12’ H x 12’ W beaded portrait using over 4,000 single 2" clay beads Every One. Social collaboration, sculptural installation. Cannupa Hanska Luger 2018. Image: Lazy Stitch exhbition, May 3- July 21 2018 at ENT Gallery for Contemporary Art, Colorado Springs CO

Four thousand. This number signifies a future and a past unknown, but most importantly an estimation of murdered and missing indigenous women in the United States and Canada. No one talks about these women. Artist Cannupa Hanska brings this injustice to light with his 2018 installation, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Queer and Trans People BEAD PROJECT (EVERY ONE). The artwork, also known as MMIWQT , is composed of four thousand beads hanging from the ceiling as it casts an illustrious shadow on the floor.1 Viewed as a whole, the beads depict a pixelated version of the photograph, Sister (2016), a portrait of a native woman, by First Nations photographer Kali Spitzer. This installation was the winner of the Burke Prize at the Museum of Art and Design, an annual award specifically made for rising young artists, to support them as they delve further in their careers.2

A person may be drawn to this piece because of how visually pleasing it is, not at all aware of the impact and significance of the artist’s project. Cannupa Hanska Luger grew up on the Standing Rock reservation and has made many works that speak to the experiences of Native American communities.3 Luger is also an activist and many of his projects involve collaboration. For this installation, he asked communities across the United States and Canada to create two-inch clay beads, then Luger fired and painted the beads with ink. Each bead stands for a murdered or missing indigenous women. These beads individually hold their own significance and strung together add to the impact of the beautiful woman they depict.

Cannupa Hanska Luger’s piece follows the example of social practice art, which typically “demonstrates a procedural, or process-based, understanding of community.”4 Projects like these may come from many different places and be realized in different mediums, but they share a message and a movement that ripples through entire communities. These installations have meaning beyond what is at the surface—one the audience deciphers. Installation like this have been grouped into a rising category of art—often referred to as either social practice or relational art: “[A] mode [of social practice] is communication, often the transmission of information or the teaching of a skill.”5 Although the installation was put together by Luger, this piece was made by several groups from art institutes to indigenous communities throughout the United States and Canada—several groups who care. They worked together to mold all the clay beads, yet they speak with one voice, articulating a unified message.

In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police counted the story of 1,017 indigenous women murdered and 184 missing between 1980 and 2012. Research from the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Walk 4 Justice indicated that the exact number was more than 4,000 murdered or missing combined. This number is an estimation, but since 1980, none of these cases have been investigated. Everyone marvels at Canada for being a ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ powerhouse in comparison to the United States, when in turn the Canadian government remains silent of issues surrounding the indigenous community, namely how masses of women are getting murdered and no one has done anything about it.6

MMIQWT is an important installation that has earned recognition not only for Luger but the communities plagued by this issue. Luger’s activism is focused on environmental issues, the indigenous community, and additionally the LGBTQ+ community within that group, whose members have historically had even less of a voice (or representation?) within the community. His work is focused on giving those without a voice a platform. This installation is eye-catching and it draws attention to an issue that is forgotten and unspoken of. As a form of social practice, Luger brings together different pockets of the native community throughout the United States and Canada to unify and speak out about this dire injustice and violence.

1.Canuppa Hanska Luger, “MMIWQT BEAD PROJECT.”

2.Gabe Cohn. “Cannupa Hanska Luger Wins New $50,000 Arts Prize.”

3.Cannupa Hanska Luger, “Bio.”

4.Grant H. Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication In Modern Art, 169.

5.Jeriah. “An Introduction to Relational Aesthetics and Social Practice.”

6.John Paul Tasker, “Minister’s Comment Highlights Confusion over Missing, Murdered Women Numbers | CBC News.”