Local artist Laura Youngbird is known for incorporating feminine forms in her mixed media artwork. But rather than literal representations of the female body, the Minnesota artist interprets it through a symbolic garment often associated with femininity: the dress.
To Youngbird, the simple piece of clothing serves as a metaphor for the complex struggles and triumphs of women.
“I am amazed at how the metaphor continues to unravel, reveal and expose even deeper nuances,” she has stated.
Dresses are so prevalent in her work that she sees them in unexpected places — like the towering power lines that stand neatly along the interstate. Most people drive by them without a glance, but they caught Youngbird’s artistic eye.
This is where she got the idea for the collaborative dress sculpture that will be made at the Plains Art Museum’s Art and Poetry Workshop happening at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17, to commemorate loved ones, particularly women, who shaped us into who we are today.
Youngbird — the director of Native American Programs at the museum — hosts the workshop with fellow Native American artist Dr. Denise Lajimodiere. Lajimodiere is a published poet known for her work reflecting Native American culture, spirituality and tradition with “a bit of humor every now and then,” the poet says.
At the free workshop, Youngbird and Lajimodiere invite community members to emboss poems on circular metal tins and add their own metal trinkets to the dress sculpture, which will start as a metal frame fashioned with chicken wire. Some trinkets like earrings and other hardware will be provided, but Youngbird encourages participants to bring their own forlorn metal pieces to add to the sculpture because she “only has one junk drawer,” she says with a chuckle.
But more importantly, adding their own pieces to the dress will make the sculpture a true community collaboration, Youngbird says.
“(The workshop) isn’t necessarily just about dresses,” she adds. “It’s about amazing, powerful women who make things. I’ve thought a lot about when people make regalia and how much time goes into making these outfits. It can take hundreds of hours. When you’re making (clothing) for someone, it has more than one meaning.”
Lajimodiere adds that this is the first time she has done a collaborative sculptural poem, but is excited about the experience.
“As with all poetry, I anticipate that magic will happen due to the creative power of the women involved in the workshop and the life experiences they will bring and put into writing,” Lajimodiere says.
Once it’s completed, the sculpture will loosely resemble the parallel overhead electric power lines and a Native American jingle dress.
“The jingle dress is powerful, and dancing jingle is a responsibility,” Youngbird says.
The collaborative sculpture will be on display in Plains Art Museum’s spring exhibition, “Waasamoo-Beshizi: Work by Contemporary Native American Women Artists.” Waasamoo-Beshizi translates to “power lines” in Ojibwe.
The Art and Poetry workshop is geared more toward women, but anyone is welcome, Youngbird says. “I’m excited to see what will happen.”
What: Art and poetry workshop
When: 6:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17
Where: Plains Art Museum, 704 First Ave. N., Fargo
Info: The event is free, but registration is required; www.plainsart.org/events
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, December 17, 2018.