Indigenous Roots presents new “Reclaimed Spaces” graffiti exhibit

The exhibit will be on display starting April 3 at the Indigenous Roots Cultural Art Center in St. Paul.

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Emily Pofahl

Thomasina Topbear poses for a portrait in front of her mural in the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center in St. Paul on Monday, March 15. Topbear is a part of City Mischief Murals, a BIPOC artist collective that plans and creates murals in the Twin Cities area.

Megan Phillips, Arts and Entertainment Reporter

Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center has a new exhibit coming out on April 3 called “Reclaimed Spaces” that features graffiti from Native artists.

The exhibit is a partnership between Indigenous Roots and City Mischief Murals, a collective of BIPOC artists that creates murals in the Twin Cities.

“Reclaimed Spaces” reflects on what it means to reclaim land, sovereignty and what the future looks like for Indigenous artists within the modern graffiti subculture.

Thomasina Topbear, the curator of the exhibition, said she hopes to educate people about Indigenous graffiti art because its history is often unknown. Topbear’s tribal affiliation is Oglala Lakota/Santee Dakota.

She said graffiti is especially important to Native youth experiencing homelessness and other circumstances because it “gives them an outlet and tools to take up space on their stolen homelands.”

Topbear said she made the theme broad because she didn’t want to limit artists’ experiences, allowing them to take up space in their own way.

The art featured focuses on a variety of issues including Land Back, genocide and loss of culture, among others.

Miskitoos, whose tribal affiliation is Marten Falls Anishinaabe First Nation and Constance Lake Oji-Cree First Nation and who asked to be referred only by her Native name for privacy reasons, is a member of City Mischief Murals who will be featured in the exhibit. She said Indigenous folx have a long history of marking the land to tell their stories. Her ancestors used to paint on rocks and caves to preserve their history and graffiti is a modern version of this practice.

The exhibit creates a safe space to portray the struggles of Indigenous people while also highlighting the resilience and beauty of their culture, she said.

“Art and graffiti are healing,” Miskitoos said. “It has been used by many of us as a coping skill to deal with all of the historical and generational trauma.”

To her, the theme of reclaiming land means her generation reuniting with their languages, songs, ceremonies, clan systems, healing and medicine after years of the U.S. government attempting to assimilate their people.

Maryanne Quiroz, the co-director of Indigenous Roots, said their partnership with City Mischief is like a “village friendship” with each organization willing to help each other in whatever way they can, such as providing funding and other resources.

“We highlight and elevate each others’ work,” Quiroz said.

The event will take place in the area known as Imniza Ska, or “white cliffs,” by the Dakota people.

There will be a limited number of people allowed in the gallery space at a time and social distancing and the use of masks are required. While waiting outside, guests can enjoy live painting and music from DJ Micah Prairie Chicken.

Artist tribal affiliations include the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Ho-Chunk Nation, St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, Oglala Sioux Tribe and Santee Dakota, among others.

What: Reclaimed Spaces Exhibit
When: April 3, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: 788 E. Seventh St., St. Paul, MN 55106
Cost: Free