Cannupa Hanska Luger melds past and future in an Amarillo Museum of Art exhibition that pays tribute to millions of massacred Plains bison.
Cannupa Hanska Luger: Reunion
September 17–December 31, 2022
Amarillo Museum of Art
Driving up to Amarillo from Lubbock, you pass through broad expanses of cotton fields stretching to the horizon, dotted with errant oil pumps. The flat sweep of the Llano Estacado gives way finally to some undulation in the topography, where ravines stretch out to the east toward Palo Duro Canyon. To the west, a dry arroyo would take you to a wildlife preserve at Buffalo Lake—where there is no longer a lake, nor any buffalo.
This landscape has been irreparably, unrecognizably altered. Even the few patches of remaining unplowed prairie don’t show us what this land might have been like—because of the absence of the bison.
It is this absence that artist Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota) memorializes, mourns, and honors in his solo exhibition at the Amarillo Museum of Art.
In this exhibition, Luger’s work explicitly deals with the devastation and loss visited upon Indigenous peoples and the environment by colonization, while setting forth dreams of imaginative, transformative, resilient futures. That this work is situated in Amarillo, considering the historical, political, and cultural landscape of West Texas, is significant. Spanning the three-story atrium of the museum is an installation of an upside-down tipi, suggesting that the narrative is usually told the wrong way around.
In Transmutation (2022), two glass bison skulls containing the byproducts of the mass annihilation of the animal—calcium carbonate and “bone black” pigments—are joined by a long linen sheet bearing hundreds of footprints, a multitude signified by mere traces. A field recording of a natural gas flare from an oil well hisses in the background. When the air conditioning kicks in, the sheet quivers slightly, ghost-like.
Luger does not linger on the ghosts of the past, however. The work encompasses, inhabits, and connects past, present, and future, with much of the exhibition drawn from the artist’s ongoing speculative science fiction-based series Future Ancestral Technologies. This includes seven soft suits of regalia composed of felt strips, repurposed knit afghans, deconstructed leather jackets, hockey gear, and other materials, with bison-horn silhouettes. Like suits of armor, the colorful regalia draw visual and conceptual comparisons to predecessors like Nick Cave and Rammellzee, and contemporary peers like Saya Woolfalk, whose Empathics series likewise engages in sci-fi world-building as a narrative for liberation. A connecting thread between these futurist practices is a sense of revelation in adornment, and of joy.
Luger asks of his audience two things: to reckon with the violence and theft of the past, and to dream of the future.