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Exhibition Analysis: Interpreting the work of Nate Hofer
The new exhibition in the Luyken Fine Arts Center touches on themes of Indigenous lands, the way we value land, and the history of colonialism in the United States.
There is no denying that Kansans love their land. It is cherished as a livelihood for farmers, home of sunsets, and an inspiration for artists.
A prime example of this: Nate Hofer’s new exhibition entitled One and a Half Acres: Images from America’s Decommissioned Missile Silos. This exhibition is displayed in the Regier Art Gallery within Luyken Fine Arts Center.
In passing, one can see rural images of surprisingly proportionate rectangular fencing in varying states of occupation. Hofer's artist statement indicates these images show land from the American Midwest that housed intercontinental missiles.
“It was common knowledge that in the event of an attack, our town would be wiped out in an instant,” Hofer said.
In time this ‘cherished’ land became contaminated with nuclear waste. Hofer’s work powerfully exemplifies the threat of extinction which human civilizations have faced time and time again, but it also shows the role land has played in these tragedies.
Often left unspoken is the history of said land. When the Mennonite colonizers who founded Bethel College arrived in Kansas in 1874, they came with the understanding that ownership of land was their right (i.e. the Doctrine of Discovery). It was in implicit belief that land could not be co-occupied with Indigenous Peoples.
The result: an extinction level threat to these native civilizations in the form of brutal violence, merciless relocation, and intense deculturalization.
This is a different existential threat than Hofer discusess, but his art tells the story of uprooted lives and degraded land. The Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kansa, Kiowa, Osage, Pawnee, and Wichita know and understand this tale in ways others could never comprehend.
If this message can speak to even one visitor, Hofer has done his job well. By depicting timeless, relevant themes, Hofer’s art has sparked conversation and introspection.
Kansans may love their land, but until they deeply understand it, they cannot cherish it in the ways it deserves. Until each person comes to terms with the tragedies their home has endured for their benefit, this cycle of destruction will continue.
More of Hofer’s photos can be seen in the physical exhibition, or here at his gallery website.