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Honoring the Treaties by Iván Sikic

Honoring the Treaties is a durational performance in which artist Iván Sikic (Lima, 1983) invites fellow artist Paul Cannon to join him in a four-hour walk along the twelve-mile Wickquasgeck trail (now converted at parts into Broadway), the original North-South trading route of the Lenape Indians, the original inhabitants of Manhattan. Cannon is a singer song writer and a member of the Kumeyaay Ipai tribe of Southern California. Throughout the performance, Cannon walks backwards while Sikic applies golden foil over his partially uncovered body, all in solemn silence. Cannon wears traditional costume gifted to him by elders of his tribe.

photo: Hans Neumann

The name Honoring the Treaties is inspired by a powerful 2010 TED Talk by Aaron Huey that revisits the long line of broken treaties resulting in the current dispossession of the Lakota nation, the confederation of seven Sioux tribes of the Great Planes, covering the lands of North and South Dakota. Huey’s talk ends with a call to action:

The United States continues on a daily basis to violate the terms of the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties with the Lakota. The call to action I offer today – my TED wish – is this: Honor the treaties.

In August 2013, to mark the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay echoed this sentiment, noting that “even when signed or otherwise agreed more than a century ago, many treaties remain the cornerstone for the protection of the identity, land and customs of indigenous peoples.” She concluded her speech in Geneva reiterating Huey’s call to action:

I encourage States to take concrete steps to honor and strengthen the treaties they have concluded with indigenous peoples and to cooperate with them in implementing new agreements or other constructive arrangements through transparent, inclusive and participatory negotiations,

Honoring the Treaties heeds this call and puts it to action through artistic gesture. Coming from the West of the United States, Cannon brings with him a shared history of cultural dispossession. Walking the Wickquasgeck trail, he pays homage to the cultural significance of the land he treads, re-inscribing it in solidarity. Sikic facilitates this gesture, and amplifies it with a layer of gold.

photo: Hans Neumann

Honoring the Treaties is the third performance of a series. In September 2014, Sikic did a similar performance in Australia. On that occasion, he walked along the streets of outer suburban Melbourne, the city where he lived for over a decade. For that piece, it was Indigenous Australian artist Ian Michael who was covered in gold. The decision to collaborate with an Indigenous artist was in response to a commitment with Australia, where the colonial past of displacement and usurpation has left visible scars within the aboriginal population.

More recently, in February 2016, Sikic collaborated with Mohammad Karaman, a Syrian refugee from the city of Aleppo, now established in Madrid, where Sikic presented the performance. On that occasion, Sikic was responding to the refugee crisis that forced hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to venture out into the Mediterranean in precarious life rafts, fully aware of the danger.

The protagonist of this series of performances is the human body, the personal body as the bearer of the memories of a community. The gold foil that Sikic uses to cover these bodies takes its inspiration from Kintsugi, the ancient Japanese practice and philosophy in which broken ceramic vessels are pieced back together using lacquer and gold. Once mended, these vessels show their golden cracks as a silent tribute to their troubled history. Honoring the Treaties takes Paul Cannon’s body on a journey back in history, a history of ongoing dispossession in urgent need of mending.

Jorge López Canales

More about Iván Sikic

photo: Hans Neumann

photo: Hans Neuman

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