institution: Peabody Essex Museum
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
One of the most influential, innovative, and talented Native American artists of the 20th-century, T.C. Cannon embodied the activism, cultural transition and creative expression that defined America in the 1960’s and ‘70s. Cannon’s work — as an artist, poet, and aspiring musician — is deeply personal yet undeniably political, reflecting his cultural heritage, experience as a Vietnam War veteran, and the turbulent social and political period during which he worked. Cannon preferred bold color combinations, mash-ups between Native and non-Native elements and never shied away from the complexity and nuance of identity politics. Cannon interrogated American history and popular culture through his Native lens, and exercised a rigorous mastery of Western art historical tropes while creating an entirely fresh visual vocabulary. T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America celebrates Cannon’s creative range and artistic legacy through 70 paintings and works on paper, as well as poetry and music. Cannon died tragically in a car accident in 1978, he was 31.
Three of our main goals were to:
- Broaden/ complicate the question and definition of what it means to be American.
- Get people thinking about what it means to grapple with the difficult history of America?
- Explore why Cannon’s experience and work remains relevant to people today?
The intro experience:
5 channel video installation
Each of the four walls in this experience are 12 feet high, making the room similar to a cube shaped black box. Projectors were embedded into the tops of 4 walls and display on the opposite walls. We digitally cropped two wall projections to accommodate for the doors. A fifth projector displays clouds (an integral part of Cannon’s paintings) onto the ceiling. Two speakers are embedded in the wall at head height.
The audio in the space is a poem by Cannon called John American Horse. It is 92 seconds long and read by 5 Native Americans with close ties to the Peabody Essex Museum.
This introduction is the first thing you see when entering the show.
We realized that most of our core visitors know very little, if anything about T.C. Cannon. We created our entry experience as a compressed introduction to the artist. We wanted to tell his story through images. The entry experience aims to demonstrate the multiplicity of T.C. Cannon and establish his voice through his poem John American Horse, still photography and video of him. It also attempts to capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s and show parallels to our current political climate. Moreover, we wanted to illustrate some examples of the American Indian Movement within the context of social protest and civil rights and how it all remains relevant today.
In this brief entry experience, visitors are introduced to T.C. Cannon, in most cases for the first time. The look and feel of this media piece evokes an ethereal, dreamlike meditative music video. In some ways it is a walk through the artist’s head, showing what he saw, where he lived, how he lived, and how he reacted to all of this. We present him as poet, painter, musician, veteran and an activist. Our goal is to provide an empathetic experience that prepares visitors for a dive into T.C.’s incredible creative output. We wanted visitors to get to know T.C. and as a result feel closer to his work.
It is impossible to view all of the content simultaneously. The visitor is invited to move and react to the piece. Each visit creates a slightly different experience. I have included a link to one possible viewing of the experience.
Images of T.C. Cannon
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Photo of Arlington National Cemetery
The Vietnam War Memorial
The only extant video footage of T.C. Cannon
Dakota Access Pipeline protest imagery
Civil Rights protest imagery
Recent Native American protests
Native American boarding schools
Landscapes of places he lived
A mid-19th century map of Oklahoma and Indian Country
Imagery of 1960s sit ins
HIstorical Native American photographs