Dana Claxton

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Dana Claxton
Born 1959 (age 54–55)
Yorkton, Saskatchewan
Nationality Hunkpapa Lakota
Known for Film, performance, and photography

Dana Claxton (born 1959) is a Hunkpapa Lakota filmmaker, photographer and performance artist. Her work looks at stereotypes, historical context and gender studies of Indigenous peoples of the Americas, specifically those of the First Nations. She works in film, video, photography, multi channel installation, performance. Her artwork explores themes of spirit, self, justice and ideas of Indigenous beauty. In 2007 she was awarded an Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art. VIVA Award from the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Foundation Vancouver Canada, Best Experimental Film Award for He Who Dreams at the ImagineNATIVE Film Festival Toronto, Canada 2013. www.imaginenative.org/


Heritage and early life[edit]

Claxton's family are descendents of Sitting Bull's followers who escaped prosecution by the U.S. Army in 1876 after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, heading to Canada.[1] Growing up in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, she is the youngest of four siblings. Her family's reserve, Wood Mountain Reserve,[2] is located in Southwest Saskatchewan.[1][2][3]

Teaching and video production[edit]

In 2003 she served as the Global Television Chair at the University of Regina where she taught video and sound production at the school of journalism.[2] In 2010 she served as Simon Fraser University's Ruth Wynn Woodward Chair in Women's Studies.[4]

She has directed projects for the Canadian Labour Congress, the National Film Board of Canada, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,The Province of BC and several independent film projects. She served as director and producer for 52 episodes of the Canadian program Wakanheja, a First Nations oriented children's program and 26 episodes of ArtZone, an art show for teenagers - both series were broadcast on APTN - Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. She also served as producer and a storyteller for First Stories-VTV, a current affairs show about Aboriginal issues.[5]

Current life[edit]

When not creating art, Claxton serves on panel discussions, as an art juror, curator, as well as a mentor for young and emerging artists. Claxton lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and is a faculty member at the University of British Columbia.[2][3][6]

Artistic career[edit]

“Dana Claxton’s work is aesthetically innovative, brilliantly written and expertly paced. The thrust of her practice is political, spiritual and social, making it an essential contribution not only to the field of media art, but generally, to a more honest sense of history.” Jason St. Laurent, 2002

Claxton combines her own world-view with Indigenous issues from the past and present. She investigates concerns about colonization, body imagery, beauty, politics, spirituality and the iconography of Native peoples and how it is placed in popular culture. Through video, photography and conceptual projects Claxton strives to blend traditional experiences and environments within contemporary spaces[3][7]

Dana Claxton works in film, video, photography, single and multi channel video installation and performance art. Her practice investigates beauty, the body, the socio-political and the spiritual. Her work has been shown internationally at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), Walker Art Centre, Sundance Film Festival, Eiteljorg Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney, AU) and held in public collections including the Vancouver Art Gallery, National Gallery of Canada, Art Bank of Canada and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. She has received numerous awards including the VIVA Award and the Eiteljorg Fellowship.

Her work was selected for the 17th Biennale of Sydney Biennale (10), de Biennale Montréal (07), Biennale d’art contemporain du Havre, France (06), Micro Wave, Hong Kong (05) Art Star Biennale, Ottawa (05) and Wro 03 Media Arts Biennale Wroclaw Poland (03). She has created commissioned works for the University of Lethbridge Gallery, Alternator Gallery, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Urban Shaman, Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery and Tribe. She has presented talks at the Getty Institute (LA) and the Art College Association (USA) and the Opening Week Forum of the Biennale of Sydney.


Claxton's video creations started in the early 1990s. Experimenting with video in works such as Grant Her Restitution (1991) and I Want To Know Why (1994) where she explores the effects of colonialism on Canadian women. Evolving her artistic goals further, starting in 1996 with The Red Paper, Claxton proceeded to attempt to "bring spirit into the gallery space". Through the blending of the sacred and secular she incorporates traditional objects and symbols of Lakota spirituality in contemporary spaces and environs.[8]


In the series On to the Red Road (2006) Claxton brings together five photographs to take an impactful look on femininity and clothing. Through the series Claxton is shown wearing traditional regalia slowly removing articles of clothing to reveal a sexy outfit, bringing questions of sexuality and gender bias to light.[8]

Paint Up (2009) features portraits of Joseph Paul, a ceremonial Salish Black Face dancer and Pow-wow dancer living on the Musqueam Indian Reserve. Up close, large scale color portraits of Paul with his face painted, these works have been described as "imposing images, striking and cool, throw down a challenge to the sterile, nonspiritual, materialistic view of contemporary life."[8]

Newer works such as the Mustang Suite take a vivid look at the meanings and stereotypes behind Indianess, specifically Black Elk's vision of the Horse Dance. A group of large C-prints, the mustang represents freedom and mobility, and is not necessarily displayed as a horse. Daddy's Gotta New Ride shows an Indigenous man in a black suit with face paint and braided hair, standing next to a red Ford Mustang. Baby Girls Gotta Mustang features twin girls in red dresses and mukluks on bicycles. Another in the series, Mama Has a Pony Girl…Named History and Sets Her Free, shows a medicine woman with her arms outstretched and a Caucasian woman danced like a burlesque pony girl. The image is meant to support Aboriginal women who wish to release themselves from the binds of history, specifically one filled with sexualized stereotypes. Other images in the series are large scale reflections on the Indigenous community in a contemporary world.[9]

Claxton has also focused on the American Indian Movement which features blown up black-and-white photos of declassified government documents about the at times controversial civil rights organization. The documents were collected when Claxton lived in New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s, from the New York Public Library. The reporting documents have many blacked out words, notorious of other government documents from the FBI and related organizations.[9]

Major works[edit]

Buffalo Bone China[edit]

An American bison

In Buffalo Bone China Claxton blends performance art, found objects and video to dissect the effects upon First Nations peoples due to policies from colonial Great Britain regarding the American bison. Bison were slaughtered and their bones crushed and exported to England to make bone china.

In the performance Claxton smashes pieces of china and makes four bundles, placing the bundles in a sacred circle while a video of buffalo plays in the background. "Feeling the loss of the buffalo, the backbone of Plains spirituality and sustenance, the artist uses a rubber mallet to destroy plates and bowls. The breaking of the china refers to the use of buffalo bones in the making of bone china during the period of exploitation and decimation of the buffalo."[10]

Sitting Bull and the Moose Jaw Sioux[edit]

Created in 2003 and exhibited at the 17th Biennale of Sydney, Sitting Bull and the Moose Jaw Sioux brings together landscape scenery, interviews and images to examine the founding of the Moose Jaw camp, the camp founded by Sitting Bull after exodus out of the United States after the Battle of Little Bighorn. The piece, originally commissioned by the Moose Jaw Art Gallery, features four video screens, archival images and interviews from the camps original inhabitants, as well as footage of the site.[8]

Notable collections[edit]

National Gallery of Canada Moose Jaw Art Gallery University of Lethbridge Art Gallery The Audian Collection Private Collections International Library Collections (single channel video works) Art Bank of Canada Winnipeg Art Gallery Vancouver Art Gallery Kamloops Art Gallery SASK Arts Board

Major exhibitions[edit]

Indian Candy, Winsor Gallery, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria 2014 Indian Candy - billboards across Canada 2014 BEAT NATION, Vancouver Art Gallery, and galleries across Canada Biennale of Sydney 2010,


  1. ^ a b Kristin Dowell (2005). "Exploring the Sacred in Aboriginal Performance Art". Short articles. E-Misferica. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d "About the Artist". Dana Claxton. Artsask. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d Dana Claxton. "Dana Claxton". Visual Arts Faculty. University of British Columbia. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  4. ^ "Images of Native Women". Simon Fraser University. 2010. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  5. ^ "2003–2004 Dana Claxton". The Global Network Visiting Chair. University of Regina. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  6. ^ "Art documents". Top Artists. The Artists. 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  7. ^ Monika Kin Gagnon. "Indigenous (re)memory and resistance: video works by Dana Claxton.". The Free Library. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "DANA CLAXTON". Artist. Biennale of Sydney. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  9. ^ a b Robin Laurence (2010). "Dana Claxton’s new interdisciplinary work is a cultural mashup". Visual Arts Review. Straight. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  10. ^ Willard (2007). "Buffalo Bone China". Homelands. Arts Ask. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 

External links[edit]