October 26, 2022 (San Francisco, CA) – Gray Area is pleased to share that Mohawk multimedia artist Skawennati is a recipient of the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions for Media Arts, announced today by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. As a commissioning organization, Gray Area will partner with Skawennati to develop and present her monumental new mixed-reality performance work, They Sustain Us.
Considered one of the first Indigenous net artists, Skawennati investigates history, the future, and change from her perspective as an urban Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) woman and as a cyberpunk avatar. Through her work, Skawennati strives to show Indigenous people in the future, not just surviving, but thriving, with cyberspace as both a location and a medium for her practice.
In the coming year, Gray Area will support Skawennati’s development of They Sustain Us, a performative work that tells an untraditional story of The Three Sisters, beloved personifications of three North American indigenous staple crops: corn, beans, and squash. Featuring physical and virtual costume design and set construction, They Sustain Us aims to bring to life contemporized digital reimaginings of the Three Sisters. Through interaction with the audience and live actors, these digital avatars will share their knowledge of growing; their opinions on sustainability and food sovereignty; and their perspective on the feminine power of life-giving.
In early 2024, the project will culminate in an in-person performance at Gray Area in San Francisco, which will be developed in part with the support of Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC), a research-creation platform based at Concordia University in Montreal.
Concept machinigraph of the Three Sisters by Skawennati
“Skawennati’s inclusive, hybrid space for Indigenous peoples and their allies demonstrates an expansive vision for the open metaverse, which Gray Area is uniquely positioned to support,” said Barry Threw, Executive Director at Gray Area.
Created in honor of the Hewlett Foundation’s 50th anniversary, the five-year, $8 million Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions are a symbol of the foundation’s commitment to artistic expression and public engagement with the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area. This year’s Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions, in Media Arts, will support leading artists in partnership with an array of Bay Area cultural institutions and nonprofit organizations. The commissioned artists will develop major new works that incorporate elements of many artistic disciplines, including dance, music, and theater, with cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, genetic engineering, and robotics.
“These new commissions in Media Arts celebrate a group of outstanding artists who are merging longstanding storytelling and performing arts traditions with emerging technologies to create art that is fresh, contemplative, and spirited,” said
With the announcement of these final 10 grants, the full cohort of 50 world-class artists working in partnership with Bay Area nonprofit organizations is now complete. Previous recipients of the awards include luminaries such as composer Meredith Monk, multimedia artist DJ Spooky, and vocalist The Dynamic Miss Faye Carol, who created works commissioned by Mills College, Internet Archive, and Art + Soul Oakland, respectively.
Gray Area is among 10 commissioning organizations to receive the grant, selected from more than 100 applications through a process administered for the Hewlett Foundation by Creative Capital; the commissioned works will premiere over the next three years at a range of Bay Area cultural centers and institutions. The 2022 Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions cohort includes Gray Area, / (pronounced slash), AXIS Dance Company, Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, Institute of Contemporary Art San José, Long Now Foundation, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Other Minds, The Exploratorium, and Leonardo/ISAST.
Skawennati investigates history, the future, and change from her perspective as an urban Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) woman and as a cyberpunk avatar. Her artistic practice questions our relationships with technology and highlights Indigenous people in the future. An early adopter of cyberspace as both a location and a medium, she has produced groundbreaking projects such as CyberPowWow (1997-2002), an online gallery, chatspace, and mixed-reality event, and TimeTraveller™ (2007-2013), a multimedia project with a machinima series as its basis. She believes the medium is the message and has created short movies, still images, sculpture, fashion, and performative experiences.