Dana Claxton


Dana Claxton © Andrew Querner

Dana Claxton (Hunkpapa Lakota) is a filmmaker, photographer, and performance artist born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, in 1959. She grew up in Moose Jaw and is an enrolled member of the Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation (Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake Lakȟóta Oyáte) in southwestern Saskatchewan. She is a descendant of the band of Hunkpapa Lakota led by Sitting Bull, who sought safe passage into Canada after defeating General George A. Custer and his Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Her genre-spanning and highly versatile practice in film, video, photography, installation, and performance art challenges the oppressive legacies of colonialism, often employing striking critique to reclaim Indigenous history and culture in her investigations of beauty, the body, the socio-political, and the spiritual. She received an MA in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University (2007). Her work has been exhibited at festivals, museums, and galleries internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Walker Art Center, Sundance Film Festival, Vancouver Art Gallery, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, National Gallery of Canada, Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney), Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Images Festival. She is the recipient of numerous awards, fellowships, and grants including the Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art (2007), Best Experimental at imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival (2013), the Scotiabank Photography Award (2020), and a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts (2020). Her work is held in over 60 public and private collections around the world. She has taught in the School of Journalism at the University of Regina, the Department of Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and is currently Head of the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia. She lives and works in Vancouver.

ONLINE SCREENING DATES: January 9 – January 30, 2023

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: I Want to Know Why, 6.5 min, 1994; The Red Paper, 14 min, 1996
This series is co-selected and presented with COUSIN collective and is generously funded by a Digital Now grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

I Want to Know Why, 6.5 min, 1994

The videomaker investigates the women in her family who have succumbed prematurely to external forces of racism and poverty. Using repetition and manipulation of western images of First Nations culture with an at first timid, then demanding voice-over, the video moves through sorrow and indignation with the processes of cultural genocide. – Vtape

The Red Paper, 14 min, 1996

The Red Paper asserts a voice of power and interpretation recounting the devastating consequences of colonialism. The European male wears a straitjacket, repeatedly mumbling “I did not know, I did not know,” in a familiar contemporary mantra that pleads self-proclaimed absolution from guilt by reason of ignorance of history. Claxton irreverently and consciously opts for a lack of historical specificity in favour of a totalizing haunting by history in the present. – Vtape.

Over the past three decades Dana Claxton has become widely known for an expansive, multidisciplinary approach to artmaking that encompasses film, video, photography, and performance that is informed by a remarkable family history and an extraordinarily cosmopolitan range of lived experience. More specifically, her work combines contemporary technologies and aesthetic strategies drawn from disparate idioms—from 1980s music videos to post-conceptual photography—with references to Indigenous cultures, particularly her own Lakota culture, to address the ongoing impact of colonialism on contemporary life while eloquently articulating Indigenous histories, world views, and spirituality. To put it another way, her efforts to make space for the Indigenous subject in the gallery/museum system could be described as “fringing the cube”—an expression that draws upon the practical and metaphysical functions of fringe for the First Peoples of the Great Plains and the performative role Claxton has taken on to create that space. – Grant Arnold

Watch an interview with Dana Claxton at Canada Council for the Arts. 

Read The Art of Dana Claxton: A Prologue at the Media Arts Network of Ontario. 

All stills, photographs, and artwork courtesy Vtape © Dana Claxton. Screening co-presented with Vtape.