The work of Angela Two Stars (Dakota, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate) is about to be all over the Twin Cities. In 2019, the Walker Art Center’s Indigenous Public Art Selection Committee chose St. Paul-based Two Stars’ proposal for a new piece in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. It is inspired by her grandfather, a Dakota speaker, who dedicated the last 15 years of his life to language revitalization.
“When he passed away in 2018, I thought about the legacy that he had left behind, and that went on to inform the work,” she says of the piece, which will represent a drop of water. “You know, the way one drop of water can ripple across an entire pond, one fluent speaker can ripple across generations with their knowledge.”
Due to COVID-19, its debut was moved back from the fall of 2020 to 2021. But Two Stars, who is the director of All My Relations Arts in south Minneapolis, has four other public art projects to add to her body of work. In 2019, she received wide acclaim for creating sidewalk stamps as part of a three-artist project honoring the Dakota village that once stood at Lake Bde Maka Ska.
This fall, she and mentor Seitu Jones will install an enameled-metal sculpture along the Midway building in St. Paul, which is visible from Energy Park Drive. For the first time in her public art career, Two Stars is the project’s lead artist. “The theme of that work is ‘what’s under the surface,’” she says. “So, it’s pretty relevant with what’s going on right now, with the George Floyd murder. My work is going to be acknowledging how under the surface, we’re all the same. We’re all made up of the same bones, blood, DNA, and it’s all under these various shades of skin color that causes a lot of terrible things.”
Meanwhile, Two Stars has a commission for Winona State University. She’s also creating a visual land acknowledgment in the windows of the Ordway in downtown St. Paul, and is installing a piece in the new City of Minneapolis’ Public Works Building near City Hall.
All My Relations Arts will debut Bring Her Home: Sacred Womxn of Resistance, a continuation of the gallery’s focus on the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW), to run from November 9 to February 20. “We’re part of a larger initiative of the ‘We Are Still Here’ movement,” she says—“ways to be able to change the narrative and speak on Indigenous issues. The MMIW epidemic is an ongoing issue until we can change that story.”
It’s such a bummer we have to wait until next summer to see your new sculptural work at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Can you give an idea what it will be like?
It’s a sculptural seating, and it was inspired by my grandfather. My work as a Dakota artist focuses on Indigenous language revitalization. My grandpa devoted the last 15 years of his life to the language revitalization on my reservation. When he passed away in 2018, I thought about the legacy that he had left behind, and that informed the work that I created for the Walker, which represents the ripple effects from one drop of water. The way one drop of water can ripple across an entire pond, one fluent speaker’s knowledge can ripple across generations.
It also represents my own personal language journey, and the problems and challenges and positives and healing that come from those that are trying to learn their Indigenous languages. I’m grateful that I’ve had additional time because I’m engaging with speakers from different communities, and it’s really uplifting the work that they do—those that work in language programs, immersion schools and other fluent speakers.
All Dakota speakers?
It’s Dakota and Lakota. I think that’s one of the things that people get confused about. It’s actually the same language, it’s just different dialects.
The public art at Bde Maka Ska also explored Native language—was that your part of the project?
Yeah, that was that was my component—the sidewalk stamps, making the language accessible for the millions of people that use Bde Maka Ska throughout the year. Teaching everyday phrases of plants and animals that are relevant and important to our region and our people. It’s fun for me to observe people at Bde Maka Ska. I remember one time I was watching this guy, and he was walking along and he looked down, then he looked up and said the Dakota word for “eagle.” It just makes my heart happy, because I got him to speak Dakota language.
What will the Walker’s sculpture look like?
Like the ripple effect of water drop. So it’s a circle, and there’s seating for individuals and also groups of people able to interact with it. That’s always something that I do in my work. I create work that speaks to children because children are the future of our language. I have three children and they’re my inspiration.
As director of All My Relations, you curated the first two installments of Bring Her Home, an exhibition of Native women artists taking on the topic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). What has your experience been with that show as it continues to grow and gain momentum, with a new installment coming up in November, plus the collaboration with Northern Spark for a public art project at the lock and dam?
I’ve been just really humbled that I’ve been able to be part of it. The artists have really utilized their voices to create art that responds to this really tragic issue that’s going on in Native country. A lot of them brought their own personal stories into the artwork that they were doing. The show itself traveled regionally and I created curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade so that students can talk about this issue, which is something that happens within their families. I bring my own experience. I was nine years old when my grandmother was kidnapped. What do nine year olds need that are dealing with these kinds of losses? Part of the goal of the exhibition was to promote healing, but also to advocate for change. My goal is to see that exhibition travel nationally because this issue happens not just in our region.
And is the Lock and Dam project that All My Relations is doing with Northern Lights a part of the same project?
Right, the Bring Her Home exhibition will be opening in October—depending on how everything is right now with COVID. But the goal is to have exhibition opened in October with social distancing guidelines and things like that. The Lock and Dam project is an extension, for us to be able to utilize one of the issues that we focus on at NACDI. We’re part of a larger initiative of We are Still Here movements, so ways to be able to change the narrative and speak on indigenous issues. The MMIW epidemic is an ongoing one until we can change that story.
What are the public art projects you’re working on now as an artist?
I have quite the workload of public art projects that I’m working on right now. I think I have about like five on my plate right now. I’m pretty busy, you know, running the gallery and also working on my own public art. Thank goodness I have a family that’s all on board. And with COVID and kids working you at home and stuff it brings its own challenges.
What are some of those projects you have in the works?
I’m working on a project with Forecast Public Art for the St. Paul Port Authority, as well as I’m working on the City of Minneapolis’ the new public works building. And then I just wrapped one up with the Ordway—it hasn’t been installed yet. And then I have a new commission that I was selected for at Winona State University.
Where will the Ordway one be?
It’s in the windows at the entrance. It’s a visual land acknowledgment. You don’t actually have to go into the Ordway. It’s meant for everybody to be able to see not just ticket holders.
Can you say more about the Port Authority project?
It’s by where the old Midway stadium used to be. I am working with Seitu Jones as my mentor—that has been wonderful. I’m also working with the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center on that to do some enameled metal design and to create these seating structures that will be an amenity for the building tenants that work there. But people will be able to see it when they’re driving by on Energy Park Drive.
The theme of that work is what’s under the surface. It’s pretty relevant, with what’s going on right now, in the George Floyd murder. My work is going to be acknowledging how under the surface, we’re all the same. We’re all made up of the same skeletal bones, blood, DNA, and it’s all under these various shades of skin color that causes a lot of terrible things. So it’s really potent right now, and it’s drawing attention to an underground water filtration system that the St. Paul Port Authority has invested in at that site. So it’s just a visual way of acknowledging that.
What has it been like working with Seitu Jones?
Oh my gosh, Seitu’s amazing. You know, he’s just a gem. I actually met him when I was living out in Grand Rapids, Michigan. So I’ve known him back in before I even moved here to Minneapolis. I was interning at an art institution there, he was an exhibiting artists, and we ended up connecting and then I got the de Bde Maka Ska project and he came down to visit me when I was in town installing. It’s developed into a friendship and he actually recommended me for the Midway project. It’s my first time being able to be like the lead artist on a project and go through everything that it takes to create and install fabricate public art.
It seems like you’re kind of blowing up. What does that feel like?
I know! I’m just riding the wave. It’s a great position to be in. I’m really thankful the role at the gallery allows me to give back. My career started because of All My Relations Art, exhibiting there for the first time. The doors have been opened for me. So knowing the value that All My Relations Art has for emerging Indigenous artists. I know that is so important for us to continue that work.