Bently Spang (USA)
Artist in Residence 2022
Bently Spang (born 1960) is a Northern Cheyenne multidisciplinary artist, writer, and curator. His work has been exhibited widely in North America, South America, and Europe. The University of Wyoming's American Indian Study Program named Spang its "Eminent Artist in Residence" for the spring semester of 2014. He was awarded the Montana Arts Council Artist's Innovation Award in 2017 and has recently received the 2018 National Artist Fellowship from the Native Arts and Culture Foundation.
Bently Spang’s work is a direct reclamation of his cultural story while taking back ownership of the photograph and correcting inaccurate and often ridiculous depictions of his people. He is an educator as well, having created and overseen an arts initiative to “‘grow’ a new generation of Native voices that can help define our experience from within our community.”
Museum collections include the Denver Art Museum, National Museum of the American Indian and the Montclair Art Museum.
We’ve Always Been Here and We’re Still Here (2022)
Bently Spang (Tsitsistas/Suhtai, aka Northern Cheyenne)
Materials: Lodgepole pine, rope, graphite.
Dimensions: 125’ x 50’ x 42’
This piece is a celebration of the resilience, tenacity and brilliance of Native peoples in surviving the settler colonialists that sought to eradicate them. I challenge the ongoing settler colonialist narrative of ’The West’ that reduces the experience of Native peoples to a single tipi (or ve eh as my people call it) on a hill or a single slumped over warrior on horseback. Both versions mis-define us as cultures teetering on the edge of extinction. To counter this I bring a mass of ve eh tripods together to reflect the truth: Native peoples are still here, always have been, always will be. There are 574 federally recognized tribal nations in the US and more that aren’t federally recognized. In Montana there are 7 reservations and at least 12 tribal nations.
The 3-pole tripod form that is central to the structure of this piece is also the first step in putting up a ve eh for my nation. It is the structural heart of our ve eh which is one of the most stable architectural forms in the world. The ve eh tripod in this work represents a new beginning, something Native nations have been forging for thousands of years on this continent. We have always planned for the future, embraced the present, and respected the past.
I tied the ve eh tripods together to show the interconnectedness of Native peoples and the braids formed by the tying represents the individuality of my relatives in the past. The words I wrote inside the piece are the attributes that have helped us to survive and prosper and the names are a tribute to recently lost relatives that possessed these attributes. I placed the piece strategically so it would be the first thing that visitors see when they enter the park, a reminder that Native peoples are, and always will be, the first human beings on this continent.