The interweaving of Native American cultures with modern times is a focus of the next exhibit at The Gallery at Penn College, on the third floor of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Madigan Library.
“No Place for the Weak,” an exhibit by Christopher Olszewski, will run Sept. 6 through Oct. 6, with a Meet the Artist Reception set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 10 and a gallery talk at 5:30 p.m. that day.
As part of his research into multicultural identity and the positioning of Native American artists in a contemporary context, Olszewski retraced the Trail of Tears from Georgia to Oklahoma. The 2,350-mile trek was a vision quest for him as an artist, educator and Native American. He visited battlefields, first settlements, treaty signings, borderlines and religious sites, exploring the contemporary wilderness to record, retrieve and listen to the whispers of the past.
The trip also served as a means of transitioning his theories about cultural identity into a tangible body of two-dimensional work.
Olszewski’s visual research has focused on contemporary images of Native Americans. Everything from “Geronimo” as the CIA’s code-name for Osama Bin Laden, to cigar store decorations and logos for professional sports teams, forms the basis of his work. “No Place for the Weak” aims to humanize Native Americans beyond the corporate logos, cigar stores and souvenir shops.
“As an active member of the Chippewa of Mnjikaning First Nation, I have developed my aesthetic from the creative visual language of the Northern Woodland people,” Olszewski said. “My work is rooted in western painting traditions, as well as being trained in the modernist/postmodernist philosophy of art. I also have a fascination with the ancient Native American world and how it interacts with current times. My goal is to develop the Native American image beyond the ‘souvenir shop’ and to depict actual people struggling with the encroachment of the dominant contemporary culture.”
Olszewski earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and drawing from Wayne State University and a Master of Fine Arts in painting and sculpture from the University of Kentucky. He is a professor of foundation studies at Savannah College of Art and Design. Olszewski previously served in academic and administrative capacities at Jackson State University.
“My paintings weave an intricate line between propaganda and advertising with an emphasis on the abuse of the word ‘liberty,’” the artist shared. “Stories, myths and legends of a proud people have shaped my understanding of the human environment and helped me navigate current challenges. My paintings are a visual recording of my origins and the consequential layering of my life experiences. I hope to convey a sense of Chippewa culture and history, Western education, mainstream American culture, delight and hardship, the light and the dark and last, but not least, harmony between the past and the present.”
The gallery is open Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday, 2 to 7 p.m.; and Wednesday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Saturday and Monday).