Ter­ran Kipp Last Gun Artist

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In Ter­ran Kipp Last Gun’s lat­est se­ries of pho­to­graphs, Un­con­quered Beings, two crea­tures meet un­der cover of dark­ness. The fig­ures have hu­man bod­ies, while their heads are blocky, geo­met­ric shapes: One is sim­i­lar to a buf­falo, while the other is an in­dented hexagon topped by four spikes. In the im­ages, the crea­tures wield neon lights, which ap­pear as in­dis­tinct cur­rents of color, thanks to long ex­po­sures. The mood of the pho­to­graphs is some­where be­tween sin­is­ter and play­ful — the bright lights and in­tri­cate cos­tumes are beau­ti­ful, but the head­dresses are slightly un­set­tling. They look dig­i­tally con­structed, yet sus­pi­ciously solid, and the viewer won­ders whether or not they’re real.

“I made the head­dresses out of card­board and painted them white,” Ter­ran ex­plained dur­ing an in­ter­view in the pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio at the In­sti­tute for Amer­i­can In­dian Arts, where he’s a se­nior. The fig­ures, one male and one fe­male, are por­trayed by Ter­ran and his girl­friend, who’s also an IAIA stu­dent and a fre­quent model in his work. “You can’t see at all when the head­dresses are on your head,” he con­tin­ued. “And so it was a lot of me run­ning to my tri­pod and set­ting the cam­era’s timer and get­ting into the shot.”

The nar­ra­tive be­hind Un­con­quered Beings draws on tra­di­tional sto­ries from Ter­ran’s tribe, the Pi­ikani of Mon­tana, also known as the Black­feet. The fig­ure with the hexagon for a face is meant to rep­re­sent Napi, a trick­ster in Pi­ikani cul­ture, ac­cord­ing to Ter­ran. “In the se­ries, Napi is meet­ing Na­ture for the first time,” he said. “They’re show­ing each other their medicines, which are rep­re­sented by their lights.”

Napi him­self is an am­bigu­ous fig­ure. Though he’s known for his tricks, Ter­ran said that Napi’s sto­ries also of­ten end with a moral. “So in a way, he’s a teacher, too.” In the fi­nal pho­tos of Un­con­quered

Beings, Napi is wear­ing Ter­ran’s own chicken dance re­galia, an im­por­tant dance in Pi­ikani cul­ture. “He’s changed his ap­pear­ance to ap­peal to Na­ture and to lure her in. Lately, I really like the idea of us­ing staged pho­tog­ra­phy as a per­for­mance.”

When Ter­ran, who’s twenty-six years old, en­rolled at IAIA in 2011, he came for a BFA in mu­seum stud­ies. It was only af­ter spend­ing time with other artists that he de­cided to add an AFA in stu­dio art. He re­cently com­pleted an in­tern­ship at the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Na­tive Arts, and hopes to forge a ca­reer that com­bines an artis­tic prac­tice with cu­ra­to­rial work. Af­ter grad­u­a­tion this spring, he plans to stay in Santa Fe, though he said work­ing as an artist will be dif­fi­cult with­out the in­sti­tu­tional sup­port of IAIA. “Right now, I don’t even have my own lap­top,” he said. “I hear a lot from IAIA alumni that once you’re done you don’t have any stu­dio ac­cess, so you need to learn how to do it on your own.”

In his art­work, Ter­ran en­gages with themes reg­u­larly con­fronted by con­tem­po­rary in­dige­nous peo­ple. One piece, a screen print called Mea­sured Blood?, fea­tures a nu­meric ta­ble that was used by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in the 20th cen­tury to de­ter­mine a per­son’s Na­tive blood quo­tient and el­i­gi­bil­ity for tribal mem­ber­ship. The piece came out of a de­bate cur­rently tak­ing place in the Pi­ikani Na­tion. “We started to re­form our con­sti­tu­tion, which is a good thing, but when it came to the mem­ber­ship sec­tion, ev­ery­thing got crazy be­cause peo­ple wanted to change the [Pi­ikani] blood re­quire­ment to one-quar­ter,” Ter­ran ex­plained. “There are peo­ple who live in my com­mu­nity who can’t be legally en­rolled mem­bers [of the tribe] be­cause their blood is right be­low the re­quire­ment. Th­ese are peo­ple who are in­volved in cer­e­monies and in the cul­ture. We’re hurt­ing our own mem­bers be­cause we’re still us­ing this bro­ken sys­tem.”

In his first for­ays into three-di­men­sional work, Ter­ran con­sid­ers the ques­tion of ter­ri­tory. A piece ti­tled Pi­ikani Land­scape fea­tures a wood sculp­ture a few feet high placed on top of a map of Mon­tana. Thin lay­ers of glued-to­gether ply­wood un­du­late in and out, and when viewed from above, they tower above the state map. The sculp­ture rep­re­sents the tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory of the Pi­ikani, which is much larger than the present-day reser­va­tion, cut­ting into Glacier Na­tional Park; Helena, the state capi­tol; and Alberta, Canada. Ter­ran said that the loss of tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory is keenly felt by the Pi­ikani, par­tic­u­larly sa­cred sites, like the Badger-Two Medicine re­gion, which has been threat­ened by oil ex­plo­ration.

Ter­ran doesn’t de­scribe his work as hav­ing a spe­cific ac­tivist pur­pose; he sees it as con­tribut­ing to the con­ver­sa­tion. “I make work about the things I’m pas­sion­ate about,” he said. “I want to bring aware­ness to top­ics that my com­mu­nity and other in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties face. And when I show my work to oth­ers, I find that they of­ten have sim­i­lar con­cerns.” — Adele Oliveira THERE ARE PEO­PLE WHO LIVE IN MY COM­MU­NITY WHO CAN’T BE LEGALLY EN­ROLLED MEM­BERS [OF THE TRIBE] BE­CAUSE THEIR BLOOD IS RIGHT BE­LOW THE RE­QUIRE­MENT. TH­ESE ARE PEO­PLE WHO ARE IN­VOLVED IN CER­E­MONIES AND IN THE CUL­TURE. WE’RE HURT­ING OUR OWN MEM­BERS BE­CAUSE WE’RE STILL US­ING THIS BRO­KEN SYS­TEM.

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