On The Ground: Paper Buck MFA ’19 at Oceti Sakowin Encampment, Standing Rock

On the Ground is a new series featuring research by graduate and undergraduate School of Art students at Carnegie Mellon University that offers a glimpse into the particular contexts, processes, and methods of inquiry that drive their work beyond the confines of the studio. Our first installment features Paper Buck, a 2019 Masters of Fine Arts candidate and transgender interdisciplinary artist and printmaker invested in movements for racial and economic justice.

In November 2016, I travelled to Cannonball, North Dakota to connect with and support the Lakota-led #NODAPL water protectors, at the Oceti Sakowin Encampment near the Standing Rock Reservation. My creative research praxis was generously supported by the School of Art and CMU’s Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry.

A foundational part of my practice has been focused on anti-racist praxis and participation in social movements. I’ve been influenced by the analytic memoir writings of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Rebecca Solnit, as well as the intimately personal visual political engagements of artists such as Chip Thomas, Walid Raad, Grace Rosario Perkins, Kathe Kollwitz and William Kentridge. My most recent body of work, History In the Present, aimed to address the intersections of intimate and collective narratives to look at the relationship of familial histories to national mythologies, racial formations, and diasporic patterns of assimilation.

My research at Oceti Sakowin focused on participation in collective processes aimed to organize nationally-based non-native support for the encampment. I was part of a site-emergent team of facilitators working with camp leadership to develop an “orientation” to camp culture and politics for new arrivals, which was able to reach more than 5,000 people in the course of it’s duration. The proposed Dakota Access pipeline is in fact merely one arm of a hydra including many routes planned across the same territory. As the Lakota and 300 other Indigenous nations resist this singular pipeline, the larger struggle is to build Indigenous-led alliances of collective resistance capable of opposing the next pipeline, and the next, and the next, and the next…

Wherever and whoever we are, non-native people have crucial roles to play in dismantling the cultural legacies of settlement that normalize the exploitation of indigenous communities through resource extraction across “so-called” North America. (The term “so-called” was adopted colloquially at camp to decenter the erasure of indigenous place-based histories. For example, this is how I would introduce myself; ‘Hi, My name is Paper, I come here from so-called Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, territory of the Seneca/Haudenosaunee, Shawnee, and Lenape peoples.’

Upon my return, I began a series of mixed-media digital photo collages based on images taken at camp. These in-process works critically engage notions of belonging and the tradition of romanticism of the western American landscape in the context of neo-colonial resource extraction, and the massive state and corporate militarized surveillance presence at Oceti Sakowin. I also wrote an essay, Dakota Access: National Interest and the Perpetuities of Empire, which traces the genealogy of the late-nineteenth century British Imperial term “National Interest” into the present to connect anti-indigenous racism, white settler constructions of citizenship, free trade capitalism, and the central role of resource extraction in global power structures across post-colonial contexts. This essay continues my interest in upsetting historical amnesias within American narratives and identities.

Through these essays and visual works, I’m interested in challenging queer and feminist social movements to prioritize and fundamentally integrate anti-colonial frameworks into contemporary anti-racist discourses. I hope to share some of these new works this spring.

To support the continued struggle at Standing Rock, check out: www.nodaplsolidarity.org, www.ocetisakowincamp.org, www.standingrocksolidaritynetwork.org, or the indigenous environmental network at www.ienearth.org.

Paper Buck’s cross-disciplinary works span print, painting, alternative photography, digital media, drawing, collage, and sculpture. He graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s in Studio Art, Gender & American Studies from Macalester College, and has presented group and solo exhibitions at the 9th International Printmaking Biennial of Douro, Portugal; the National Queer Arts Festival in San Francisco, CA; Turpentine Gallery in Oakland, CA; and traveling exhibition Dog Head Stew III.