GLAMi nomination: Vietnam experience T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America

nominated by: Jim Olson, Peabody Essex Museum, USA
institution: Peabody Essex Museum
category: Exhibition Media or Experience

The exhibition:

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 Vietnam Wall:

We created a nine channel video wall that brings visitors closer to T.C. Cannon’s experience in the Vietnam War and the zeitgeist of the United States from 1967-69. In sharing Cannon’s personal experience and reflections on the war and what it means to be an American, we wanted visitors to think about these two questions:

How do you fight for your country?

How does your country fight for you?

These questions are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago.