Khe Sapa

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Khe Sapa
clay
14.5” x 20” x 6”
2015

Growing up in the Black Hills of South Dakota, my concept of “Indian” formed early on: unprivileged as we were, we employed an Indian cleaning lady, Elizabeth Fasthorse, a wizen, old lady who spent as many weeks absent as she did in service. And my father took Indians as clients to help pay the mortgage, although payment to him often took the form of tomahawks and ghost shirts whose ignominious provenance, thus, included being passed to an Irish American lawyer in hopes of release from the drunk cell or dismissal of an assault charge, our home, museum-like with Indian artifacts, our mailbox brimming with bills.

Years and miles distant, I began reading the history of Native Americans, now knowing that I had earlier encountered symptoms of a scourge so deep as must be denied, allowing the American narrative to survive unsullied.

The critical pivot point for me was reading Charles C. Mann’s books, 1491 and 1493, recommended to me by Lincoln Mudd, a professor at Montgomery College and a Smithsonian Fellow that year. The act of which birthed my Native American series:

Khe Sapa
In the Sioux Treaty of 1868, the United States government granted several tribes rights to the Black Hills of South Dakota as part of the Great Sioux Reservation. Six years later, General George A. Custer led an expedition through the Black Hills during which miners discovered gold. Within four years, the United States had confiscated the Black Hills, breaking the treaty and what little trust existed. Rights to these lands continue in dispute today.

By the early 1920’s, a South Dakota state historian hoping to encourage tourism engaged the interest of Gutzon Borglum in carving a monument from one of the hills in this range. Borglum chose Mt. Rushmore, so fittingly named for an attorney who assessed mining claims in the 1880’s. To commemorate our nation’s first 150 years and to draw vacationers on a national scale, Borglum carved four Presidents’ likenesses in this hard granite. He “…built into, cut into, the crust of this earth so that those records would have to melt or by wind be worn to dust before the record…could, as Lincoln said, ‘perish from the earth.’”

I created Khe Sapa, (Lakota for Black Hills) to transform the known monument into a more just commemoration of Native American leaders. Currently realized as a rubber mold, it is to be cast in ice, that its temporal existence can be as fleeting as Mt. Rushmore’s granite countenances are permanent.

-Suzanne

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