This Was Never a Knife Fight
George Manuel first wrote about the Fourth World in 1974, the term has come to define the experience of Indigenous Nations that are not sovereign, and in some cases not recognized by the post-colonial governments in their homeland. As an artist of mixed Indigenous and non-Indigenous descent, my practice stems from a Fourth World perspective- making a distinction between land, and nation.
From an Indigenous perspective, there are many Nations who have been marginalized in the rapid and violent take over of the “Americas” by foreign interests; the Bird Nations, Bear Nations, the Buffalo Nation, Wolf Nation, and Honeybee Nations have been hard hit by industrial faming techniques and European style wildlife management.
I am challenging the validity of corporate-state control of land and resources. My work repositions us in relationship to land and those with whom we share our home.
Despite having disproportionate potential for destruction and dominance, we are entitled to neither.
My drawings and paintings mark out invisible aspects of land- wind and water currents, growth and weather patterns, destruction (explosive and implied) become concrete. I employ visual terminology from vector and weather mapping, and Indigenous North American record painting (particularly Blackfoot exploit robes). The pictures simultaneously construct and destroy division, as an act of opposition to their own paradigm.
Drawn out lines of division become vulnerable to challenge in their visibility, to equally visible properties of land.
The land and its inhabitants (human and otherwise) are subjected to the line, and the structures used to enforce it, as a manifestation of control under the guise of protection. I want to emphasize that this subjection to the line exists regardless of whether an opportunity to participate does; subjection is not limited to human concern.
Land and animals and structures of division are simultaneously destroyed and repaired, as evidence of subjection to control, and agency to resist. Referencing Derrida’s examination of human organization of the animal to the political, I’m testing and suggesting methods for breaking current structures of division and violence. These suggestions are objects at their most awkward, actions as physical possibility, and pictures as imagined impossibility.
Merritt Johnson earned her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University, and her MFA from Massachusetts College of Art. Her practice employs drawing, painting, sculpture, and performance to challenge systems of control based on force and hierarchy. Her visual language is drawn from wind codes, vector mapping, Indigenous North American record paintings, and the collapsing of human and non-human sovereignty. She exhibits and performs in traditional and nontraditional venues throughout North America, most recently her work was included in the anthology Salish Seas, published by Talonbooks. Merritt is an Assistant Professor of Visual Art at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver British Columbia.