G. Peter Jemison
By Barry Ace
G. Peter Jemison’s illustrious career spans several decades culminating with an impressive body of work that traverses the milieus of painting, drawing and most recently, video. His longstanding personal interest in the interpretation of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) historiography is a central and inspirational driving force informing his work. This is further demonstrated in his passionate advocacy for cultural revitalization as Manager of the Ganondagan State Historic Site in upstate New York. Ganondagan is an integral and vibrant center for the Seneca Nation located southeast of Rochester, New York, in the town of Victor. The site features an exact replica of a seventeenth-century Seneca longhouse, a fortified, hilled and palisaded corn granary and an interpretation center offering visitors an opportunity to investigate and learn about the social, spiritual, cultural, and economic significance of Seneca life, including Ganondagan, Town of Peace and its eventual destruction in 1687.
Crow in the Shadow (reverse), 2010 Mixed media on handmade paper, 23 x 9 x 8 ½ inches Photo by Kevin VickersBest known for his innovative Haudenosaunee-inspired drawings on brown paper shopping bags, Jemison’s videos appear to be an unequivocally clear departure. Yet ironically, both formats, paper bags and video production, poignantly convey his quest for reaching a broad public while conveying his belief in cultural continuity. His work in the videographic domain has also provided Jemison with a new opportunity to work closely with his two sons, passing on his plethora of traditional and cultural knowledge to future generations. This concern for intergenerational knowledge transfer is further captured in a recent video work where Jemison focused on a father’s quest to lose more than one hundred pounds of weight to ensure that he would be around long enough to impart his knowledge to his young son. Filmed at Ganondagan, the video documents a father’s desire to lose weight to reach his personal goal of running up the steep embankment at Ganondagan while carrying a sack of corn on his back to the summit of the palisaded granary that once housed the Seneca’s sacred and life giving sustenance—corn. Ensconced in cultural metaphors and translated into Seneca language, Jemison poignantly embraces sensitive contemporary issues pertaining to diabetes, obesity and diminishing life expectancy facing many present day Native Americans by poetically documenting one man’s personal journey and aspiration for longevity.
Jemison also addresses other issues and personal concerns revolving around historical representations, inaccuracies and wrongful depictions of post-contact Native American societies. In 2009, he collaborated with his son Brenden Jemison for a short film at the Wavehill Riverdale Botanical Gardens in New York City. The film entitled, The Mahheakantuk in Focus, interpreted Henry Hudson’s journey up the Hudson River and the meaning behind the 1613 Treaty between the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee. The Two Row Wampum (or Guswenta in Seneca) depicts the agreement that these sovereign nations would travel a journey of mutual respect and mutual coexistence without interference from the other. The film is a clear indication of Jemison’s personal interest in reenactment, interpretation and authenticity, standing as a poignant reminder for all generations of the importance in revisiting and reinterpreting these evergreen agreements as important signposts and markers providing us with a deeper understanding of where we have come from, where we are now and where we are going in the future.
Additional Resources complied by students in
the Contemporary Native American Art History Course at IAIA, Spring 2013
Burri, Melody. “G. Peter Jemison Receives Community Spirit Award.” GateHouse Media Inc. http://www.victorpost.com/features/x1112928464/G-Peter-Jemison-receives-community-spirit-award.
In this article, G. Peter Jemison is recognized for his painting and mixed media pieces. he is one of six recipients of the prestigious 2012 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award Fellowship from the First Peoples Fund.
Llewellyn, Carol W. “Portrait of G. Peter Jemison, the Artist.” Friends of Ganondagan. http://www.ganondagan.org/portraits/PeterJemison.html.
The article covers G. Peter Jemison’s career and his years at Buffalo State, time in Italy, and his early days as an artist in New York City.
Pearlstone, Zena, and Allan J. Ryan. “About Face: Self Portraits by Native American, First Nations, and Inuit Artists.” 21. Santa Fe: Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 2006.
In this anthology of Self-Portraits, G. Peter Jemison’s Aotearoa/Ganondagan, 1986, is examined and the artist gives reasons for working with paper bags.
Phillips, Stephanie. “Kwah isken Tsi Iroquois, Oh so Iroquois: Tellment Iroquois.” curated by Ryan Rice, 84-87. Ontario: The Ottawa Art Gallery, 2007.
In this publication, Stephanie Phillips gives a formal analysis on two pieces, Sentinels (Large Yellow Version) 2006 and Dried Sunflower 2005.