around the ethics of monuments as indigenous people. What can we expect to last? Should we try to make monuments that we want to last forever? How can a monument or artwork convey the complexity of history, instead of locking it down into one version of memory? How do we keep from disappearing as people?
Jeffrey Gibson’s installation of Call and Response accompanied the symposium, which at first glance appear very momentous. As I approached them, I noticed imperfect edges in the stitching and the translucency of the hides around the cement blocks. They felt more accessible, kinder even.
During a panel of presentations titled “Whose heroes? Why do monuments matter?” Paul Chaat Smith read an essay speaking to the aspect of time in monuments. He talked about the television series, Life After People. Apparently the most durable stone is that found in Stone Mountain, the Confederate version of Mt. Rushmore near Atlanta. Is that something we want to leave behind? The people of the future are never consulted about these monuments. Somehow we think we can create something to survive our own mortality. Time and the wind and the rain will always take its toll.
We returned to Banff. On Monday, a grand jury decided not to indict the policeman who murdered Michael Brown in Ferguson. The very next day, visiting artist Arnold Joseph Kemp presented his work for us. Arnold’s work is about blackness, and he has done extensive research on the prison system and black males. Understandably he became very emotional as he shared his work with us. The compassion he felt for Michael Brown’s family was deep and is permanently etched in my memory. That is how I will remember that day, my own personal monument to the injustices that minorities experience in the United States.
Thursday rolled around, bringing (American) Thanksgiving. [Canada celebrated its Thanksgiving more than a month before.] For many indigenous people, this holiday is inseparable from the invasion–the beginning of the end.
I began the day with breakfast with 9 other indigenous women. We found ourselves talking about this idea of apocalypse. Interestingly in black science fiction, the narrative is often set in a universe where the apocalypse has already occurred. Colson Whitehead talks about his science fiction novel, Zone One, in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. He suggests that anyone who survives is a hero.
I keep thinking about my Hero Twins who are trying to stave off an apocalypse. Is your existence as a survivor a monument in and of itself? There is so much power in the refusal to give up, the refusal to die. Being alive seems extraordinary in so many ways. At Stronger than Stone, the indigenous artist, Jimmie Durham, lectured from his hospital bed via Skype. I’ll always remember his quiet reflection: “It’s a great privilege to be alive.”
Ideas running around in my head
Sketches at -7F: self portraits, coffee, tree shadows, and my backpack.
Underpaintings inside my studio