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Elisa Harkins: Ekvnv (Land), the Sacred Mother from Which We Came

July 12 @ 6:00 pm - October 20 @ 3:00 pm


With this exhibit, Elisa Harkins looks at land in two different ways: a path toward healing due to the desecration of burial mounds in New Harmony, Indiana and how the Land Back movement addresses climate change. Harkins, a multi-disciplinary artist based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Tube Factory curator Shauta Marsh researched and worked on this exhibit for five years as part of Big Car Collaborative’s decade-long research project, Social Alchemy, that explores utopia and dystopia with an emphasis on the southern Indiana town of New Harmony that was twice the site of utopian experiments.

In the Main Gallery, Harkins draws attention to settler desecration of Indigenous mounds in the unmarked “Harmonist Cemetery” in New Harmony. When the Harmonists purchased the land in the early 1800s, they dug up the Indigenous burial mounds, collecting what they considered interesting items for their Cabinet of Curiosities. They then buried their dead over the native people’s remains. When the Harmonists sold the town to industrialist Robert Owen for his rationalist utopian attempt, the Harmonists took apart their church and used the brick to enclose the mounds with a wall. Today, the burial mounds are not acknowledged on signage for the cemetery.

Harkins brings light to this history and offers healing through the Spirit Houses. These are structures built that provide a protective shelter over the grave of their deceased relative. Harkins could not build them in the “Harmonist Cemetery.” So the photographic wall mural and Spirit Houses in the Main Gallery serve as a temporary monument to the native people buried there.

Through the 24 photographs on the wall surrounding the Spirit Houses,(also known as Grave Houses) Harkins tells the story of the mounds in New Harmony to demonstrate not only settler violence against Indigenous land and bodies but also the presence of multiple tribes at sacred burial sites across time. In examining multiple histories of mounds, Harkins interrogates whether Indigenous lands belong to one people alone, And her investigation prompts viewers to examine their own ties to land through time — in their lost ancestral cultures, as well as in contemporary society.

The Tear Dress on the north wall of the gallery is one Harkins wears in many photos and in her work in the video room. Cherokee women traditionally wore this dress in the Southeast in the early 1800s. Indian Removal began to take place during this time period in Indiana (land of the Indians). This is also around the time Harmonists sought to build a sort of religious utopia in the town they named New Harmony.

In the video room, Harkins shares a piece on the 200-year-old song,“Hesaketv Meset Likes or The One Who Gives us Breath.” Though the singing takes place in the present, Harkins seeks to move the audience through time, preserving culture by bringing this new knowledge of ourselves to the forefront.

Leading by example with her works, Harkins uses her Indigenous body as an extension of Ekvnv, the mother from which she came. This embodies critical reflection on deep human connections to ancestral lands across time and place. Her cultural references to ancient mounds with intersectional tribal histories — as well as contemporary tribally-specific structures such as Spirit Houses — probe the meanings of “Indigenous” identity and question whether individual tribal nations will participate in intersectional freedom for all Indigenous peoples.

In the Jeremy Efroymson Gallery, Elisa Harkins shares images, sound, and sculpture that invoke definitions of tribal sovereignty — centering land and its protection. Amid a contemporary Indigenous landscape in which tribal activities vary between cultural revitalization efforts and extractive practices at times complicit with capitalist structures, Harkins calls for land protection above all. This shows viewers that the return of Indigenous land protection practices, along with language and cultural revitalization, are inevitable outcomes on Turtle Island (some Indigenous American tribes refer to North America as Turtle Island).

Harkins often encounters tornado shelters for sale alongside the roads in Oklahoma. While dangerous tornadoes traditionally occur in the summer months, recent years have seen an alarming rise in winter tornadoes. By using the image of these Tornado Shelters, she aims to raise awareness about the increasing destruction and loss of life caused by climate change. The shelters, placed in the ground or Ekvnv, serve as a metaphor for the Muscogee origin story, symbolizing their emergence from the earth at the beginning of their civilization.

The light sculptures are in English, Cherokee, and Muscogee words:
Este Cate Ekvnv Okharoces
You Are on Indian Land

The music playing in the Jeremy Efroymson Gallery honors communities destroyed and lives lost through human created climate change. She composed this piece for the tornado shelter sculpture to serve as a poignant tribute to the lives lost, communities disrupted, and environmental imbalances exacerbated by human negligence.

“Land Back means all land back,” said Harkins, who sees Indigenous political projects such as language revitalization as, most of all, an empowering force for protecting Ekvnv (Land), the Sacred Mother from which we came. In Harkins’ works, she calls for definitions of tribal sovereignty which center land protection over individual political claims to place. She intervenes in narratives of singular or strongest connections of tribal claims to mounds in favor of historical narratives where tribal interrelations connect more peoples to more lands for the purpose of building solidarities of responsibility and care for Indigenous land.

In Ekvnv, Harkins calls for universal participation in and attention to the return of Indigenous land to Indigenous hands, inviting viewers to reckon with the power imbalances that continue between settler colonial structures and Indigenous historical worlds. To Harkins, sovereignty includes care for all–from health care to land protection that reaches worldwide, just as the Sacred Mother receives care from all.

The exhibition is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Efroymson Family Fund, Ruth Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and a printing partnership with Aurora PhotoCenter.

The artist wishes to thank:

Ian Byers-Gamber
Mark Kuykendall
Don Tiger
Brose Partington

About Harkins
Elisa Harkins is a Native American (Cherokee/Muscogee) artist, singer, electronic music composer, and curator based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her work is concerned with translation, language preservation, and Indigenous musicology. Harkins uses the Cherokee and Mvskoke languages, electronic music, sculpture, and the body as her tools. She is the first person to sing a contemporary song in the Cherokee language. Harkins received a BA from Columbia College, Chicago, and an MFA from CalArts. She has since continued her education at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She has exhibited her work at Crystal Bridges, documenta 14, The Hammer Museum, The Heard Museum, and MoMA.
In 2020, she created the Indigenous concert series 6 Moons and published a CD of Muscogee/Seminole Hymns. She is also the DJ of Mvhayv (ma-hi-ya) Radio, an Indigenous radio show on 99.1FM in Indianapolis, IN. Radio III / ᎦᏬᏂᏍᎩ ᏦᎢ (ga-wo-ni-s-gi tso-i) is a dance performance that features music and choreography by Harkins. With support from PICA and Western Front, songs from the performance have been collected into a double LP, which can be found on Harkins’ Bandcamp. Harkins resides on the Muscogee Reservation and is an enrolled member of the Muscogee Nation.

About Tube Factory artspace: Tube Factory is a contemporary art campus and community center. There are four galleries on the campus, two are commissioning galleries. Admission is free. It’s also home base for Big Car Collaborative’s work across Indianapolis and beyond. Tube Factory features rotating exhibits, interactive projects, community space, a reference library, an outdoor gathering space, and much more to find through exploring. Tube Factory is an independent, noncommercial, nonprofit public place. Big Car Collaborative brings art to people and people to art, sparking creativity in lives to support communities. As an artist-run nonprofit organization, we utilize tools of culture and creativity to build community and social cohesion — connecting people as a way to boost quality of life. We support our community by supporting artists.
Much of our work happens on a single block where we own or co-own more than 20 properties — including a long-term affordable housing program for artists and Tube Factory — a contemporary art museum with a cafe, studios, and community space. At our campus of adaptive reuse buildings and public greenspace, we host community and cultural programs to promote social connectivity, cooperation, and creativity.
We also facilitate people-focused placemaking and place keeping projects across the city and beyond through Spark. Tune in to our experimental, community-focused radio station, WQRT 99.1 FM — also streaming at wqrt.org.

About Social Alchemy:With this multifaceted, multiyear project, Indianapolis-based arts organization Big Car Collaborative — with our partners, the University of Southern Indiana, Historic New Harmony, the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art and others –– have created a series of radio shows, exhibits, and conversations exploring, learning, and sharing how utopia has informed places and pursuits over time.

Conceived by Big Car co-founders Shauta Marsh and Jim Walker and artist and philanthropist Jeremy Efroymson, Social Alchemy explores historical and contemporary examples of utopian experiments, fictional utopias and dystopias, and social and cooperative-living design projects (linking back to our affordable artist housing program on our block in Indianapolis). Through a variety of public programs — first made possible with support from Indiana Humanities and Efroymson Family Fund — it offers a deeper understanding of the relationship between the built environment and social good. We all grapple with divides in society and real-life examples of dystopia (shootings, mass incarceration, ecological degradation) and utopia (experiments such as co-living communities that make people demonstrably happier). This project is about exploring historical and contemporary real-world examples of utopian experiments and social design projects as well as theoretical and fictional utopias and dystopias. Our goal is for the impact of Social Alchemy to be a deeper understanding — via history, literature, and the philosophy of art, design, and architecture — of the relationship between the built environment and social good.

About Indiana and Tribal Land (from the Indiana.Gov website)
There are two tribes that have land in Indiana. However there are many other tribal members of other federally recognized tribes that live in Indiana, approximately, 25,000.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi receive a small portion of their land back from their removal in Indiana. The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi is a federally recognized tribe. It is one of 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States. The Bureau of Indian Affairs contacted Chairman John Warren to state that their tribe, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi had been approved on November 18, 2016 to receive 166 acres of land in trust in South Bend, Indiana. The tribe successfully put a few housing units and tribal government buildings to assist their tribal members living in Indiana. It also built a 175,000 square foot and 1,800 Class II gaming devices, four restaurants, a player’s lounge, a coffee shop, two bars, a retail outlet and approximately 4,500 parking spaces including an enclosed parking structure. For more information, visit: http://www.pokagon.com/government/indiana-land-restoration

The second tribe that has land in Indiana is the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. The tribe was given land to put a Cultural Extension Office for their tribal members living in Indiana to attend specific gatherings, ceremonies and education events at this office located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. For more information, visit: http://miamination.com/thpo
Please note that many other tribal members from other federally recognized tribes living in Indiana such as Apache, Cherokee, Navajo, Comanche, Lakota Sioux, etc.


July 12 @ 6:00 pm
October 20 @ 3:00 pm
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Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St.
Indianapolis, IN 46203 United States
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