UIMA exhibit uses bicycles as a vehicle of expression

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Friday, March 15, 2013

An exhibition of lowrider bicycles designed and constructed with the help of indigenous youth from Michigan is on display now through July 28 in the Black Box Theater of the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus.

Closeup of bicycle handlebars with a turtle shell attached
Detail on a bike, including a turtle shell.

“Anishnaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag (Native Kids Ride Bikes)” is the work of Dylan Miner, an art and art history professor from Michigan State University. It is sponsored by the UI Museum of Art (UIMA) as part of its contemporary Native American art offering organized by UIMA curator Catherine Hale in collaboration with Sarah Kanouse, assistant professor of intermedia and Steve McGuire, professor of design, both in the UI School of Art and Art History.

“The material is in some ways very obvious and in other ways very subtle,” says UIMA director Sean O’Harrow. “The bicycles are vehicles in communicating specific ideas—pardon the pun! Some visitors will not see certain aspects and issues because of the nature of the material. This is all good, for our mission is to provide intellectually challenging material and to educate people in new areas of thought.”

The project, which began in 2010, is a collaboration involving indigenous youth in middle and high school, non-Native Michigan State University students, and Native artists who came together to construct a series of seven lowrider bicycles, guided by the sacred Anishinaabeg teachings known as Niizhwaaswi G’mishomisinaani, or Our Seven Grandfathers.

The teachings, shown in pennants that are part of the exhibition, include the concepts of Nbwaakaawin (wisdom), Zaagi’idiwin (love), Minaadendamowin (respect), Aakwa’ode’ewin (bravery), Debwewin (truth), Dibaadendiziwin (humility), and Gw ekwaadiziwin (honesty).

“The exhibition features the series of seven lowrider bicycles that signify the grandfathers’ teachings, propose alternative indigenous histories and subjectivities and provoke us to think about sustainable modes of transportation,” Miner says. “Drawing on the importance of hip hop within the urban Native community, the lowrider bicycle serves as an ideal site of investigation as it allows young collaborators to bring their knowledge to a cross-generational project.”

He adds: “The lowrider bicycles have become the impetus to explore issues of migration, mobility, labor, economics, and community history for urban American Indians in Michigan. Of specific importance is the fusion of Native youth culture with traditional stories, knowledge, and art making. The bicycle is construed as a post-modern evocation of the Red River cart, a common and important marker of Métis identity and symbol of migration.”

Exhibition sponsors are Ruth Ann W. and John L. Bentler, Nancy J. Richardson and Charles J. Krogmeier, and Joyce P. and W. Richard Summerwill.

The UI School of Art and Art History is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For more information on the UIMA, visit the website.