November is recognized as Native American Heritage Month and in honor of that, Paper City Clothing Company, in collaboration with Justin Beatty, is presenting a group exhibition entitled, “November Red: Native American Artists.”
The exhibit, which will be on display through December 18th inside Paper City Clothing Company in Holyoke, features the works of 6 Native artists whose pieces reflect Indigenous culture, contribution, and the ongoing fight for recognition and justice for Native communities.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Carlos Peña, artivist, community leader and owner of Paper City Clothing Company, and artist Justin Beatty to hear more about this exhibition and why Peña is committed to featuring it annually.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: November is also recognized as Native American Heritage Month, and in honor of that Paper City Clothing Company, in collaboration with Justin Beatty, is presenting a group exhibition entitled November Red: Native American Artists.
The exhibit, which will be on display through December 18th inside Paper City Clothing Company in Holyoke, features the works of six Native artists whose pieces reflect Indigenous culture, contribution, and the ongoing fight for recognition and justice for Native communities.
I spoke with Carlos Peña, artivist, community leader, and owner of Paper City Clothing Company, and artist Justin Beatty to hear more about this exhibition and why Peña is committed to featuring it annually.
Carlos Peña, Paper City Clothing Company: I’ve worked with the Native American community for a very long time and just more of a representation of being part of that community and trying to create a space that is for us, by us, and not having to jump through these hoops to try to get into a space that really doesn’t exist for us, you know?
So, in being in this community and being the time that it is — November — which a lot of people are very… I don’t know, it’s it’s a weird holiday for me, as it is for our community that it exists and it should be something else.
So, I wanted to represent what it should be; and that’s a recognition of a wonderful people that have done a lot for the United States.
Zydalis Bauer: Can you go into a little bit about why it’s kind of a weird holiday for people, for Native and Indigenous people?
Justin Beatty, Artist/Odenong Powwow: You know, unfortunately, the history that’s been passed down about what the holiday is to the general public is…wildly inaccurate. It was not a situation where the Natives and the Wampanoag folks and Pilgrims decided to sit down and have a meal. That’s not what happened.
What actually led to like first Thanksgiving Proclamation was, after a massacre of Native folks, Pequot folks and Wampanoag folks, and the Thanksgiving was for thanking for victory over, you know, a bunch of Native folks that had been killed. That’s what — where it comes about.
But Native folks have always had Thanksgiving feasts, where we are thankful for harvest or thankful for, you know, children being born, or relationships between different Nations. So, the feasting part of it, the getting together with family and celebrating part, is common. But there’s also a…it’s a national day of mourning for a lot of Native people, as well.
Zydalis Bauer: Speaking of the mourning, November Red is presenting the work of six Native visual artists in painting, sculptures, and graphic works.
But I wanted to ask you both, what is the significance behind the title November Red?
Carlos Peña: Red has become a — for me — has become a visual signal for something wrong that’s being done. And for me, the reason why I called it November Red was because the big movement that has started now — I mean, this has been going on for a very long time — but it hasn’t been any awareness ’til now. Whereas Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and also transgender folk, which the Native community calls two spirits.
Everything that’s happening just with the Native community and how the United States, as it is today, treats this community is kind of sad, and I wanted to point that out.
And I think the red in it symbolizes, you know, the missing people, the murdered people, not just women, but just the whole group of Indigenous people that has been has been tried to be erased from the globe.
Zydalis Bauer: Justin, you are one of the featured artists in this exhibit, and you have done extensive work and dedicated a lot of your work to taking a deeper look into the cultural, political, and social issues that affect Indigenous communities.
In what ways does art lend itself as an effective educational tool?
Justin Beatty: Well, I mean, art, first and foremost, is an extension of culture, right? Every culture has an esthetic that’s developed over years, whether it’s the foods that are chosen to be traditional foods or the music or the clothing, and how we express ourselves, what we find beautiful.
The way we express ourselves through art is sometimes meant for other people and sometimes it’s meant for just for us, you know? It’s a way for us to get out some of the feelings and ideas about our experience and our situations.
And so, I think that as a learning tool, a lot of times art comes from a more intimate place, right? And it can be a bit more raw.
So, it’s speaking directly from a person’s sense of being to whomever views it or hears it or reads it. And so I think, you know, That value of it coming from directly from people within the community, makes a huge difference than if you see a movie that’s not necessarily — maybe well-intentioned, you know, or a book that’s well-intentioned — but didn’t come from folks within these communities.
Zydalis Bauer: We started off this conversation talking about the fact that November is Native American Heritage Month, and I know that heritage months are important to recognize, but some worry that once the month ends, so do the celebrations, so do the conversations.
How do we make sure that the representation for each heritage month continues all year round?
Justin Beatty: I think one of the ways is to connect with various Native organizations and tribal organizations throughout your area. Generally, they’re not terribly difficult to look up and find.
There are Native events going on within Native communities year long. You know, powwows generally run from late March into November, depending on the weather and COVID. And then, during the winter months, we have socials which are sort of informal get togethers.
There are art shows, there are arts markets, there are guest speakers, there are Native performances — you know, musicians and poets and writers. There’s always something going on within the Native community.
And so, you know, again, like, us having this, these gallery exhibits in an attempt to raise awareness and visibility, gets people to ask questions like, “Well, what’s going on next and how do we find out?”
You know, getting people to understand that, like, you can access the Native community on a certain level in terms of gaining an education and hearing more.
And when you start to understand more about the Native community, it gives you a better understanding of who we are as a country, right? Yes, we have a painful past, but we also have created a lot of beauty out of that painful past.