Everyone of Jim Denomie’s paintings tells a story, one of which I got to enjoy at the Minneapolis Central Library while visiting their open to the public exhibit “Transmissions: Contemporary American Indian Art, 2003-2013.” Other artists are on display, however, it was Denomie’s work and this painting in particular that caught my attention. As I sat in the gallery, thankfully alone, a few minutes after the library opened, I found myself trying to see the proverb giving the work its title through Denomie’s eyes. In which case, I saw irony, humor, and a sardonic wit expressed in the juxtaposition of feathered Indians and sunbathing whites, complemented by a man wearing what looks like a Billy Jack hat mowing the lawn while a man and woman water ski down the proverbial river. The titular proverb is ascribed to the Buddhist tradition by the artist, meaning that in his mind it refers to that spiritual tradition (as opposed to Confucius or Sun Tzu who are also given credit for this bit of wisdom). In any case, the image suggests many things, such as the fact that the Indians are still waiting for their enemies’ bodies to float by, that their wait may be futile, that retaining the anger of conflict has become absurd, that old enemies have been living side by side for a very longtime, or that the white community better enjoy their fun while they can before the wheel of karma slowly and inevitably turns. While I cannot help but think of the tumultuous and violent history that occurred along the banks of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, which cut across the southern part of the state, I also cannot help but laugh at Jim’s sense of humor. Ultimately, this painting is a delight to look at and it makes my heart smile. Hopefully, it makes you feel the same way.
[photo credit: David Martínez]