Today, I watched Bunky Echo-Hawk create a modern Native American portrait in an hour on the steps of the Portland Art Museum. He did this while talking to the crowd, answering questions from people who walked up to him on stage and listening to one of the most eclectic music soundtracks I’ve ever heard.
After a brief introduction about himself and the plight of Native peoples to be heard and seen and acknowledged as a viable, living, working, creative part of humanity, Bunky asked the audience to reflect on the Native American fashion exhibit currently on display inside the museum. From their comments, he began to paint. It was nothing short of spectacular to watch him create and interact with the audience at the same time.
As the hour and the painting came to its end, Bunky had not yet drawn a mouth on the face. He asked us – the audience – what we thought about adding a mouth, or not. He said he was thinking of writing a word in place of the mouth and asked for suggestions. People yelled out: Pride, Unify, Power, One, Inspired, and many more. It came down to a tie between Power and Unify.
Then he asked the simple question: “Which is more important, Power or Unity?”
With a loud chorus, the audience claimed Unity.
Bunky’s interactive live painting exhibition was preceded by Sacred Poets, a group of Native American youth in Portland performing spoken-word poetry. Their words were powerful, raw, real, moving. They made me reconsider the way we European Americans have treated Native Americans and the long-reaching impact of our actions on generation upon generation of people. Ripped from their sacred places, cultures and livelihoods long ago, these Native Americans are struggling to protect their cultural identity, enhance the talents and lives of their youth, regain sovereignty and be heard as voices that matter.
The exhibition and performance was made possible by Nike’s N7 Fund – a Nike Native American Business whose proceeds directly support sports and active lifestyles of Native American populations.