My name is Dennis Darkeem I am inspired to create art work based on the familiar objects that I view through my daily travels. I discover elements in existing architecture and among everyday items found within the home. I ultimately set out to express a meaningful story about events in my life and those found with the communities I work. I utilize different media in the creation of my work. This allows for great versatility and a rich viewer experience as the eye uncovers the multiple layers that often characterize mixed media art.
Since my work as a professional artist has commenced in the early 2000s, it has evolved into critiquing social and political issues affecting US and indigenous Native American culture. Much of my art has focused on issues like institutionalized racism and classism, jarring stereotypes, and displacement of people of color. As a multi-media artist, I express these motifs through fine art, drawings, paintings, collages, photography, sculpture, and installations. Incorporating a craftwork aesthetic has connected tradition with the contemporary. This is prevalent in many of my pieces. I seek to create a discussion through color, texture, symbolism, and geometric designs. My work evokes a historical memory and questions the status quo. Art has become a conduit connecting my artistic ideas and concepts to the public realm. As a Maroon artist living in New York City, my work reflects and is representative of my life’s experiences. My work is not in a vacuum; it crosses boundaries of culture, identity, and perception of self. I strive to be the voice for unheard voices.
Cultural acceptance is an issue affecting many communities in the New York City area. While milestones have been made world-wide, negative stereotypes and biases often still plague the minds of individuals daily. I have encountered many racial biases from others as a brown-skinned, mixed-blood Native American man in my travels nationally and throughout the Caribbean and Central America. Being from New York, there is a small community of Native Americans who, like me, dispel myths about Native Americans and what we look like. Media and Hollywood have greatly influenced people’s perceptions of Native Americans keeping them ignorant to Native Americans who are dark and brown-skinned. This has often led to me having to explain to others, even others of Native American descent, about my own Native American background. I have encountered individuals who want me to prove my “Indian-ness” to them.
As a mixed-blood Native American and African American artist living in the south Bronx, I have found a voice in my community. I enjoy using my art to bring my community together. In 2000 and 2004, I produced two mixed-media performance art projects in the Bronx at The Point’s CDC space “Live at the Edge”. The performances titled, “Clothesline” and “The Love and Fear Experience,” included visual art, dance, music, film, spoken word, and photography. The performances were viewed by more than 500 people. The performances focused on themes of coming of age in the Bronx, rituals and tradition, child abuse, race and sexual identity, religion, and self-pride. I feel that my past successful experiences would assist me in working and creating a platform for social change. I can bring voice to a community that is often rendered voiceless and marginalized by its own Native American community. I have also worked with the Bronx Museum of Art on its first community art award grant where I collaborated with many artist and performers. I learned the skills of Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theatre director, writer and politician. He was the founder of “Theatre of the Oppressed”; a theatrical form originally used in radical popular education movements.
Through art, I have explored and educated people on the issues faced by people of color and people living in low income communities. I believe that everyone has a story to share and from these stories we have a connection. I feel these stories are building blocks to help our communities and change our environment. This year I have been working on a body of work titled, “Standing on Shaky Ground" these works represent Native and Black struggles. Much of the history of Native Americans on the East Coast is said to be dead. I want to show that we are very much alive, resilient, and connected through tribal customs and traditions.