September 23rd marked the beginning of ArtPrize Seven, a notable international art competition hosted by the City of Grand Rapids in Michigan. The ArtPrize festivities feature a 19-day competition, where more than 200 business and art venues host entries like photography, paintings, sculptures, and installations. Each year, hundreds of artists compete in four categories—two-dimensional, three-dimensional, installation and time based—for over $500,000 in prizes. The prizes are awarded through a multi-stage process comprised of public voting, and the scoring of entries by a panel of art experts.
This year, Dr. Dylan Miner, a Wiisaakodewinini Métis artist, was selected as one of the artists to make the 2015 ArtPrize Jurors’ Shortlist for the ArtPrize Three-Dimensional Category. Miner is one of only 20 artists to make the Jurors’ Shortlist. His sculpture entry, titled Anishinaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag(Native Kids Ride Bikes), features four bicycles mounted on individual platforms. The entry was created in conjunction with Native youth artists, and as a result, the materials and colors used to adorn each of the bikes reflect the unique tribal heritages of the youth artists. Miner describes the overall purpose of the exhibit as a symbolic representation of traditional migratory practices of North American Native people, as well as Native people’s contemporary need for sustainable transportation options.
Anishinaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag has garnered a significant amount of attention on social media under the hashtag #NativeKidsRideBikes, which spurred my initial desire to view the entry. Currently, Anishinaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag is housed on the second floor of the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It is one of only a handful of entries selected to be featured in the museum. Additionally, Miner’s piece was the only entry by an indigenous artist that I came across at the event.
As soon as I stepped foot on the second floor of the industrial loft space at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, my eyes were instantly drawn to Anishinaabensag Biimskowebshkigew. It would be an understatement to say that Miner’s work shined above the other entries that I viewed at ArtPrize. Rather, a more honest description is that Native Kids Ride Bikes was the heart of the museum space—to the point of outstaging the other art entries surrounding it. Simply stated: it is a stunning piece.
Native Kids Ride Bikes is a creative and edgy embodiment of Native youth culture (as defined by its use of a monochromatic color scheme for the bikes, and their placement on understated platforms). Even with its contemporary feel, Anishinaabensag Biimskowebshkigew still manages to honor traditional values, with each bike being an artistic manifestation of one of the four directions and by having distinctive tribal-specific stylings. Furthermore, each bike displays a thoughtful use of indigenous craftsmanship and materials (including hide, fur, feathers, and beadwork). The red bike embodies warmth with its bright colors, and a painted hand drum on the back of the saddle. The black and gold bike with horsehair handlebars is reminiscent of the setting sun or the conclusion of a long journey. The white bike exudes the plush white of winter with its fur saddle, and beadwork woven throughout the bicycle spokes. Finally, the yellow bike features soft dawn tones with hide detailing.
Thematically, Anishinaabensag Biimskowebshkigew attempts to connect historical indigenous narratives to contemporary political and social issues. In my opinion, Miner’s entry is exceptional because of its dynamic representation of contemporary indigenous art forms.