New York-based arts NGO and new media platform Rhizome has announced the presentation of CyberPowWow, an “aboriginally determined territory in cyberspace.” The work was first conceived in 1997 by the Nation to Nation collective, which included Skawennati, Ryan Rice, and Eric Robertson.
The pop-up exhibition, curated by Celine Wong Katzman of Rhizome, will also include a panel discussion and presentations by artists Skawennati and Jason Lewis, scholar Mikhel Proulx, and preservation director Dragan Espenschied. Additionally, four computer terminals will be available for the public to engage with CyberPowWow.
Moving forward, an online exhibition — part of a permanent exhibition space for born-digital artwork through Rhizome’s digital art preservation program — will be created.
Why It Matters
Part website and part digital meeting space, represented by a set of graphically connected chat rooms called “the Palace,” CyberPowWow was one of the first major online art exhibitions that presented works by Indigenous artists, sometimes in conversation with works by settler artists.
CyberPowWow also hosted events every two years to commemorate the addition of new work. Visitors could log on from their computers or attend in-person “Gathering Sites” established across North America.
This was a groundbreaking artistic construction, considering both the “hybrid” offering of how people could engage with this work and the medium it offered visitors — digital art was nowhere near as ubiquitous in the late 1990s as it is today.
This initiative, as stated in a press release by Rhizome, intends to build interest in the project and to pave the way for future “exhibition, research, and publishing efforts” about the work. Given the historic exclusion of Indigenous artists from cultural institutions, including even Rhizome’s exclusion of CyberPowWow for its Net Art Anthology, it’s evident why this is an extremely impactful and important presentation, especially as museums continue to grapple with contemporary discussions of anti-colonialism, Indigeneity and sovereignty.
What They Said
“CyberPowWow is a groundbreaking platform that warrants deep critical engagement, and demonstrates the radical possibilities of self-determined communities, both online and offline. Under Rhizome’s new leadership team, we are thrilled to prioritize a continued, urgent commitment to amplifying the crucial voices of underrepresented contributors to digital culture.”
—Makayla Bailey, Co-Executive Director of Rhizome
“I am thrilled to be working with Rhizome on the restoration and presentation of CyberPowWow because they really get it. Indigenous people were present at the beginning of this digital revolution that we are living and it is good that that history is being written, even better that it’s happening while the artists are still around to comment.”