Multidisciplinary Northern Cheyenne artist earns fellowship

Multidisciplinary Northern Cheyenne artist earns fellowship

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Bently Spang artwork

"War Shirt #4 — National Sacrifice" by Northern Cheyenne artist Bently Spang, is from his Modern Warrior Series.

A Northern Cheyenne artist is among the recipients of a national fellowship through the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.

Bently Spang is one of 20 artists receiving the award and one of four people chosen for the artistic innovation category.

The other categories were literature, visual arts, music and traditional arts.

The fellowship includes an award of $20,000 to support artists to develop, experiment and expand their works.

Spang won an Artist's Innovation Award from the Montana Arts Council last year.

The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation described Spang's work:

Installation, performance and video artist Bently Spang blends the sacred and the seemingly mundane to interpret the multifaceted nature of contemporary life as an Tsistsistas/Suhtai (Northern Cheyenne) man from his studio in Billings.

Just as his ancestors — or “relatives in the past” — eagerly incorporated European materials into their traditional art forms, Spang employs whatever means or mediums he can to express his visions. His 2017 War Shirt series exemplifies this fusion of past and present. These installation and sculptural pieces take the form of the ancestral war shirt, traditionally believed to empower a warrior to protect his community. Yet Spang’s shirts are a riot of image, video, and sound — modern communications tools that have too often served to oppress, rather than lift up, Native communities. Their incorporation allows the Native artist to deconstruct and reconstruct the medium on a monumental scale.

Spang daringly borrows from the past while relentlessly pursuing the future as a multidisciplinary artist, observing that for generations of Northern Cheyenne artists, “There was this fearlessness about mediums that we don’t really have today.” His work is a direct reclamation of his cultural story while taking back ownership of the photograph and correcting inaccurate and often ridiculous depictions of his people. He is an educator as well, having created and overseen an arts initiative to “ ‘grow’ a new generation of Native voices that can help define our experience from within our community.”

He holds a Master's of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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