Each/Other (2020–2021), a large, multicolored fabric sculpture of a she-wolf, is the first collaborative work by Cannupa Hanska Luger and Marie Watt. The pair invited members of the public to embroider messages onto bandanas and mail them to the artists, who hand-sewed them onto a canvas-covered metal wolf form. For these Indigenous creators, the crowdsourced she-wolf represents kinship among people and between species as well as a protective, maternal shelter.
Both Watt and Luger frequently orchestrate communal multimedia experiences. This sculpture draws on some of their preferred methods, including Watt’s inclination toward textiles and group sewing, and Luger’s experience with large-scale sculpture and social media outreach.
New Mexico–based Luger was raised on the Standing Rock Reservation, is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold, and is of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, and Lakota descent. His works in sculpture, performance, and new media explore modern indigenousness and the role of the artist as community catalyst. The she-wolf is not the first big animal he’s constructed; (Be)Longing (2019) features a life-size buffalo skeleton sculpture, honoring a species essential to Great Plains ecology and Native American cultures that was slaughtered by U.S. soldiers and settlers to near extinction.
Luger often enlists members of the public in timely creative actions. For example, for the MMIWQT Bead Project commemorating missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and queer and trans people, participants contributed 4,000 handmade clay beads to the pixelated portrait installation Every One (2018). Luger’s community works align with his belief in interdependence and creative synergy and his view that, “art is a verb.”
Portland-based Watt is an interdisciplinary artist and storyteller and a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians with German-Scot ancestry. Her works interweave Iroquois proto-feminism and other facets of Indigenous cultures with personal narratives and contemporary rituals. She investigates fabric as a connective medium through multigenerational sewing circles in which participants contribute stitched texts to large textiles. She also collects blankets from the public and builds them into towers and other forms as a means of exploring the ubiquitous object’s identity and commemorative use in some Native American cultures.
Watt has a particular interest in she-wolves and other canines. She says she reflects on them as “pets, mythological guides, and first teachers” as well as archetypal mothering figures. They are central to her exploration of the concept of companion species, a term she uses “broadly to include humans, animals, elements, and organisms in the natural environment. . . . I am interested in [what the world would] look like if we considered ourselves companion species,” she says. Her Companion Species series spans years and mediums, including fabric and crystal.
Watt and Luger were invited to partner up by John Lukavic, curator of native arts at the Denver Art Museum. He curated their first joint exhibition, also titled “Each/Other,” which debuted in Denver in 2021 and is on view at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, through May 8, 2022. Before this endeavor, Watt and Luger had met only briefly. According to Watt, it was during a conversation with the two artists at a basement karaoke bar in New York City that Lukavic “got the idea for Cannupa and me—two artists with socially engaged practices—to collaborate.” The resulting exhibition features evidence of each artist’s previous community endeavors, including wall hangings and musical installations, along with their first co-creation, the Each/Other she-wolf.
As they discussed the exhibit and creative partnership, Luger says, “We started talking about ideas of collaboration [and] relationships. From our Indigenous lenses, we have these rich and deep histories of more-than-human kinships.” Originally, he says, they planned for the she-wolf to be “almost a large shelter space” that visitors could stand inside; the work would provide an encompassing, protective, and maternal experience. When the pandemic made it clear that this participatory element was unwise, the creative approach evolved to embody adjusted concepts of safety and connection during social distancing.
Luger says the audience is still sheltered by the presence of the she-wolf, which is 20 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 9 feet tall, and notes that the hand-stitched bandanas, in turn, provide the wolf with covering and protection. Watt says the she-wolf’s canvas base pelt and the attached bandanas are both “part of a larger covering, a skin that connects and protects us.”
The colorful wolf was made during two visits by the artists to Camp Colton, a ranch in a cedar forest in the Pacific Northwest. It’s run by the Portland-based Stelo Arts and Culture Foundation, where Luger was a resident in the summer of 2020. That summer, the artists quarantined at the camp with their families before getting to work in what Watt describes as a “large, shoplike barn” complete with goats and chickens. Here they designed a wolf model and planned the bandana integration.
“We really got to know each other and our families, as well as the family that runs Stelo,” Luger says. “Our kids got to hang out together, playing in streams. . . . All of that is embedded in the piece for me.”
Luger and Watt connected with sculptor, fabricator, and Colton sculpture studio manager Neal Fegan, who applied his engineering and welding skills to build much of the wolf’s metal skeleton, which is made of concentric steel rings that can expand into the body shape, be adjusted into varying positions, and be flat-packed.
During this period, the artists used social media to solicit public contributions, a tried-and-true Luger strategy that was new for Watt. “I appreciate how this type of call breaks down borders, soliciting local and global participation,” she says. They posted several invitations on Instagram and other platforms, asking people to stitch messages on bandanas and mail them to Camp Colton.
After a series of Zoom calls with each other and with Fegan, the artists returned to Camp Colton in February 2021 to finish the Each/Other sculpture. Luger helped with welding, particularly for the head, and created the ceramic eyes. A set of custom canvas covers—the aforementioned base pelt for the wolf—was made by the Portland Garment Factory.
Watt and Luger read the bandana messages as they stitched more than 800 onto the pelt. “When I was unboxing the bandanas, I was moved by the way each one embodied that person even without them being present—their body, cadence of voice, and expression,” Watt says.
The bandanas were diverse and sometimes included images. The messages ranged from solemn to irreverent, including the phrases “Dismantle All Colonial Systems Now,” “Be a Good Ancestor,” “I Miss Your Embrace,” “Hakuna Matata,” “Your Mom,” “We Are One,” and “Shalom.” Now, when Watt sees the she-wolf, she doesn’t see “an animal or an object; I see the process of making and the participation behind it . . . many individual stories coming together to create something larger.”
Community works blur the line between maker and audience, and Luger says the shift from an individual artist’s viewpoint to an interdependent narrative enhances how people understand the work. “They can recognize their own contribution and also [realize] that we never do anything alone, ever.” He also talks about the importance of recognizing the “often-overlooked” workers who bring pieces like this to life, including guards, docents, ticketing staff, registrars, and preparators. “It’s important to understand their contribution to this exhibition, to celebrate not simply the director or the curator but also the teams that make the vision possible.”