Future Memories of this Land: The Confluence Project, Indigenous Counter-narratives, and Maya Lin’s Counter-monuments
Photo by Miranda Ross. Courtesy of Confluence.
Co-initiated by tribal representatives and regional community activists, the Confluence Project’s departure point was to revisit the cultural memory of Lewis and Clark’s journey from an Indigenous perspective. This goal was materialized by internationally celebrated artist Maya Lin in a series of five earthworks on significant sites along the Columbia River, created over a ten-year period. Lin sought to re-situate the Lewis and Clark narrative in the context of 15,000+ years of Indigenous land stewardship in the Northwest and draw attention to the ecological unfolding of the region until the present. Future Memories of this Land brings together the project’s archival material with the voices of contemporary Indigenous artists, to consider how the Confluence Project intersects with today’s conversations on monuments, decolonization, and social justice.
Lin describes her earthworks as “memory works” that invite people to think. Future Memories of this Land proposes them to be counter-monuments that offer possibilities for challenging dominant historical narratives. Acting as sites for the renegotiation of public memory, they hold open space for the past, present, and future generations of the Indigenous Tribes of the Columbia River system: Chinook Indian Nation, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Yakama Nation, The Wanapum, and Nez Perce Tribe.
Encompassing ecological restoration at each of the river sites, which cover more than 15,000 acres of federal, state and city lands, Maya Lin’s Confluence Project works are collectively one of the most ambitious public works nationwide. Despite being the renowned artist’s most extensive project to date, they are among her least known. This exhibition presents a selection of the project’s archival material, including tribal correspondences, documentation of site blessings, design plans and models, alongside artworks by contemporary Indigenous artists, many of whom are regional tribal members. Their video installations, sculptural, and mixed-media works raise questions around cultural and linguistic self-determination, water preservation, land reclamation, and Indigenous futures.
This exhibition includes plans for the Confluence Project’s yet-to-be-completed final earthwork near Celilo Falls, the spiritual and cultural heart of local tribal cultures and the base of their fishing economy, which was flooded in 1957 to make way for the Dalles Dam. In response to opposition from one of the four local tribes, this project is currently on hold for further consideration. This offers an opportunity for collective reflection on the role and future of this and other monuments. The Confluence Project extends beyond an act of commemoration to encompass 20+ years of public gatherings, outreach and education programs. This exhibition is an opportunity to reflect on the shifting cultural and critical parameters surrounding its existence; to examine related national imaginaries, cultural assumptions, and aesthetic choices.
It is significant that the exhibition will take place on the campus of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, which was named after the historic explorers. A public program organized in collaboration with the Native Student Union will offer the opportunity for collective reflection and discussion, through a series of public events with invited cultural producers, critical thinkers, and organizations. The exhibition and the public program are curated by independent curator and writer Lucy Cotter with artist-curator Steph Littlebird.
Featured artists will include, among others: Sky Hopinka, Lillian Pitt, Gail Tremblay, Lehuauakea, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Jason Clark, Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, Joe Feddersen, and Natalie Kirk Moody.
Maya Lin is acclaimed for her large-scale environmental artworks, her architectural works and her memorial designs. Lin was thrust into the spotlight when, as a senior at Yale University, she submitted the winning design in a national competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to be built in Washington, D.C. She has gone on to a remarkable career in both art and architecture, whilst remaining committed to memory works that focus on some of the critical historical issues of our time.
Lucy Cotter is an internationally known curator and writer, whose practice engages with contemporary art as a form of knowledge and a site for cultural transformation. Irish-born, she holds a PhD in Cultural Analysis from the University of Amsterdam for her research on curating and decolonization. Previous projects include being the curator of the Dutch Pavilion, 57th Venice Biennale. She now lives in Portland, where she is the 2021 Curator in Residence at Oregon Center for Contemporary Art.
Steph Littlebird is an artist, curator, writer, and a registered member of Oregon’s Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes. She received national recognition as curator of This IS Kalapuyan Land (2020) an exhibition at the Five Oaks Museum in Portland. As an artist, Littlebird’s work combines traditional aesthetics with contemporary materials and subject matter to forge connections between our collective past and imminent future. She is currently writing a series about Indigenous Resilience for Oregon Arts Watch Magazine.
Confluence is a community-supported nonprofit that works through six art landscapes, educational programs, and public gatherings in collaboration with northwest tribes, communities, and the celebrated artist Maya Lin. It seeks to connects the public to the history, living cultures, and ecology of the Columbia River system through Indigenous voices.
Future Memories of this Land is organized by Lewis & Clark College, Portland in collaboration with Whitman College, Walla Walla. The exhibition and the public program take place with the support ofthe President’s Office and the Dean’s Office at Lewis & Clark Collegeand are funded in part by the Mellon Foundation’s Northwest Five Consortium grant for community-engaged learning.
The Confluence Project archives are housed at the Whitman College and Northwest Archives. Future Memories of this Land reconceives and expands upon the first-ever exhibition of the project’s archives, Along the Columbia River Nch’i-Wána: Maya Lin and the Confluence Project, held at the Maxey Museum at Whitman College, Walla Walla from April 30-December 15 2021.
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The exhibition takes place from January 27-April 02. Details of the public program will follow.