Missing Indigenous women was the start and murdered black men the catalyst for R. Matthew Bollinger’s latest project, Missing, Murdered, Remembered.
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Missing Indigenous women was the start and murdered black men the catalyst for R. Matthew Bollinger’s latest project, Missing, Murdered, Remembered. Being exhibited at NEXT Gallery in Lakewood through Jan. 22, Bollinger — who lives and teaches in Navajo Nation — wanted to present the troubles he saw missing from the public eye and the racism that lies behind them.
The Jeffco Transcript spoke with Bollinger about his project. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Jeffco Transcript: How long have you been working on the project?
R. Matthew Bollinger: The idea came years ago, but I actually started the work after I saw George Floyd murdered on social media. That’s when I really began the project. And the project really has two tangents: the murdered men and the missing woman.
The missing women idea had come previously, but somehow I didn’t have the confidence to move forward with that particular aspect of the project until I saw Geroge Floyd murdered. That really gave me the confidence to move forward with all of these works, so it’s probably been two or three years now since everything got going with this exhibition.
JT: And the project is looking at racism?
RMB: I would say racial violence, yes. Being witness to the racial violence on the internet and within the community and practice I’m living in.
I really live in the American southwest. I end up driving around a lot, but I actually work and live also in the Navajo Nation. So I would hear these stories from the students and faculty, becoming just a little bit more familiar with the circumstances of these missing indigenous women, and the disproportionate rates that these women were disappearing.
But also just the fact that they’re sort of unsolved crimes, and they’re not really crimes that are high on the radar. A lot has to do with jurisdiction, with really the only organizations that can come onto the Navajo Nation is Federal — to investigate. These women were disappearing and it would end there essentially.
JT: You say missing women was the start of the project: was there a specific moment or just building up over time?
RMB: Not a particular woman. It seemed just not as well documented, or in the eye of the public. The moments were kind of happening over time.
I work on the Navajo Nation, teaching art to Native American students, and this was high on their radar. So, I would see a lot of my students thinking about this issue, talking about it and being concerned about it, so that’s kind of how it came onto my radar.
The other aspect is that I’m married to a Navajo woman, so we’ve had conversations about all this as well. The personal connection for me is not only working with these students but also my own wife.
JT: Do you think being white brings a tone to the project?
RMB: Absolutely. Somehow I felt it was part of my responsibility instead of remaining silent on these issues, to essentially take a position.
Within my artist statement, I’m being completely transparent on my experience of being a white male while doing this type of work. The work itself really takes white culture into accountability. The photographs that are being used to print these assemblages on canvas are old photographs of white culture essentially — they’re 80 to 100 years old, so there’s a lot of privilege involved.
At some point I found that conceptual connection between the content and the history of the photographs, and the argument or critique that I was trying to create with the work in the exhibition.
The deconstruction of the photographs kind of speak to that idea of essentially deconstructing structural racism in the United States. There’s a real aspect of reconstructing these photographs into something else.
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