“Indigenous philosophies, and Dakota philosophy in particular, [are] not well known or understood. And so, when I have the opportunity to talk to people about it through my artwork, I see that light bulb come on,” says multimedia artist Erin Genia SM ’19, who is Dakota, an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. “It’s wonderful to have those interactions and to be able to really connect.”
A performance artist, painter, and sculptor, Genia also embraces traditional Dakota art forms, such as beadwork and the carving of sacred stone (pipestone). Whatever the media, Genia works to address social issues such as climate change and institutional racism.
“In this world that we live in, Indigenous people’s philosophies are often erased or targeted for erasure,” she says. “One of the things that’s really important for me in my work is to counter this Western cultural supremacy that has placed Western fine art in a category above Indigenous art.”
Genia came to MIT in 2017 as a graduate student in the Art, Culture, and Technology program, and in 2018 exhibited her sound sculpture Acoustic Tipi at the Venice Architecture Biennale. “The piece is meant to be sort of a collective prayer around climate change and thinking of how people can come together to address this issue,” she says.
Other pieces from her time at MIT include Sound Vessels―which channels sound through clay pieces, underscoring the connection between earth and air―and Earthling. “Earthling is my performative character that consists of a mask and sort of like a dress that is painted with the Earth on it,” she says. The goal of the piece is to convey a fundamental Dakota belief: “Not only are we just on the Earth, but we’re actually part of the Earth’s body. We are the Earth,” she says.
Hear more about Genia’s artwork in this MITAA video.