Native Artist’s Residency Canceled Over Painting Referencing Palestine

Danielle SeeWalker, “G is for Genocide” (2024), acrylic, aerosol, and oil stick on canvas, 18 x 24 inches (all images courtesy the artist)

COLORADO SPRINGS — On May 9, the Town of Vail in Colorado shared an update about its upcoming Art in Public Places (AIPP) artist residency with Húŋkpapȟa Lakȟóta artist Danielle SeeWalker, who had been invited to paint a mural in the town highlighting Native American culture. The brief announcement relayed the town’s decision to rescind their offer of a residency, which was to begin next month.

“While the Town of Vail embraces her messaging and artwork surrounding Native Americans, in recent weeks her art and her public messaging has focused on the Israel/Gaza crisis,” the statement read. “AIPP’s mission is to create a diverse and meaningful public art experience in Vail, but to not use public funds to support any position on a polarizing geopolitical issue.”

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The art in question was the painting “G is for Genocide” (2024), which SeeWalker had turned into editioned prints to raise donations for the United Nations Crisis Relief Fund to aid civilians in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank. The painting depicts a profile view of a woman whose features are largely abstracted, with the exception of one very detailed eye fixed on the viewer. The woman is wearing a keffiyeh, a type of Palestinian head scarf, a red braid, and a feather. Abstract geometric lines characteristic of Lakota art appear across the woman’s face. Her gaze is penetrating, watchful and aware.

Artist Danielle SeeWalker

SeeWalker addressed the residency cancellation on her Instagram, writing, “The artwork ‘G if for Genocide’ is about expressing the parallels between what is happening to the innocent people in Gaza to that of the genocide of Native American populations here in our lands.”

In an interview with Hyperallergic, SeeWalker said that the inspiration for her work usually involves what she’s feeling and thinking about at the moment. The painting, which was her submission for a member’s show at the Babe Walls nonprofit for Women’s History Month, was informed by images and reports of Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza. 

“My news feed was filled with these horrific pictures of women and children; I painted it in 24 hours, inspired by things stirring in my mind at the moment,” she said. The story has generated a lot of attention for both SeeWalker and the Town of Vail. “I sold out the edition and have opened another,” she told Hyperallergic, “but I’ve also received a lot of hate mail.” 

SeeWalker said she was informed of the decision in a three-minute phone call and that she was not given an opportunity to speak about where she was coming from as an artist. 

“That kind of dissection makes me feel tokenized,” SeeWalker said. “To publicly say, ‘We support her as it relates to her culture, but not about her speaking on this issue.’”

“Overall it is not even about me, it’s about censoring artists in general, about artists being able to openly express themselves,” SeeWalker continued. “I wonder if this event will leave a residual scar for other artists of color … Will they only support people who fit and align with their mold of their community?” 

In response to a request for comment, the Town of Vail referred Hyperallergic to its most recent public statement, issued on May 14.

“Our decision not to move forward with SeeWalker’s residency was not made in a vacuum; after releasing her name in an announcement, community members, including representatives from our local faith-based communities, raised concerns to town staff around SeeWalker’s recent rhetoric on her social media platform about the Hamas-Israel war,” the statement said. “As public representatives we will not support messaging that targets one group of residents or guests over another as we are a welcoming and inclusive community for all.”

One bright spot is that another Vail venue where SeeWalker was scheduled to speak has reaffirmed their commitment to the artist. Megan McGee Bonta, program director of the Vail Symposium, contacted her to reiterate the organization’s support.  SeeWalker told Hyperallergic that she welcomes the opportunity and plans to attend the symposium event on June 19 — a conversation about her art and activism with The Red Road Project, and that she will be happy to openly address the Town of Vail’s decision to cancel her residency if it comes up during the talk.

“I’m very outspoken about controversial topics,” she said. “It’s meant to challenge or upset or make you feel uncomfortable. It was never a secret to Vail either that that’s what I stood for.”


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