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Bebonkwe Brown: Urban Skins & Ancient Kin




Exhibition Type:

How many artists: 

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Price Range: 
$3500 to

Exhibition Total Value:

Monday, 11 December 2023 to Saturday, 18 May 2024

Urban Skins & Ancient Kin exhibits a selection of photo-based paintings from Bebonkwe Brown’s nikihk and gatherings series, dramatically installed across the south wall of Brooklyn Heights Main Hall. Featuring eloquent layers of painterly abstract urban photographs, tribal geometries and culturally significant three dimensional adornments, these pieces embody longstanding Indigenous land-based practices within the hyper-urban environment of Lenapehoking (a.k.a NYC). Throughout her 16 years based in Brooklyn, the artist has been gathering both lens-based imagery and physical materials as part of a traditional gathering practice involving walking the urban landscape, observation, and reciprocity practices.  She then employs reverential yet pointed combinations of natural and salvaged materials with Western technological elements, such as digital images and 3D-printed objects.

Like the exhibition artworks, the term ‘Urban Skin’ is layered. It is Bebonkwe’s name for the expressive surfaces of a city she engages with as a living entity and creative collaborator, who’s visual voice contains both human and non-human mark-making. She interacts with the urban land with the understanding that it is as alive and inhabited by Ancestors and Relatives as in any other place.

The word ‘Skin’ also has a colonial history as a derogatory word for a Native person yet has been reclaimed and repositioned as an affectionate name Native people sometimes call one another. So ‘Urban Skin’ is also a name, both playful and pained, for a Native person living within the city, referencing the deep relationship between person, city, and their tribal and colonial histories.

Some Urban Skins & Ancient Kin artworks are further layered into tribal geometries, the chevrons and fields of circles containing cultural meaning and practice, now rendered in digital media. Some pieces include snippets of language, adding to the city’s narrative and creating a dialogue with the library as a container of predominantly Settler-written word and histories. They also personify the long-standing, layered incorporations of language, wordplay, and the dichotomies of written and oral cultures in Bebonkwe’s work.

The city-gathered physical elements adorning some pieces are also rooted in traditional First Nations culture. They include Cree and Lenape plant and animal relatives and food sources, sometimes painted to appear metallic, or printed as 3D objects. Others are hand-collected street refuse, repositioned as tribal iconography. All are metaphoric of cultural and environmental damage, relationship, and recovery.

The position of city-based Indigenous artists and the kinship and decolonization practices embodied in the artworks in Urban Skins & Ancient Kin are particularly relevant in this moment and location, while acknowledging the work of these artists is long overdue. With eco crisis having reached a point of high visibility and escalation, and the majority of both First Nations and Settler populations now living in urban centers, re/membering sustainable relationship with the land within urban centers is crucial. And yet most cities’ design and dominant culture/s exemplify and deepen disconnection with the Earth. Although statistics confirm that Native people’s already exceptionally heavy challenges usually escalate when living in urban settings, those Indigenous urban artists who practice their cultures are simultaneously in the unique and invaluable position of carrying cultural knowledge, perspectives, and creative vision that is keystone to rebalancing good relationship with our planet, especially when living in the city.

Contained in the highly contemporary and combinatory approach of Bebonkwe’s work is a deeply traditional one that embodies Native cultural resilience, through the ‘good medicine’ of creativity, beauty, innovation, and tenacity.

Curator :

Artist ( Description ): 

Bebonkwe Brown ᐱᐳᐣ (aka Jude Norris) is a Brooklyn based contemporary multi-media Plains Cree/Anishnawbe/Metis artist from Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton, AB). For more than 35 years, Bebonkwe's trailblazing creative practice has centered and celebrated matriarchal First Nations cultural, artistic, and decolonization practices, incorporating Western iconography, artistic genres, language, media and technology into her artworks in innovative ways. Her focus for more than a decade has been on creating paintings involving avant-garde contemporary continuations of ancestral Plains Nation’s fem-centric abstraction and adornment practices. She layers expressionistic, painted washes and lens-gathered photo-based urban imagery with/in tribal geometries and/or culturally relevant materials, combining and contrasting urban and traditional, Western-tech and land-gathered in works reflecting the challenge and paradox of navigating deep cultural polarities and damage within colonized Indigenous territories, while transmuting the seemingly insurmountable into cultural continuance, celebration, lyricism and good medicine.

Other Info: 

The exhibition is open to the public during library hours.

Venue ( Address ): 

286 Cadman Plaza W, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Bebonkwe Brown: Urban Skins & Ancient Kin
12/11/2023 to 05/18/2024


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