Above: Jeremy Dennis (top, photo by Simon Howell), Brent Michael Davids (photo by Frank Schramm/Montclair Art Museum), Laura Ortman (photo by Frank Schramm/Montclair Art Museum) and Caroline Monnet, “No One Spoke of Extinction,” 2021, vinyl print (photo courtesy of the artist).
The Montclair Art Museum (MAM) will honor the artistry and contributions of Indigenous peoples with a series of workshops, performances and art-making activities with an Indigenous Peoples Weekend Oct. 7 – 10. The Lenape are the Indigenous people of New Jersey and MAM is inviting adults, children and families across the state to join them in recognizing Native American history and heritage here in Lenapehoking (homelands of the Lenape).
On Saturday, Oct. 8 from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m., people can bring a camera, smartphone or tablet and join artist Jeremy Dennis for a Photo Walk. Dennis will feature a new display of his photographs in MAM’s main entrance, provide an overview of his work as an artist and speak about his background as a member of the Shinnecock Nation in Southampton, New York. He will lead a group walk to neighborhood locations where participants can observe, take photographs, and engage in lively discussions.
“A lot of the work that I do as an artist and photographer is trying to broaden the understanding of our history along with enabling a better representation of who we are as Native people,” says Dennis, who notes there are about 13 Native tribes on Eastern Long Island. “I think in the Northeast, especially, there's a lot of misunderstandings of Native people as no longer being here or they're mixed race. Photography is a really strong medium because it allows you to show the evidence of who we are along with storytelling and many other amazing things.”
On Sunday, Oct. 9 from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., Dennis will lead a family-friendly Sunday Studio event where children can create paper collages based on Native American stories of creation. Indigenous Peoples Day is a national holiday celebrated on the second Monday of October — Oct. 10, this year. “Indigenous Peoples Day is really all about trying to fill in the gaps of understanding and education around Native people,” Dennis says. “But we really want to have more than one day in a month of appreciation. We want it to be year-round, continual understanding and learning.” He adds that MAM’s planned events over a weekend is a “good start”— a “taste” of a segment of Native culture.
Caroline Monnet and Laura Ortman (photo by Frank Schramm/Montclair Art Museum)
“From My Home to Yours” is a video, sound, and print installation that is described as transforming MAM’s Rand Gallery into “an immersive, resonant space to pause and reflect on home, long-distance connection and the places in between.” Longtime friends and collaborators, Montreal-based filmmaker Caroline Monnet of the Anishinaabe of Canada’s Great Lake region, and Brooklyn-based violinist Laura Ortman of the White Mountain Apache in Arizona, exchanged images and compositions across miles. The resulting sensory collage layers abstracted natural forms and Super-8 movies from Monnet’s mother’s community of Kitigan Zibi in Quebec, with Ortman’s local outdoor and indoor field recordings and experimental violin. “From My Home to Yours” is organized by MAM’s Curator of Native American Art Laura J. Allen in collaboration with the artists.
In conjunction with MAM’s immersive installation “From My Home to Yours” is esteemed concert and film composer Brent Michael Davids’ presentation of an evening of live chamber music, film, and conversation about Native homelands called “Brent Michael Davids: Home in Lenapehoking” on Monday, Oct. 10 from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Davids is highly regarded internationally as a composer and music warrior for Native equity and parity, especially in concert music where there is little Indigenous influence. A descendant of local Indigenous peoples who were forced west from their lands and waters, Davids is a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians and a co-director of Manhattan’s Lenape Center.
A highlight of the evening will be Davids’ composition called “The Last of James Fenimore Cooper,” a humorous satire that turns the table on The Last of the Mohicans, the famous romantic 19th century novel that also was made into a movie. James Fenimore Cooper is the book’s author. Guided by Davids' narration, the piece will be performed by a string quintet comprised of the New York City-based Kodak Quartet and Ryan Chamberlain, from Montclair State University, on bass.
Caroline Monnet, “No One Spoke of Extinction,” 2021, vinyl print (photo courtesy of the artist).
The evening’s musical performance is curated by Betsy Theobald Richards, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. “Davids is very engaged as somebody that is really trying to bring Lenape, both heritage and living culture, back to their homeland and exert a presence,” says Richards. In thinking about the ideas of home that are raised in the exhibit “From My Home to Yours,” Richards says that it is vital that the traditional homelands (New Jersey, New York, Delaware) of Lenape people are acknowledged.
MAM has an important collection of Native American art, more than 4,000 works spanning a time period from ca. 1200 C.E. to the present day. While the organization had always been forward thinking in this area for many years, there was no Native person on staff, says Richards. In 2020, the Native American Art Advisory Council, which comprised Native, people was formed.
What came out of that endeavor was a real priority for MAM to not only engage a national conversation about Native Americans, Richards explains, but to really connect with those tribes that are in New Jersey as well as the Native community in the New York Metropolitan area. “So, it is not just that (MAM) is doing Native stuff but that we really want to engage Native people as audience members.”
“From My Home to Yours” is made possible with generous support from the Lyn and Glenn Reiter Endowed Special Exhibition Fund, Patti and Jimmy Elliott, Tracy Higgins and James Leitner, and Margo and Frank Walter. All MAM programs are made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, Carol and Terry Wall/The Vance Wall Foundation, Partners for Health Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Museum members.