The Indigenous Artists Creating Work in Solidarity With Palestine

Victor Pascual green poster
Victor Pascual, “Free Palestine” (designed 2023–24), digital artwork, 1080 by 1350 pixels (image courtesy the artist)

On October 13, 2023, the Red Nation, an organization dedicated to the liberation of Native peoples from capitalism and colonialism, released a statement calling for solidarity with the Palestinian people. “It should be clear to tribal leaders and all Native people that we are on a parallel path with Palestinian people struggling for land back and decolonization,” the missive read. “Native nations and people face the same settler colonial violence that has descended upon our Palestinian relatives.”

Amid the Israeli genocide in Gaza, as identified by human rights organizations, the shared struggles of Native peoples in present-day North America and Palestinian people have come to the fore. A number of Indigenous artists and designers are creating emotive work to draw attention to this interconnectedness and to encourage international solidarity. 

Victor Pascual is a Navajo Mayan architect and graphic designer currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since October, he has been creating posters that he shares online to support the growing pro-Palestine movement. One of his most popular posters, shared on Instagram in December, is inspired by sand painting, a practice in Navajo and other Indigenous cultures historically used for healing. 

Pascual renders the First Man and First Woman, cultural figures within the Diné creation story, as protectors of the land of Palestine. Bands of brown and blue color stretch around the map outline, signifying harmony and balance in Pascual’s native tradition. Rather than meeting, the bands leave an opening signifying what’s known in the creation story as the emergence, the entry point for all creation to enter Earth. “The idea that I wanted to convey with this piece was protection, because that’s what we do as people,” Pascual told Hyperallergic. “Not only do we protect ourselves, but we also protect those around us. Also, and most importantly, we protect the earth.”

Sets of red arrows pointing inward make reference to the four directions, which Pascual explained are important in Indigenous cultures across the world. To Pascual, the four directions embody a connection to the universe: where the sun rises and sets, summer and winter solstices, and the equinoxes between both solstices.

“A lot of that information helps us to understand how we can most efficiently live with the planet, and for Navajo people specifically, we go even further in using four directions as a sort of protocol for how we understand our place within the universe,” he added. In this moment, he believes that place is standing in solidarity with Palestinians.

In another design, Pascual combined the colors of the watermelon, a symbol of Palestinian resistance, with visual elements from various Indigenous cultures: A spiral design represents the universe as seen in historic petroglyphs in North America, Chile, and Peru. “My goal was to say, hey, we hear you. We’re indigenous to these lands, and, most importantly, we’re people of the earth,” the artist added. “We’re true stewards of the land, and we’ve been entrusted to take care of these [Palestinian] lands as well.”

Nipinet Landsem is an Anishinaabe and Michif tattoo artist who is a citizen of the Manitoba Matey Federation and based in Madison, Wisconsin. They created an image in December 2023 as an offering to the Free Palestine movement, which they told Hyperallergic they’ve been involved with since long before October 7. The digital artwork shows two hands intertwined, one clasping a Palestinian keffiyeh and the other an Indigenous flowered kokum scarf. Green and red flowers border the image, including a prairie rose, a common symbol in Ojibwe, Cree, and Michif culture. Around them flow olive branches, a reference to Palestinian groves destroyed by the Israeli military, and the phrase La rivyer oschi la mer ishi, Palestine ka-tipeymishowak — the artwork’s title, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” in Michif.

The floral kokum scarf comes from Anishinaabe and Ojibwe cultures to which Landsem is closely connected. The scarf itself was originally brought over to Canada by Ukrainian immigrants in 1891. Though they were predominantly met with discrimination from White Canadians, they were warmly welcomed by the First Nations and Métis communities in the Prairies. The two communities formed a bond and traded items including the kokum scarf, which has now come to represent Native peoples and tradition. The way both hands and scarves are intertwined in Landsem’s work is a reminder of just how connected Indigenous struggles are around the world, from Ukraine to Canada to Palestine.

Works by both Landsem and Pascual have been used by the Indigenous Solidarity for Palestine campaign organized by the Red Nation that features digital art in their social media posts and on their website to illustrate an idea that can be so often complicated by words and jargon.

“Colonization is the same everywhere. Indigenous people carry this trauma and we’re seeing it being reenacted again and again and again,” Landsem told Hyperallergic. “But that also is where the most intense solidarity comes from — this shouldn’t happen to anybody.”

One work by Danielle SeeWalker, a Húŋkpapȟa Lakȟóta member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota, has created some unexpected controversy. SeeWalker first posted a photo of the painting, titled “G is for Genocide,” on Instagram in March. She had been scheduled to do an artist residency by the Town of Vail, Colorado, but after she shared the image, they canceled it.

The acrylic, aerosol, and oil-stick painting is part of a series SeeWalker has been producing for years of portraits of Native women. SeeWalker described the work to Hyperallergic as a “merging” of the Native woman and the Palestinian woman. She wears a distinctive elk tooth printed dress symbolic of prestige in certain Native traditions, along with a keffiyeh hijab adorned with a feather. The bright red of the woman’s braid is a nod to the Palestinian flag. 

“I was hearing and seeing all this horrific imagery on my news feeds, and it really evoked a lot of parallels in my mind to what happened to my ancestors,” SeeWalker said.

The figure’s single visible eye, painted in a more realistic style than the rest of the work, is also a theme that runs through this series. It stems from a dream in which SeeWalker was being followed by a Native woman, possibly an ancestor. Every time she’d turn to look at the woman, her face would go blurry apart from one eye.

The steely determination in the woman’s gaze encapsulates the ethos of the work, which bears witness and wordlessly conveys an unmistakable message of solidarity. “I didn’t want sadness or despair as the theme of the painting, it was more wanting to show resistance and resilience,” SeeWalker said. “Looking at the history of my people, now we’re less than 2% of the US population but we once thrived and we were millions. We have resisted, and we have been resilient, and we survived. I look and see the same thing happening with Palestinians.”

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