By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – The new exhibition “Each / Other” opening at the Denver Art Museum on Sunday brings together contemporary indigenous artists Marie Watt and Cannupa Hanska Luger celebrating collaborative artmaking that involves the public in the process. It is the first show they have partnered on with their own individual works, and it also features a piece they created together.

(credit: CBS)

“Each / Other is really about this relationship between part and whole and how we’re all connected,” Watt told CBS4 on Wednesday. “There these culturally coded objects, they’re storied objects and I think that people can bring their own stories to them.”

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Both artists say social practice is an essential part of their craft. Watt has turned to sowing circles in the past where stories and ideas can be exchanged while people sow together, during the pandemic the museum helped to host a virtual circle for this exhibition. Luger uses social media to engage with his audience asking them to create videos on a given topic and not only get them interested but also involved in his work.

“These sorts of projects is what I consider how you transform an ally into an accomplice, it allows them to invest their time and their effort,” he told CBS4. “There seems to be a direct correlation between the materials we use an the societies we build and so I like engaging with all these different materials.”

The Denver Art Museum started collecting indigenous art in 1925 amassing 18,000 works to become one of the largest collections for the museum. This exhibition and its emphasis complement the work of these two artists who use mixed media, which in itself is a collaboration. John Lukavic asked the two artists to team up on this show and said his institution wants to be a stage for the voices of artists like Watt and Luger.

(credit: CBS)

“Visitors will be presented with the familiar but then also presented with new ideas, new materials that may have not seen before,” Lukavic told CBS4. He is the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Native Arts for the museum. “There are so many voices that are being told and so many stories that are being told in this exhibition that everyone can find something that they can connect with.”

After its run in Denver (the last day is in late August) the exhibition will travel to two other locations on the East Coast this fall. He hopes that the show allows people to come together and have conversations about others including their own neighbors. He says it is important people learn about those with different experiences and connect with them so they develop a sense of responsibility for each other.

“For too long indigenous artists and indigenous people have become invisible in American society and the reality is, their work, their contributions to society are profound,” Lukavic said. “When you have a sense of responsibility, you care about what happens to that person, you care about people that are around you because you know them and you know them because you’ve actually spent time with them.”

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Social distancing and the two artists living in different states did not keep them from making this exhibition achieve their goals. The piece they collaborated on is a larger-than-life female wolf made up of 850 bandanas. Each bandana was sent in by the public with a unique message they embroidered to be included in the piece.

“I think it invites people into the act of making and it hopefully allows people to understand their connection back in time to things that are handmade,” Watt said.

Both artists explained that mixed media not only connects with visitors because the materials are familiar but it also captures the development of culture throughout time.

“I think that people are realizing that the history of this country is a myth that has been told from generation to generation,” he said. “In that myth it has elevated certain culture groups’ practices and work to a level that is like an unfair advantage.”

(credit: CBS)

“Each / Other” comes less than a year after a racial reckoning last summer that forced the country to reexamine its treatment of BIPOC communities and a renewed sense to honor the contributions indigenous people have made to this nation.

“Culturally, what you end up with is mediocrity at the top, there is no drive to encourage yourself better,” Luger continued. “We are stronger and better with the acknowledgement of this intercultural relationship.”

The exhibition is on view May 23 through Aug. 22 and is included with general admission. It is organized by the Denver Art Museum.

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“Collaboration and community is paramount and that’s the extension that we are sharing here with this opportunity,” he said.

Shawn Chitnis