Visual Artist Andrea Carlson shares the stories behind her latest UMMA art installment at the Michigan Theater Thursday night. Maria Deckmann/Daily. Buy this photo.

University of Michigan students and Ann Arbor residents alike lined Liberty Street waiting to fill the Michigan Theater for the latest installment in the Penny Stamps Speaker Series featuring Andrea Carlson, a Chicago-based visual artist who identifies as Ojibwe and features Indigenous cultures in her art to call upon institutions to support Indigenous land rights. 

The ground floor of the theater was almost entirely full during Carlson’s presentation while others watched the event online. Carlson’s exhibit, Future Cache,is currently on display at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). It includes a 40-foot-tall memorial wall and will be at the UMMA through summer 2024.

Jennifer Friess, associate curator at the UMMA, opened the talk by introducing Carlson and highlighting her past achievements —  her work has been featured in both national and international collections. Carlson also received the Joan Mitchell Painters & Sculptors grant, a national award, in 2017. 

Carlson spoke about her background, career, artwork and how her art at the UMMA calls attention to the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. She said Indigenous people were evicted from their homes in 1900 and the effect of the generational trauma is still being felt in Indigineous communities today.

“In the early morning hours of October 15, 1900, a number of men were evicted from at least 77 homes,” Carlson said. “This is a really hard story. It belongs to the Burt Lake people. Part of Indigenous people’s experience is this feeling of separation and this feeling of being cut apart into bits and pieces … Taking us from our land, taking all our children. It’s a colonial tactic that is meant to sever us from ourselves.”

Carlson said she still hopes the Burt Lake tribe and others who have experienced similar trauma will be able to heal. She said while most people think about healing as something that happens in the future, she sees healing as something that can start here and now. 

“When I was thinking about what I was going to put together, I was thinking about the idea of wholeness, the idea of belonging,” Carlson said. “People are constantly thinking that in the future there will be some healing and some repair, but … we shouldn’t wait for the future.”

Carlson moved on to introduce her friend, poet Mark Turcotte, a member of the Chippewa tribe. She invited him to the stage to recite an original poem entitled “A Very Distant Drumming” based on a combination of stories of the Burt Lake people and a dream Turcotte had of his father. Turcotte said listening to Carlson’s presentation inspired him to think about the impact of her work and the responsibility everyone has towards supporting Indigienous rights.

“While Andrea was speaking, I was becoming more and more aware of what is going on, and that is the awesome responsibility and care that is required to do what she is doing on behalf of the Burt Lake people,” Turcotte said. “People always say, ‘What can I do to help people?’ These are the kinds of things you can do to help. Don’t tell their story. Help them tell their story.”

Law School student Tim Devine told The Michigan Daily that he thinks it is important for the campus  community to attend events like these and to see Carlson’s artwork because it depicts the ways in which the Burt Lake Band were wrongfully stripped of their land.

“I think it’s important for … the University of Michigan community to understand that they are part of a community that is complicit in the continued wrongful possession of land that was violently taken, and people should go see the art to get a more emotional sense for what the band may be denied by that continuing wrong,” Devine said.

Ethriam Brammer, who identifies as Chicano and serves as the assistant dean of Rackham, attended the event. He told The Daily it is important for students and community members to be a part of conversations about Indigienous tribes, the abuse they have suffered in the past and how tribes are working to heal.

“I think public art is an incredible platform to talk about important social issues and the tragedy of Burt Lake and being able to raise visibility about that tragic event in history is really important, so I’m glad that UMMA has brought this exhibition to campus, so we can engage in this important conversation and the trauma that it has caused,” Brammer said.

Daily News Contributor Sneha Dhandapani can be reached at sdhanda@umich.edu.