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Art and Environment



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Cynthia Holmes
(American, White Earth Chippewa, b. 1953)
Primal Donna (Venus Anishinabe)
birchbark, found object, sinew; three units, largest is 9" x 12" x 10"
Tweed Associates’ Purchase Fund

Cynthia Holmes’ Primal Donna (Venus Anishinabe) is a sculpture that intelligently and economically unites materials, forms, and ideas to arrive at a statement that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Her own words, excerpted from a 1993 artist’s statement, say it best: “My work is focused on defining and then crossing cultural boundaries and the social values they imply. Being born a half-breed – Ojibwe/French/ English – I am a physical example of cultural diversity. My work often addresses this, often humorously. A birch bark bustier accompanied by birch bark high heels exemplifies the confusion of modern versus traditional womanhood. The work parallels the balance of my own earth journey, walking in two worlds: Native/non-Native; physical/spiritual; reality/fantasy. There is a strong spiritual message that addresses the environment, relying on the voices of bark, feathers, horns, shells and skins to speak their own messages. These materials are living entities and they guide and help me, as I process and contemplate my own existence.” For those not familiar with Ojibwe material culture and the natural environment of the upper midwest, it may be helpful to point out that birchbark is a plentiful commodity from which functional containers of all types have been made for centuries. In this case Holmes, whose background includes fashion and costume design, implies that birchbark may also be a container for the individual, and by implication, the larger societal body.

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