Award-winning artist Hillary Kempenich has been selected as the 2023 North Dakota Human Rights Film and Arts Festival‘s Invited Artist. The exhibition seeks out those artists creating relevant social justice work and invites them to display selected work in the exhibition. Invited artists receive an honorarium in support of their work and humanitarian efforts. This is the third year of the Invited Artist program.
Currently based in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Kempenich is a multi-disciplinary artist, cultural bearer, and advocate, emphasizing her work to empower Indigenous people. Hillary has immersed herself in sustaining her small business and continues her passion for community work. Raised on the Turtle Mountain reservation, Kempenich continues to advocate for better educational, health, and cultural standards through her work in both urban and rural communities.
“The Power of Ikwe” by Hillary Kempenich
Kempenich’s 2018 work Power of Ikwe (acrylic on canvas, 48″x60″) will travel with the North Dakota Human Rights Film and Arts Festival throughout North Dakota. Of the piece, Kempench writes:
“Women lead by creating space to heal ourselves, in our homes, community, and with Aki (earth). Though faced with discrimination and patriarchy, women continue to be protectors of family, culture, and earth. We take on roles as caretakers, leaders, cultivators, mentors, mediators, and innovators. Power of Ikwe is a powerful tribute inspired by courageous women (both historically and modern) who often influence, create, and strengthen bonds of obligation, trust, and solidarity both inside the home and community.
The Jingle Dress is chosen to honor the Anishinaabe’s medicine dance and prayer dress. The origins of the Jingle Dress and its dance began during the early 1900’s amidst a pandemic. A granddaughter of an Anishinaabe medicine man fell sick. The elder received the same dream repeatedly of four women as his spirit guides wearing Jingle Dresses and dancing. The women taught the elder how to make the dress, what songs to play, and how to perform the dance. The spirits told him that making the dress and performing the dance would make his granddaughter well. When the elder awoke he set out and made the dress, and once completed the tribe gathered to watch the ill girl dance. At first, she was too weak and had to be supported and carried by the tribe. Slowly she gained her strength and performed the dance on her own, cured of her sickness. This continues to be a tradition amongst the Anishinaabe and Indigenous peoples throughout the continent. We often see the Jingle Dress performed in spaces of traditional ceremonies, protests, presentations, resistance, and healing- serving as a reminder of spiritual wellness.
Kempenich’s work explores the conversation of the powerful roles Indigenous women take as mentors, or the ‘other mother’ or ‘secondary parent.’ As we respond reactionary to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) epidemic, it is important that we discuss and act on prevention methods, which includes these roles women take on in society. Many of us are surrounded by a plethora of Indigenous women who shared the additional parental role, or there was a significant one who was part of our upbringing. As Kempenich continues to develop her work, she asks to reflect on the impact and strength of Indigenous women.
How we are/were raised by Indigenous women, how we honor their legacy, how we are them, how we make space for those who need us; and how do we respect one another though our personalities or lifestyles differentiate? When and how do we decide to call one another in?”
The 2023 North Dakota Human Rights Film and Arts Festival opens on January 10 at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota. The exhibition will be on display through January 30 during normal museum hours. On Thursday, January 19, at 6:30 p.m., an Artist Reception will take place at the Plains Art Museum. The reception will feature live performances and reflections on work from artists in the festival. Free and open to the public, passes to the reception can be reserved online. Reservations are appreciated for food and beverage count. A full schedule for the festival is available here.
Kempenich is the festival’s third invited artist. She was preceded in 2021 by D.C. Houle, and in 2022 by Franklin Ugochukwu.
The exhibition will continue throughout 2023, moving to Grand Forks at the UND Arts Collection at the Empire Arts Center in February, the Bismarck Downtown Artist Co-Op in March and April, the Taube Museum of Art in Minot in June and July, the James Memorial Art Center in Williston in September, and the Jamestown Arts Center in December.
The North Dakota Human Rights Film and Arts Festival’s mission is to educate, engage, and facilitate discussion around local and worldwide human rights topics. The festival was founded and is managed by The Human Family, a non-partisan 501(c)(3) based in North Dakota founded to change our communities through art.
The 2023 North Dakota Human Rights Film and Arts Festival is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. The festival’s public art project is supported by the Arts Midwest GIG Fund, a program of Arts Midwest that is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional contributions from the North Dakota Council on the Arts. Institutonal support of The Human Family is provided in part by a grant from the North Dakota Council on the Arts, which receives funding from the state legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Arts Partnership, with support from the cities of Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo.