The tipi gets a modern makeover — and sparks a bigger conversation

February 26, 2018, 10:54 a.m.
Manifestipi installation detail
Photo: Manifestipi, (installation detail) 2016 by ITWÉ Collective. Courtesy of ITWÉ and Collection Majudia. Photo by Joshua Voda, NMAI.

Most people would recognize a tipi anywhere: that iconic shape in a traditional setting and familiar color. But what if that tipi were taken out of your comfort zone?

Five brightly colored acrylic tipis are the focus of "Manifestipi," an exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Each of the Plexiglas structures are eight feet tall and lit with neon pink, blue, green and yellow lights that change quickly throughout the installation. They're set against a backdrop of images and illustrations of indigenous people while a changing soundscape courses through the otherwise-empty room. Visitors are free to walk around the tipis and explore them from various angles.

The work is the creation of the ITWÉ Collective, a trio of artists dedicated to Aboriginal culture, based in Winnipeg and Montréal, Canada.

"We have been evolving tremendously, and the tipi still remains a powerful symbol of our culture," multimedia artist Caroline Monnet (Anishnabe/French) tells "However, we cannot put all indigenous people in the same bag ... We are challenging the tipi as a stereotypical symbol of our culture and therefore making it fun and accessible to all."

In addition to Monnet, the other members of the ITWÉ trio are Kevin Lee Burton (Swampy Cree) and Sébastien Aubin (Cree/Metis).

According to the museum's notes on the exhibit, "Manifestipi" is meant to "challenge perceptions, encourage dialogue and discourse, and promote individual perspectives about shared spaces. Using tipis meshed with modernized materials, ITWÉ speaks about efficiency and portability in modern society by reliving the communal effort that it takes to build a sense of place."

"Manifestipi" is on view through March 25, 2018.

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