Mohawk Artist Skawennati Awarded 2022 Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions Grant in Partnership with Gray Area
Presenting They Sustain Us, A New Mixed-Reality Performance Work

  •  Oct 26, 2022
  •   Gray Area

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 Emiko Ono, director of Hewlett’s Performing Arts Program. “We’re honored to support these exciting projects that weave together the performing arts and technology and will deeply resonate with Bay Area communities.”

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.

About Skawennati

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.

Her works have been presented in Europe, Oceania, China, and across North America. Recent exhibition highlights include the permanent exhibition On This Ground: Being and Belonging in America at the Peabody Essex Museum, which acquired her large public sculpture, Celestial Tree; a solo show, early this year, entitled When Onkwehón:we Visit the Queen, as part of the Manif d’art 10, Québec city’s biennial (she also wrote a text for their catalogue); and Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary Art at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery), which was named the 2021 Exhibition of the Year by the Association of Art Museum Curators. The show will be touring the United States 2022-2023. Her works are in the collections of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Thoma Foundation, among others. She is represented by ELLEPHANT.

In 2005, Skawennati co-founded Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC), a research-creation network based at Concordia University. Their projects include the Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Digital Media, an effort to empower Indigenous youth to be producers, not just consumers, of video games; as well as the Initiative for Indigenous Futures, a partnership of universities and community organizations dedicated to developing multiple visions of Indigenous peoples tomorrow in order to better understand where we need to go today. In 2019, she co-founded daphne, Montreal’s first Indigenous artist-run centre where she continues to be an active board member. In 2020, she was honoured to receive a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship and a Visiting Artist Fellowship at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. The recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, she is also a proud member of the Guild of Future Architects.

Born in Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory, Skawennati belongs to the Turtle clan. She holds a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal, where she resides.

About the Hewlett Foundation

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is a nonpartisan, private charitable foundation that advances ideas and supports institutions to promote a better world. For more than 50 years, the foundation has supported efforts to advance education for all, preserve the environment, support vibrant performing arts, strengthen Bay Area communities, make the philanthropy sector more effective, and foster gender equity and responsive governance around the world.

Today, it is one of the largest philanthropic institutions in the United States, awarding over $516 million in grants in 2021 to organizations across the globe to help people build better lives.

About Gray Area

Gray Area is a San Francisco-based nonprofit cultural center that advances interdisciplinary research and empowers education in creative technology. We support interdisciplinary creators in building the future of responsible technology and propelling positive social transformation. Since its founding in 2008, Gray Area has established itself as a critical local hub for critically engaging with technology in the Bay Area, while also reaching a global community through online courses and programming.

Our work promotes greater access and visibility for underrepresented creators, providing free programming, workshops, and resources to support them as they approach today’s most pressing social, civic, and environmental concerns. Gray Area Festival, which has been held annually since 2015, offers a space for deeper engagement with topics around art, technology, and social impact. Through our incubators, residencies, and rotating schedule of public events, Gray Area helps inspire, nurture, and share groundbreaking research and emerging creative practices.

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2665 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110

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