Sky Hopinka, Mnemonics of Shape and Reason (still), 2021 / Courtesy of the artist 
Sky Hopinka: Subterranean Ceremonies
Feb 17 – May 26, 2024
FRYE Art Museum
Seattle, USA

Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk Nation/Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, born 1984, Ferndale, Washington) layers imagery and poetic prose to create art that foregrounds relationships between communities, landscape, and language. His work intermingles English and Indigenous dialects such as Chinuk Wawa, a revived Chinookan creole of the Pacific Northwest, to consider how language shapes perception of place and acts as a container of culture. This presentation – the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the Northwest – features four recent films and new photographs that focus on personal and political notions of Indigenous homeland.

Growing up in Washington State, far from his ancestral tribal lands in the Midwest and Southwest regions, Hopinka traveled the western powwow circuit with his parents. These foundational experiences of itinerancy and, as the artist describes, making a “home nonetheless,” continue to influence his artistic practice. The films in Subterranean Ceremonies revolve around transit and life on the road, a liminal zone the artist embraces as a space of community and knowledge production. Mnemonics of Shape and Reason (2021), for example, layers disjointed, often hypersaturated landscapes to ruminate on relationships of memory and place, while The Island Weights (2021) narrates a journey along the boundaries of Ho-Chunk homelands in search of four water spirits from the tribe’s creation story.

The photographs in the exhibition glimpse disparate locations linked through the artist’s travels and include etched phrases drawn from stories, songs, and his own poetry. Guided by an impulse to wander, Hopinka’s artmaking defies ethnographic conventions and privileges Indigenous-centered approaches to storytelling.

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