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Artworks born of creative collaboration foster community, empathy, and understanding

PEM presents an exhibition by internationally-renowned contemporary Indigenous artists Marie Watt and Cannupa Hanska Luger who create together, individually, and with non-artist volunteers. 

Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota and European). Every One, 2018. Ceramic, social collaboration. Image courtesy of Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery of Contemporary Art at Ent Center for the Arts, UCCS, Colorado Springs, CO.

During the quiet, early days of the pandemic, artists Marie Watt and Cannupa Hanska Luger came together to create Each/Other, a larger-than-life steel sculpture of a she-wolf. The figure symbolizes the idea of kinship with animals, inherent in Indigenous knowledge systems. Also feeling the need to connect with other humans, they sought contributions for the sculpture from people around the world. The artists asked participants to stitch messages on bandanas and consider how acts of collaboration help heal broken bonds with the environment and with each other.

The exhibition Each/Other was born of this work after bandanas came to the artists by the hundreds, sent from a cross section of people of various ages, genders, and ethnicities. They are bound together in this monumental 20x12x9-foot colorful she-wolf with messages that range from the personal to the universal, including “Be A Good Ancestor” and “I Miss Your Embrace.” 

Organized by the Denver Art Museum, Each/Other:Marie Watt and Cannupa Hanska Luger is on view at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Mass. through May 8, 2022. The exhibition explores the collaborative creative process of these two internationally renowned Indigenous artists for whom art can be a social project where participants become engaged, invested, and able to forge new relationships. Several works were produced through a crowd-sourced call for collaboration with non-artist volunteers. The nearly 30 large-scale works on view represent a wide range of media — from carved wood and fabric sculpture to photography and video — and are divided into three sections that explore each artist’s creative interactions with community, materials, and the land. Visitors are encouraged to search for signs of the many hands that helped to create the works and consider how the natural environment contributed resources to this exhibition. 

Portrait Cannupa Hanska Luger, 2019. Photo by Brendan George Ko.

Born on the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, Luger is a New Mexico-based interdisciplinary artist and an enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation with Lakota and European heritage. Luger’s artworks address environmental justice and gender violence, interweaving performance and political action to communicate stories about 21st-century Indigeneity. His work Every One (2018), is a pixelated portrait composed of over 4,000 individual handmade clay beads created by hundreds of people across the United States and Canada. The piece is meant to cut through the data reported in the news and humanize the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, queer, and trans community members. The project is meant to draw the connection between workers hired by lumber, oil, and gas companies and increased murders and disappearances. Luger asks us to shoulder some culpability in the processes that lead to such violence and to find ways to heal.

Portrait of Marie Watt, 2020. Photo by Sam Gehrke.

Watt, based in Portland, Oregon, is a citizen of the Seneca Nation with German-Scots heritage. As part of her artistic practice, Watt creates textiles that bring people together through sewing circles. For her 2017 work, Companion Species: Ferocious Mother and Canis Familiaris, Watt led a conversation on the theme of equity where she asked “what would the world look like if we thought of ourselves as compassion species; places, nations, generations, beings, all interconnected.” The resulting artwork — which has the words Equity, Love, Shelter, Solidarity, and Voice stitched onto the surface — helps us see the thoughts and feelings of people in the group made manifest by many hands working together. 

Watt’s ongoing crowd-sourced Blanket Stories series shows how individuals and communities have the power to penetrate our collective consciousness. The sculptural works made from stacked blankets are a visualization of how we enter and leave this world in blankets. The work is inspired by the stories of beginnings, endings, and lives lived in between. The blankets are also important visual reminders: Native Americans give blankets to mark and honor important life events. 

Gathering to work on something together is often the way knowledge is shared and objects are made in Indigenous communities. These tangible works are memories and evidence of people coming together to take part in something greater than themselves. For these artists, collaboration is not a means to an end, but central to their art practice, fueling their passion and spurring action in making a difference in the world.

Marie Watt (Seneca and German-Scots) Blanket Stories: Indian Territories, Round Dance, Grandmother, detail. 2016. Collection of Autry Museum of the American West, Los Angeles. As installed at the Denver Art Museum. Artwork © Marie Watt. Installation photography © Denver Art Museum.

For Luger, art is a verb. Some of his projects invite others into his creative process to collaborate on pressing issues by using short instructional videos distributed on social media. Although the participants from all corners of the world may never meet, each person is invested in the meaning of the work and each project celebrates the effort it takes to collectively affect change.

Luger’s Mirror Shield Project resulted from a call to action as a direct political response to the acts of police against those defending clean water during the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016. Through an online call for collaborators and a series of in-person workshops, people across the country created mirrored, shield-like forms for the water protectors. Holding these while on the front lines of the standoff, the water protectors sought to force police officers to face their own humanity reflected in the mirrored surfaces. The mirrors, inspired by Ukranian women who used mirrors in a similar way during their 2014 uprising, have been used in various iterations in resistance movements across the world. 

Mirror Shield Project. Concept Artist: Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota and European). Drone operation/ Performance organization: Rory Wakemup. Oceti Sakowin camp, Standing Rock, ND 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

Each/Other invites us to be a part of the artists’ creative process and to become aware of the world outside of our immediate vision. Together, Watt and Luger show ways in which art moves beyond the end-product and becomes more dynamic when people understand the very process of creation itself — unbound and limitless.


Each/Other: Marie Watt and Cannupa Hanska Luger is organized by the Denver Art Museum and presented with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts, The Robert Lehman Foundation, Stelo, and Native Arts and Culture Foundation. Thank you to PEM supporters, Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation and the individuals who support the Exhibition Incubation Fund: Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard, James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes, Kate and Ford O’Neil, and Henry and Callie Brauer who provided generous support. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Follow along on social media using #EachOtheratPEM. The exhibition features labels in English and Spanish. As part of PEM’s Bilingual Initiative, these translations strive to engage multicultural audiences and strengthen ties to our local communities. Plan your trip at Traveling to Salem by train? Show us your MBTA Weekend Pass and get up to $20 off a PEM membership.

This content was written by the advertiser and edited by Studio/B to uphold The Boston Globe's content standards. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its writing, production, or display.