Gabriel’s on John Street in Kingston is the site of an exhibit of photography and artwork by children from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota – one that provokes sobering contemplation and tenuous hope in the viewer. Curated by Jone Miller of the Floating Foundation of Photography, who has spent time living and teaching there, the collection gives us a glimpse into the lives of young people forced to endure grinding poverty.
From the Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation website: “The Reservation is large and its needs immense…Unemployment is over 80 percent, the weather is extreme, and families struggle mightily with crushing financial, housing, health, educational and social issues.”
The youth whose work is on exhibit range from 9 to 14 years of age, but their creative impulses in photography and paint and their written observations speak to a level of experience far beyond their years. “These kids are unseen and unheard by the outside world, and this is their voice. This is their vision,” Miller says. “Life is really rough out there. But the kids are like little jewels in a dark world, they really shine. The artwork, in juxtaposition to the text, is mind-blowing.”
From 1994 to 1996, with support from the Floating Foundation of Photography, Miller was able to offer teenagers the opportunity to learn photography, creative writing and bookmaking – using all the arts as a means to have the kids explore themselves. “I always go on the premise that we should be telling our own stories. We’re the one’s living it, and no one can tell our stories like we can.”
After exhibiting in the Porcupine School, Miller brought the stories and art back to expose the larger society to what the children have done. “This is the first time for this artwork to be seen by the outside world. I’m looking for a larger venue, but will keep the show at Gabriel’s for two to three months, so I can get other venues to come look at it. In 1995, we exhibited at the American Indian Community House in New York City, and the Museum of the American Indian has agreed to come see this exhibit.”
Miller has big plans for the future. She and partner Steven Schoen (son and co-founder with Maggie Sherwood of the Floating Foundation of Photography) will put together a fundraising concert in the spring. She wants to bring the group of 14 student artists to the Hudson Valley this summer. Miller would like to help them start a silkscreening business on the reservation and a food-buying club to help raise their nutritional awareness and combat the reservation’s 75 percent diabetes rate. She wants to create an entire arts center there. And most urgently, she has mounted a blanket drive to collect new blankets to be sent out to the community.
Miller sees the creative possibility in these kids. “I see them really growing and changing and evolving. I want to give them the best experience and the best materials to let them know that we care about them. We trust in them and their vision. They’re sharing in a way that expresses who they are – feelings that they’ve not opened in any other way.”
Gabriel’s is located at 50 John Street in Uptown Kingston. If you would like to donate a blanket, or help in any other way, please call (845) 687-2479.