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UND Collaborative Art Project Smashes Through Stereotypes Of American Indians To Create A More Accurate Reflection

Posted on 3/8/2016

Lucy Ganje (left) and Kim Fink hold up a large carving done by Philadelphia artist Daniel Heyman. The carving is then used on the letterpress to print the portrait of Leigh Jeanotte, director of UND's American Indian Student Services. Photo by Jackie Lorentz. Lucy Ganje (left) and Kim Fink hold up a large carving done by Philadelphia artist Daniel Heyman. The carving is then used on the letterpress to print the portrait of Leigh Jeanotte, director of UND's American Indian Student Services. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

UND Professor of Art and Design Lucy Ganje and her colleague in the department, Professor Kim Fink, have been spending a lot of long hours in the studio together, but not for any class.

Through UND's Sundog Multiples, a student-focused print shop, the two have been dedicating much of their time to work on a different kind of educational endeavor - their new project, "Native Impressions: In Our Own Words."

"For the most part, the stereotype is that (Native Americans) are from the past, that people exist, but only in a particular framework," Ganje said. "So I see this as an artistic, educational process for non-native people to actually be able to see and learn more about native communities."

Ganje and Fink, along with Philadelphia artist and Professor Daniel Heyman, have dedicated much of their time over the summer and the last few semesters to "Impressions." When completed, the project will include 12 portraits of tribal members in North Dakota with accompanying letterpress prints of their words, in addition to a larger portrait and letterpress print of UND's Leigh Jeanotte, who serves as the Director of American Indian Student Services and has helped with "Impressions" throughout its course.

"This project is important because of the national and international stereotypes that still exist about native people and what their concerns are, and what the issues are that they face, especially in North Dakota and especially here at the University of North Dakota," Ganje said. "We have a commitment at UND, a stated commitment, to native people, so it was good that this project grew out of the University of North Dakota, because it shows our ongoing commitment."

Leaders at the four tribal colleges in North Dakota helped identify individuals with diverse backgrounds and roles to be featured in the portraits. Over the course of the summer and two cross-state road trips, the project team interviewed all 12 individuals identified. Each interview took roughly two hours to complete, during which Heyman painted the individual and the conversation was recorded.

"We knew it was going to be a lot of work, but once we got into it there was just so much to it, so much information," Fink said. "Lucy (Ganje), she's going through two hours of conversation that she's having to boil down. Each person had different themes to their lives."

Following this summer's interviews, the real work began. Ganje, who teaches graphic design and letterpress, sifted through each interview, looking for key phrases and themes, which she then designed and typeset onto letterpress broadsheets for each subject. Heyman, who teaches painting at Princeton University and the Rhode Island School of Design, created a portrait of each individual, which was turned into a print using a reductive woodblock process, overseen by Fink, a master printer and director of Sundog Multiples.

"We're so lucky to work on a project like this where it's a true collaboration and it's so much fun," Ganje said. "We work late nights, we work into the morning, but how often do you get that opportunity? It's just been really wonderful."

Throughout the process, Fink and Ganje say it was essential that the project be respectful of the subjects' voices and life experiences.

"The whole point of the project was to give voice to contemporary American Indian people and the issues that affect their communities," Ganje said. "We made sure to be respectful in the sense that it wasn't our words ... It was important that it was the individuals speaking and not us interpreting.

"It was an honor and a big responsibility for us because, once you read the text panels, you see that often what they shared with us was really emotional, so it was an honor to be trusted with that information, that story, and then it was a responsibility to get it right."

The team hopes to have the project completed and ready for display in the spring. They say the first show will be held at the North Dakota Museum of Art, but, after that, the show will travel around the country. They also hope to eventually turn the project into a book to make it even more accessible.

"One of the things I think is exciting and important about this project is that it talks about contemporary native issues," Ganje said. "It's especially important to us that it travel nationally so that people can, perhaps, move away from the stereotyped images people often have about native people and can look at them as contemporary people facing contemporary problems."

By Carrie Sandstrom, UND University & Public Affairs student writer

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