SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — A new exhibit at the Center for Western Studies on the campus of Augustana University paints a different perspective of one of the darkest chapters of South Dakota history. The exhibit pays tribute to one family impacted by the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, when federal soldiers killed hundreds of Native American men, women and children. The Sioux Falls artist says her paintings are intended to bring hope and healing for generations to come.
This art display at the Center for Western Studies show how traditional Native American culture blends into the digital age.
“When I photographed him, I noticed that his thumbs are even set to play a video game,” Carolyne Landon said.
This portrait gallery created by Carolyne Landon follows seven generations of South Dakota’s Pipe On Head family. It starts with Lakota leader Big Foot, also known as Spotted Elk, who was among those killed in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.
“In spite of all the work the U.S. government has done to annihilate the culture and the people, the Native Americans in this country, they have survived. It’s not a pretty story for me,” Landon said.
To Landon, the portraits represent not just artistic expression, but also redemption for a tragedy from so long ago that the country is still trying to come to terms with.
“And I think of art as redeeming life. Even the bad part of life. If you can write and paint about it and make movies about it and at least there’s something productive that has come out of it,”
The exhibit’s theme centers on the Native American prophecy of seven generations needing to pass in order to “mend the hoop,” or mend the Lakota nation in the aftermath of Wounded Knee. But to Landon, each generation of Native Americans holds the promise of that seventh generation.
“These generations worked to maintain the dignity of their tribe, their people and didn’t give up,” Landon said.
Landon, who formerly worked as a TV courtroom artist and art professor at Oglala Lakota College, wants people to see beyond the poverty that Native Americans have faced for so long.
“Just because you’re poor, doesn’t mean you don’t have some dignity and you don’t have some principles and that you can’t offer something to society,” Landon said.
“What Carolyne has done is she has painted life into his eyes so you can go and you can stand right next to any of these men and you can stand and look them in the eyes and you can have a conversation with them about their own life history,” Center for Western Studies Education Assistant Kristi Thomas said.
The Center for Western Studies says this portrait gallery shows how history is as much about the present as it is the past.
“It’s kind of a unique opportunity to stand face-to-face with each one of these men and know that Wounded Knee is in their very DNA. Each one of them, they carry it and they carry it in different ways,” Thomas said.
Seven generations, spanning nearly 200 years: portraits of promise and perseverance; a family rooted in the past, but dedicated to the future.
The Seven Generations exhibit is on display through September 6. The Center for Western Studies will host an artist reception next month, when some of the Pipe On Head family members are expected to attend. If you’d also like to attend, click here