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Artist Talk: Jonathan Thunder and Zamara Cuyún
The American Indian Community Housing Organization hosts an artist talk for its latest art exhibition, titled “Long Night of the Floating Shell.” The exhibit, on display through July 19, explores an overlap in themes between two artists’ experiences as contemporary Indigenous artists navigating their connection to their ancestry and communities — Zamara Cuyún with roots in the Maya Highlands of Guatemala and Jonathan Thunder from the Red Lake Nation in Greater Minnesota.
Thunder and Cuyún will be present to engage in dialogue about some of the underlying themes in their work and to answer audience questions. Refreshments will be served.
The artwork featured in “Long Night of the Floating Shell” evokes a sense of travel and movement, guided by traditional knowledge — of journeying the midst of ancestral connections and stories, colonization, light and darkness and dreams. Thunder and Cuyún are both known for their signature dark-to-light painting style, creating artwork that is bold and full.
The “Long Night” referenced in the exhibit’s title represents 500 years of darkness — the longest night — of conquest, colonization, and genocide for indigenous people in the Americas. The concept of the shell manifests in a variety of stories across indigenous cultures. For the Anishinaabe in particular, the floating Megis shell was what guided them in their migration to Minnesota — appearing several times at key turning points in their journey. Meanwhile, in Maya thought, shells of several varieties hold significant meaning because of their connection to both the land and water. Here, the shell is a message, a way of communicating with those who are no longer here, but never gone. The shell, floating in the sky-water of creation, is there as a guardian, a call home for those who are actively listening for it.
Cuyún is a self-taught, “Gringindia” artist of de-Indigenized Highland Maya ancestry; her primary medium is acrylic paint, using elements of Guatemalan Maya history, ideology, myth and iconography to sometimes explore and create a vibrant, colorful, imaginary dream universe and, at other times, to represent a restless, violent and unsettling world. The themes that inspire her work and to which she is drawn back to include indigenous identity (her own, as well as that represented in Guatemalan society), the history of colonization and resistance, the persecution and genocide of indigenous populations, and the call for social justice, reconciliation, revitalization and decolonization and the central role and strength of women in this process.
Thunder is an award-winning, multi-disciplinary artist in Duluth who works with mediums of painting, animation, filmmaking and 3-D projection mapping. At the core of his work is a storyline that reflects his personal lens as a filter to the social, political, environmental and spiritual climate around us. Thunder has sought to create imagery that is surreal and imaginative by incorporating influences from the structure of his dreams, the culture around him and the direction his life is headed on any given day. He considers his work “vignettes” or short stories within a larger ongoing narrative that evolves as he does. Thunder attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. and studied Visual Effects and Motion Graphics in Minneapolis. His work has been featured in many state, regional and national exhibitions, as well as in local and international publications.