The Native artist mixed about representing the US

It’s fitting then that Gibson feels a sense of ambivalence­ about representing a nation with a long history of making its Native peoples feel like foreigners on their own ancestral homelands. But that idea has also been a driving force for the 52-year-old New Yorker as he has prepared his Biennale presentation.

“When I visited the pavilion a year ago, I asked myself, ‘How is it that I can represent the United States, with all of its complicated and traumatic histories toward Native people?'” he recalls. “I don’t think one person can truly represent an entire country. But in the best case, you can represent as earnestly as possible your relationship to these layered ideas of nationhood, of country, of Americanism, of Indigeneity.”

Excavating the complexities the US

The acclaimed artist’s exhibition, “the space in which to place me“, brings that complicated concept of intertwined identity to the forefront. The title comes from the poem “Ȟe Sápa” by renowned writer Layli Long Soldier (a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation), which speaks to the often limiting, externally imposed definitions of Indigeneity. Gibson aims to upend those restrictive beliefs and instead showcase the layered complexities of contemporary Native life in the United States.

And while he certainly feels a sense of pride having been selected for this high honour, does he also feel a sense of pride in his country?

“There are moments when I’m proud to be American, and there are also moments when I’m totally confounded,” he says. “The promises of the United States can be invigorating in a way that many parts of the world have never experienced. But those promises have also been misinterpreted to empower some people and to disempower Native people. When the idea of ‘nationalism’ becomes divisive, it becomes problematic.”

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