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Artist Machine Dazzle bringing ‘glittering kaleidoscope of joyful creativity’ to U-M Museum of Art

The University of Michigan Museum of Art has commissioned New York-based artist, designer and multifaceted maker Machine Dazzle for a site-specific installation at its Irving Stenn Jr. Family Gallery. 

To support production of the work, UMMA will partner with the U-M Stamps School of Art & Design, awarding the annual Roman J. Witt Residency to Dazzle for the 2024 season. Titled “Ouroboros,” the installation will be on view starting March 14, 2024, and will transform in increasing maximal iterations, unveiling again in April and in June, when the sculpture will become animated and wearable by a team of 15 U-M students. The exhibition continues through Aug. 25, 2024.

This is Machine Dazzle’s first museum installation commission and his first exhibition in the Midwest. It follows his performance commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Arts and Design, “Queer Maximalism x Machine Dazzle,” both in New York, and Harbourfront Centre’s “Art and Intention” exhibition in Toronto.

“The ouroboros is an ancient symbol, depicting a snake eating its own tail,” Dazzle said. “Originating in ancient Egypt and the Greek magical tradition, it represents infinity, eternal life, and birth, death and rebirth; the meanings resonant as I plan to construct the ouroboros using found objects, much of this from local bodies of water. As part of the collaboration with UMMA, I look forward to the opportunity to experiment, to push my artistic practice in new directions.”

“Ouroboros” is envisioned as an evolving artwork. Three distinct chapters will fill the 1,200-square-foot Stenn Gallery, with the artist expanding, transforming and activating aspects of the installation during the exhibition’s six-month run. The dynamic installation includes a soundscape produced by playing instruments made from found objects underwater—a new, experimental process for Dazzle.

“Ouroboros: Chapter One,” opening Thursday, March 14, will be accompanied by Dazzle’s appearance as featured artist on the high-profile Penny Stamps Speaker Series at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater.

“Ouroboros: Chapter Two,” opening Friday, April 30, will include the activation of U-M student creations inspired by the installation and created in collaboration with Dazzle.

“Ouroboros: Chapter Three”will open Friday, June 28, culminating in a performance activation of “Ouroboros”where the sculpture will be worn by 15 performers and promenaded beyond the gallery. The June opening will also include a public capstone interview with the artist that explores his process and reflections on completing the installation. This culmination of the project coincides with the climax of LGBTQ Pride Month.

Dazzle’s first visit to the U-M campus is planned for Nov. 27 through Dec. 15, 2023, during which he will begin work on the central frame of “Ouroboros,” spend time salvaging found materials that will serve as the foundation for his installation, and engage with students and faculty across the campus in preparation for the exhibition. 

The collaboration with the Roman J. Witt Residency program makes the production of new work possible and will see Dazzle integrating collaborations with students into the project, using U-M studios and other facilities, and allowing the broader community to see the creative process in action.

“Machine Dazzle’s work is a glittering kaleidoscope of joyful creativity, where every color, shape and sparkle is testament to the limitless possibilities of the queer imagination,” said Jim Leija, deputy director for public experience and learning at UMMA and the co-producer of the project. “We are thrilled to bring Machine to U-M’s campus and to partner with him. 

“The commission with Machine also continues UMMA’s commitment to supporting artists and fostering dialogues about contemporary social and political contexts. This also presents a new milestone in the ongoing evolution of Machine’s groundbreaking multidisciplinary practice.”

“Ouroboros” continues UMMA’s vision to present artists whose work reflects both formal breakthroughs and thoughtful engagement with the issues of our time. 

Stamps staffer shines in musical theater roles

When some people listen to music, they close their eyes and soak in the tune.

John Luther experiences something more transformative, and that’s been the case since he was a child.

“For most choreographers, if not all, we literally see music,” said Luther, career development coordinator with the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design. “When we hear it, we see what it would look like on bodies. It wasn’t until I was 8 years old that I figured out that not everyone sees music.

“That was pretty revelatory. Having that sense of music helped propel me into wanting to dance more.”

Dance and musical theater provide an ideal stage and creative outlet for Luther, who spent several years dancing professionally before tackling the responsibilities that come with directing and choreographing productions.

Name a musical, and there’s a high likelihood Luther has performed, directed or choreographed it — and in some cases, all three.

Read the full story at The Record.

Student art exhibition ‘Respond/Resist/Rethink’ coming to all three U-M campuses

The arts play a central role in shaping both cultural and political narratives, and artists have often been at the forefront of social change by offering alternate ways of seeing and thinking.

A new partnership across the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses will feature the compelling work created by U-M students this fall in conjunction with the Arts & Resistance theme semester.

“Respond/Resist/Rethink” tells the stories of oppression, free speech, societal expectations of beauty, and marginalized people through photographs, paintings, videos, posters and more. The exhibition showcases artwork’s potential to change hearts and minds in modern society.

“This exhibition is really a unique opportunity to showcase artwork by dozens of student artists from all three U-M campuses. We’re excited to provide a platform for students to reflect on their individual and shared experiences, and to collectively envision a better future. It should be a very powerful exhibition,” said Joe Levickas, program director for student engagement at the Arts Initiative.

The 2023 exhibition runs Nov. 3-Dec. 9, will include a variety of artistic media and will be displayed in four galleries across the U-M system: the Stamps Gallery and Duderstadt Center Gallery on the Ann Arbor campus, Riverbank Arts at UM-Flint and Stamelos Gallery Center at UM-Dearborn.

“Black Illumination,” by Jordyn Hardy
“Black Illumination,” by Jordyn Hardy.

“We are thrilled and honored to be participating in ‘Respond/Resist/Rethink’ this year, and we have found this inaugural collaboration between all three U-M campuses to be invaluable for both students and staff in numerous ways,” said Laura Cotton, art curator for the Stamelos Gallery Center. “The displayed student works at our venue range in themes from human rights to climate justice to the importance of hope within our daily lives.”

“Respond/Resist/Rethink” has been shown to U-M communities for three years. However, this year’s show premieres 82 new works and is the first time that the exhibition is being shown as part of the theme semester.

“Respond/Resist/Rethink” is an exhibition by U-M students for students. Each art space will feature underrepresented stories and artists’ attempts to tell their own stories from their own perspective.

U‑M students were invited to submit artwork through an open call, and works for the exhibit were chosen by an expert jury of professional arts staff.

“Embrace Humanity, Eradicate Homelessness,” by Regina Marie Arriola
“Embrace Humanity, Eradicate Homelessness,” by Regina Marie Arriola.

These works include paintings such as “Embrace Humanity, Eradicate Homelessness” by Regina Marie Arriola, which tells the story of a man experiencing homelessness, selling newspapers to earn a couple of dollars in order to survive the rest of the day.

Another piece of art that will be on display is “The Dream Isn’t Dead, The Dream Was Never Here” by Charlie Reynolds. It discusses white supremacy and the dangers marginalized people face in America. The exhibition tells various stories of social injustices and aspirations for a more equitable community in the spaces that students inhabit.

“Stamps Gallery initiated ‘Respond/Resist/Rethink’ at the Stamps School in 2020 to hold space for students’ voices and ideas for building a more just and equitable community through art and design,” said Srimoyee Mitra, director of the Stamps Gallery.

“Transferring The Nine Commentaries On The Communist Party In China,” by Nancy Yang

“It is a pleasure and honor to expand the reach of the exhibition to students across U-M campuses and disciplines in conjunction with the Arts & Resistance theme semester. It promises to be a vital showcase of the power of art and creativity to inspire positive social change at U-M and beyond.”

Nalani Duarte, graduate student and Flint art curator, said students across all three U-M campuses will showcase their artistic interpretations of what the exhibition’s title means to them on a personal level.

“My experience working with this exhibition really opened my eyes to how diverse the backgrounds, lifestyles, and experiences are from all of the U-M students across the state,” Duarte said.

“I believe that this diversity in itself acts as an ‘alternate model and way of thinking’ by bringing attention to subject matters and social issues that are important to an individual that not everyone may have experienced in their life.” 

Each gallery will host special events on separate dates, providing guests the opportunity to meet the student artists and view artwork communally. All events are free and open to the public.

The exhibition is funded by the U-M Arts Initiative.

How do we remember? Let us count the ways

The University of Michigan is driving an in-depth, cross-disciplinary audit of its campus: the land it sits upon, the historical figures it commemorates and how we do, or should, remember at U-M.

Whether it be through augmented reality representation of underrecognized women and their contributions to the campus as we know it, Native and settler voices discussing the place of the U.S. university in colonial histories and futures, or digital engrams and how the ways we remember in the 21st century might shock Aristotle, no stone will be left unturned.

Melanie Manos: “HerView: Visualizing Women’s Work”

U-M Stamps School of Art & Design lecturer Melanie Manos will unveil the U-M campus portion of her AR project, “HerView: Visualizing Women’s Work,” during the Memory & Monuments Open House. Through this work, she has set out to explore the use of art media for social justice and investigate how public art can be used to redress historic gender bias.

Manos is one of eight Public Art & Engagement Fellows selected to work with Paul Farber, founder of Philadelphia-based Monument Lab and inaugural curator in residence of the U-M Arts Initiative. Monument Lab facilitates critical conversations around the past, present and future of monuments and collective memory.

With only a few monuments on the U-M campus, Manos uses buildings—the Law Library, Detroit Observatory and Michigan League, specifically—as her historical touchpoints. Using just a smartphone (no app or password required), users can view an interactive AR representation of a woman from U-M’s history and the contributions she made to that building or time period that have been underrecognized. 

Manos has plans to expand the project to monuments across Detroit.

The project, and more from additional fellows, will be discussed at the Memory & Monuments Open House Oct. 26-28 at the U-M Museum of Art. The event is free and open to the public.

Andrew Herscher: “Under the Campus, the Land”

Andrew Herscher, professor of architecture at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and professor of history of art at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, has organized a set of public conversations, “Under the Campus, the Land.”  Native and settler voices will gather to speak to and about the university around four themes: reckoning with the settler university, advancing Native student activism, investigating university land and making amends to the land. 

The conversations will take place in conjunction with two exhibitions at the U-M Museum of Art: “Andrea Carlson’s Future Cache,” which commemorates the Cheboiganing Band of Ottawa and Chippewa people who were violently displaced from land in Northern Michigan now owned by U-M, and Cannupa Hanska Luger’s “You’re Welcome,” which explores histories and narratives of land occupied by U-M.

“Under the Campus, the Land” takes place Oct. 27-28 and is free and open to the public. 

Gabriela Ruiz: “Digital Engrams”

The latest exhibition at the Humanities Gallery, Gabriela Ruiz‘s “Digital Engrams,” looks at how much has changed in the 21st Century version of “remembering.” Memories that might be formed in “unplugged” spaces are immediately uploaded, edited, shared. Rather than relying on our minds to recall details and feelings, we can easily turn to photo evidence and to-the-minute updates of lived experiences. Ruiz asks, “does this impact our ability to remember and our own sense of direction in the process?”

“Digital Engrams” opens Nov. 2 and is free and open to the public. The Humanities Gallery is located at 202 S. Thayer St.

Proposals sought for new arts research funding program

The University of Michigan has launched Arts Research: Incubation & Acceleration, a new grant program to fuel arts-based research.

ARIA seeks to support projects centered in the arts that ask creative questions and move toward new ideas and knowledges, invite new forms of collaboration and interaction both within and beyond the arts, and that imagine new approaches to problems and ideas in the arts and society.


The result of a new partnership between the Office for the Vice President for Research and the U-M Arts Initiative, ARIA has been developed by Clare Croft, the university’s inaugural director of arts research / creative practice. The program is funded equally by both sponsors.

“ARIA is an incredibly powerful program that will support faculty-led research across our schools and campuses, allowing faculty from a wide variety of disciplines to deepen and elevate their important work,” said Croft, who also is an associate professor of American culture and of women’s and gender studies in LSA, and associate professor of music in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Approximately 15-20 grants will be awarded in the 2023-24 academic year. Faculty applying for individual projects are eligible for up to $25,000, and research teams are eligible for up to $50,000. Projects will be funded for up to two years. Funding can support projects in pilot or incubation stages or those entering new stages of development and dissemination.

“We hope that ARIA will inspire a new level of ambitious arts research at the University of Michigan,” said Mark Clague, interim executive director of the Arts Initiative. “Our goal is both to fuel the extraordinary in creative practice, while propelling the arts into new realms of research, where artists and artistic thinking have not traditionally been found. ARIA should be a game changer.”

Proposals for the program’s first round of funding are due by 5 p.m. Dec. 11, and selections will be announced in January 2024. U-M research faculty across all three campuses are eligible to apply.

Applications are particularly encouraged from interdisciplinary research teams structured to provide mutual benefit to those in the arts and in other research sectors, and from individuals working in creative practice to imagine new horizons of artistic possibility.

“As a university community, we cannot effectively address problems and advance ideas in the arts and society by working within traditional silos alone,” said Geoffrey Thün, associate vice president for research-social sciences, humanities and the arts.

“To generate new knowledge and spur positive change, we have to embrace integration and collaborate across disciplines. The ARIA program was designed to center, elevate and expand arts research and creative practice in its many forms across our three campuses.”

The politics of drag for LGBTQ+ History Month: U-M expert offers insights

University of Michigan professor Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, author of “Translocas: The Politics of Puerto Rican Drag and Trans Performance,” is available to discuss drag as an art form and the politics of drag for LGBTQ+ History Month. 

He will moderate a panel discussion about drag as resistance with “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Monet X Change and other local drag queens at Ann Arbor’s Necto Oct. 12. The panel is organized by the U-M Arts Initiative and U-M Museum of Art as part of the Arts & Resistance theme semester.

La Fountain-Stokes, who performs drag locally, is a professor of American culture, Spanish, Latina/o studies, and women’s and gender studies. He talks below about drag in society and his 20 years of research in the field.

Performing drag

I taught a first year seminar at U-M through the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts entitled ‘Drag in America,'” he said. “So for me, drag is something I write about, it’s something I teach, and it’s something I perform. I’ve performed as Lola von Miramar since 2010. 

It has been really interesting as a person who is primarily a scholar—my salary from the University of Michigan comes from being a professor, not an artist—but as a person who writes about drag, it was really meaningful and useful to perform in drag, to be able to write from an insider, outsider perspective.

Politics of drag

Drag, in addition to being a form of entertainment, in addition to being a subcultural expression very linked frequently to LGBT cultures, in addition to being an art form and something that is fun and that people like to do, is also a type of resistance and there are politics linked to drag performance whether it is done by cisgender people or transgender people.

Drag is a term that is related to political struggles, it is related to artistic expression, and it is also a type of employment. Rather recently, several states and politicians wanted to ban drag or say drag was dangerous to society and should not be allowed in proximity to schools or churches or to young people. It was a type of political censorship as much as artistic and work censorship. I think it really helped a lot of people clarify the politics involved.

For example, when Tennessee, then Texas, then Florida and other states, tried to ban drag, it became much clearer for people how drag has become a touchpoint in culture wars, in wars about LGBT rights, in discussions about transgender rights and self-expression.

Is drag always making a political statement?

No. It is not a statement no matter what, because anyone can do drag, regardless of their background or their identity. The politics of drag are open—they vary enormously. People bring different commitments and agendas and interests to their drag performance. 

So what is absolutely true is that some people see drag as a profoundly political act. For example, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, in California and now globally—they explicitly see drag as a way to challenge the hypocrisy, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia of the Catholic church and American society. You have artists like Taylor Mac, who has won major awards across the U.S., he is a Macarthur genius grant awardee, and he sees his drag performance as a way to make an intervention about politics, gender, sexuality. 

But it is never not an art form. Any art form can be used to convey and discuss political messages, or not. It’s really a personal choice. Sometimes there are politics associated with the reception, so maybe I think that I am not a political artist, but then immediately when someone tries to ban what I do, it becomes a political performance. Not because of my intention, but because of the resistance to the art form.

Why speak up now?

(In April), there was a growing awareness of the challenges that drag performers face, and how there is this effort to demonize drag performance as something that is inappropriate and dangerous and undesirable. That is why we were so vehement and committed to talking about the social role of drag, its importance and its value as an art form, a type of political expression, as a free speech issue, as a labor issue and as an LGBT issue.

U-M’s sustainable material, color garden in bloom

The University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design has taken another important step toward campus wide carbon neutrality with the opening of the Sustainable Materials & Color Garden on the grounds of the school. 

The garden, conceived and built by Stamps faculty, staff and students, allows Stamps creatives to source plants for natural art practices creating accessible opportunities to cultivate plants used for materials, natural dyes, and papermaking.

When “a blank piece of paper” is a widely used metaphor for “nothing at all,” it can be a task—or a month-long course—to teach students that not only is paper a novel product, but one that requires the physical beating of fibers from nature into separation, and completion of the subsequent natural processes that allow for paper creation.

Nicholas Dowgwillo, Stamps 2D media studio coordinator and leader of this course, would know. Thankfully though, this month-long workshop with kozo—Japanese mulberry used to make paper—had the intended impact. 

“There was a lot of student interest in looking into the natural origins of the plants that make the material we were working with,” Dowgwillo said. 

Nicholas Dowgwillo at opening reception of Sustainable Materials & Color Garden

Kit Parks, Stamps fiber and 2D foundations studio coordinator, found similar enthusiasm from students around natural dye materials.

“When the pandemic hit, a lot of students were creating their own dyes at home and were asking what it would take to start our own garden here. So we connected with the U-M campus farm at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, and in 2021, we planted a couple of beds out there,” Parks said.

Students led the research of plants they were interested in having access to, including how to plant and grow them and how to process them into usable materials and dyes.

Ultimately, without a bus route directly to the campus farm, it was difficult to access and maintain the gardens at Matthaei. Out of an abundance of student interest, a synthesis between Parks, Dowgwillo, and Stamps professor Joe Trumpey, and a successful Giving Blue Day fundraising campaign, the on-location garden could become a reality.

Now, just steps from the Stamps building, is a garden with muraski, hibiscus, flax, tango cosmos, marigold, Japanese indigo, chamomile and more.

A step toward carbon neutrality

“Getting students aware of where their stuff comes from is critical. Especially as makers, it is our responsibility to do right,” Trumpey said. “If we are using unsustainable materials that treat the earth, the water, the soil, the air, other flora and fauna badly, and especially if it treats humans badly, that is not a good part of someone’s practices. So, we have to teach the students how to source good materials and develop a rubric for ‘what is good.'” 

The proximity of the garden to the studios at Stamps makes it easy for classes to step outside and visualize the processes of making their own materials.

Echoing U-M’s commitment to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions universitywide, Trumpey teaches his students to “see the carbon in everything.” 

“If we had to compare a synthetic yellow dye that’s manufactured with some petro chemical, that comes from some distant place, that has a different kind of a carbon footprint than a few students going out to the campus farm and clipping goldenrod heads that have pollinator benefits, honeybee benefits and beauty benefits, and bringing those to the studio to boil in water to make a nice yellow dye out of it—that is a completely different kind of carbon story,” he said.

Since the pandemic, supply chain issues have been a persistent issue across industries, the arts notwithstanding; not being able to access the materials you need can completely halt the artistic process, Trumpey said. But by imparting a sense of resourcefulness, students can feel empowered to continue their practice even in unprecedented times, he said.

“Thinking around questions of sustainability in the sense of how we sustain an art practice in an era of climate change, and knowing that our resources and timelines, and costs of shipping and receiving materials from a global supply chain will be changing, and in some cases suddenly, is important,” Parks said.

A center of gravity

In addition to serving as an integral piece of the holistic artmaking puzzle, another important purpose of the garden is to create space for community.

“Good spaces encourage community—I call them ‘centers of gravity,'” Trumpey said. “We look at this dye garden space as a center of gravity where people could be seeing some beautiful things, thinking about their work, hanging out with friends, drinking a coffee … people gravitate towards beautiful things; having nature as part of that is important. And if it’s a didactic space where students can think, ‘these plants aren’t just pretty, they also have a purpose; I’m making beautiful things out of beautiful things,’ then they really understand the full story.”

Parks said they named the garden the Stamps Sustainable Materials & Color Garden because “it’s going to facilitate a lot of different projects.”

“You can use the plants for dye, for making pigment, watercolors, paints, food coloring, bio materials, making paper, making yarn, but it’s also a site that can be engaged with from the perspective of community development and design,” Parks said.

Dowgillo said that artmaking doesn’t happen in a vacuum. 

“The materials that we use, the way we interact with others in the studio, the audiences for the work that we make, all those things are connected to each other,” he said. “Deepening your understanding of art is deepening your understanding of those connections, and to me that is really important.”

The space is furnished with benches, stools and a table that were built from the historic Tappan Oak. Students milled the oak and utilized indigo harvested from the garden itself to dye the stools blue.

In the future, responsibility of the garden will be taken over by an extracurricular student-based club. They will make planting and growing decisions; plan events, programs and community harvest days; and continue to increase community engagement with the space.  

Stamps classes will engage with the garden on many levels and will have the opportunity to propose ways of using materials for their coursework, suggest workshops that can take place in the garden, and participate in the actual harvesting of materials. 

“Being able to look around your local environment and know how you can connect things together, I think that helps all of us ground our practices—literally and figuratively,” Trumpey said.

Little Amal, symbol of human rights, heads to U-M

ANN ARBOR—Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee child, will be making her way onto the University of Michigan campus as part of a 6,000-mile walk across the U.S. this week.

“This extraordinary event gives us an opportunity to think about how to engage meaningfully and ethically with experiences of disenfranchisement and displacement,” said Sara Blair, vice provost for academic and faculty affairs, and arts and humanities.

The Sept. 23 visit is produced by A2SF in partnership with the Arts Initiative, U-M Museum of Art, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and the Ann Arbor District Library. The afternoon walk begins at 3:30 p.m. on the south side of N. University at Thayer Street. The evening walk begins at 7 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown. The events are open to the public.

“A2SF is thrilled to join the U-M Arts Initiative and our partners in welcoming Little Amal, an international symbol of human rights, to Ann Arbor,” said Mike Michelon, executive director of Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF).

Amal Walks Across America began in Boston Sept. 7 and ends in San Diego Nov. 5. Stops include Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Dearborn, Flint and Chicago. Over nine weeks, Amal will be welcomed by 1,500-plus artists at more than 100 artistic events across 37 towns and cities. 

The project was created by the British production companies The Walk Productions and Good Chance in collaboration with the South African Handspring Puppet Company.

Little Amal’s visit is just one of a range of programs offered as part of the Arts and Resistance theme semester sponsored by the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, U-M Museum of Art and U-M Arts Initiative. As part of a fall course called “Virtual Realities, Actual Worlds,” students will engage Amal Walks America to consider creative immersive experiences and their social and aesthetic impact.

The city of Ann Arbor awarded a Mayoral Proclamation from Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor earlier this month.

ArtPrize 2023 features Stamps alums

Are you making a stop at ArtPrize this year? Art is exhibited in galleries, storefronts, parks, museums, and public spaces throughout Grand Rapids for eighteen days. The event awards over $400,000 directly to artists through popular and juried voting.

Visit Stamps’ site to see a list of alums participating in ArtPrize, which runs from Sept. 14 to Oct. 1, 2023.

Cannupa Hanska Luger ‘GIFTS’ U-M campus with public art installation

Part of ongoing campuswide initiative to challenge university history, reexamine what gets memorialized

The University of Michigan Museum of Art has a new face. 

Across the facade of Alumni Memorial Hall—a neoclassical building that opened in 1910 to commemorate U-M students and staff who served in the Mexican-American, Civil, and Spanish-American wars, and home to UMMA—is the experimental installation, “GIFT,” commissioned by artist Cannupa Hanska Luger. 

“GIFT” is a reference to the 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs, which states that Ottawa, Chippewa and Potawatomi tribes gifted land that was later sold to establish U-M’s endowments and help create its Ann Arbor campus.

To explore the meaning of gifting within both the contexts of colonialism and Indigenous communities, Luger painted the word “GIFT” in white porcelain clay slip on the columns of the building. In the days following, Luger and a team of collaborators will continue to paint around the letters, covering the entire historic facade with a layer of white clay and eventually covering the letters themselves.

Born on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, Luger is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold. According to a statement from his website, Luger creates “monumental installations, sculpture and performance to communicate urgent stories about 21st Century Indigeneity (by combining) critical cultural analysis with dedication and respect for the diverse materials, environments and communities he engages, while provoking diverse audiences to engage with Indigenous peoples and values apart from the lens of colonial social structuring,” 

Luger said the stone of Alumni Memorial Hall is sandstone from Ohio that was quarried and extracted, and rebuilt into a Greek and Romanesque story in Michigan. 

“The architecture itself embeds a history into the campus that was never here,” he said. “It is a monument to civilization and thought and enlightenment; but it is also an imposition and an extraction from the very land that we’re standing on. With ‘GIFT,’ I want to do the same thing, present an imposition drawn from an extraction. 

“Using Kaolin, a white clay from North America, I’m going to resurface the exterior of the Museum, presenting it as white as I think it is. And then in cooperation and relationship with the environment, the weather will remove that thin exterior and re-expose the indigenous stone of the land.”

Through this commission, UMMA opens the door for the campus community to consider the monuments they have inherited and imagine what possible new structures are needed to commemorate histories that have been invisible or underrepresented. 

This is a key example of programming around the U-M theme semester, Arts & Resistance—a cross-campus partnership between UMMA, U-M Arts Initiative and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts—which reflects on how creativity and making can arise out of oppression and destruction.

Symbolism of “GIFT”

With “GIFT,” Luger activates weather and time as co-conspirators, challenging perceptions of permanence in memory, history and even physical structures. The installation embraces the meaning of “gifting” within Indigenous communities, where it signifies the giver’s success, abundance and ability to offer something of value. 

In this way, “GIFT” prompts critical thinking about cultural perspectives and encourages more nuanced thinking about historic storytelling and mythmaking. 

UMMA is also implicated in this essential process, as museums stand as stewards of cultural history and heritage. The use of the white clay slip and its slow dissolution signifies an invitation to dismantle the existing white-centric structures that guide many museum practices. 

You’re welcome

“GIFT” is but one part of “Cannupa Hanska Luger: You’re Welcome,” Luger’s three-part project that examines the history of the land on which U-M sits and its relationship to broader dialogues about land sovereignty, colonialism, memorialization and the cultural perspectives of and implications for Indigenous communities. 

Ozi Uduma, Cannupa Hanska Luger and Paul Farber, co-curators of "You're Welcome"
Ozi Uduma, Cannupa Hanska Luger and Paul Farber, co-curators of “You’re Welcome”

The in-gallery exhibition of “You’re Welcome” creates a dynamic interplay between several of the artist’s sculptural installations and works selected from UMMA’s expansive collection. 

The project also includes the Monument Lab: Public Classroom, which offers a space for dialogue and further contemplation of key themes within “You’re Welcome,” especially the central curatorial question: “How do we remember on this campus?” 

“As we work together with our communities on creating relevant and meaningful artistic experiences, we necessarily need to examine how museums both produce and disseminate shared cultural history—both as it was once told and also as it is being retold today,” said UMMA Director Christina Olsen. “Our collaboration with Cannupa Hanska Luger allows us to reshape the narrative of a building central to our museum and to our campus to reflect a broader, more nuanced and more accurate history that embraces different perspectives and lifts up diverse cultural experiences.” 

“GIFT” was commissioned by UMMA with support from the U-M Arts Initiative. “Cannupa Hanska Luger: You’re Welcome” is curated by Ozi Uduma, UMMA’s assistant curator of global contemporary art​​, and Paul Farber, director and co-founder of Monument Lab and curator-in-residence for the Arts Initiative. It will remain on view through Feb.18, 2024, and is free and open to the public.