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Missoula art exhibit offers solidarity for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives

The Missoula Art Museum is hosting a new exhibit dedicated to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relative Crisis
Posted at 5:01 PM, Jun 11, 2024

MISSOULA — The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relative Crisis (MMIRC) is a never-ending battle for affected families. Now their stories are displayed in a Missoula art exhibit.

The Missoula Art Museum is hosting a new exhibit throughout the summer, which is dedicated to the MMIR Crisis. Indigenous artists with ties from across the state submitted pieces to be displayed.

The MMIRC exhibit was curated by Great Falls native, Rachel Allen. Allen has worked with art and museums her entire career.

She decided to join the MAM project because of the authenticity she felt from the museum.

“I was nervous at first, because that's such a sensitive subject, right?” she says. “And I was like, is this just an institution doing sort of a hot thing or are they really invested in Native American art and issues? And I found that they were.”

At the end of last year, the Museum put out a call for art, so indigenous creators could choose to participate or not. Then a jury selected a group of top pieces for Allen to choose from.

Allen, who is a member of the Nez Perce tribe, found it inspiring to see so many artists using their work as activism.

“I could see that that people really cared about this issue, I can also see how it affected their community, and how important and urgent it was,” she says.

Monica Gilles-Brings Yellow
Monica Gilles-Brings Yellow has been creating art for five years. She often uses archive photos of unnamed Indigenous women.

One of the artists selected was Monica Gilles-Brings Yellow, an Indigenous artist with personal ties to the Flathead Indian Reservation.

She began her artwork five years ago after finding archive photos of Native women.

The photos rarely had any information associated with the person, so Gilles-Brings Yellow began piecing together their stories.

“I could figure out what tribe they were, and from there, I could figure out, just by, like, different beadwork and stuff like that, I could figure out who the families were, I could figure out when they lived,” she says.

She would use the old photographs to make pieces with paint, resin, and gold flakes.

Her projects eventually brought her close to home, when she discovered the story of Susan Irvine Adams, her husband's great-grandmother.

Irvine Adams was murdered in Arlee. Her bruised body was found in an ally and gasoline had been poured in her mouth.

Rather than justice, the family was told the death was at the fault of Irvine Adams. The death certificate names the cause of death as alcoholism and exposure.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relative Crisis
The Missoula Art Museum is hosting a new exhibit dedicated to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relative Crisis.

Gilles-Brings Yellow piece on Irvine Adams shows the woman’s portrait painted on the death certificate.

“I wanted to incorporate that because that's kind of how sometimes things are still dealt with, and that's definitely how things like suspicious deaths were dealt with then, like, ‘we don't want to investigate it, it's the victim's fault, she died of alcoholism’,” Gilles-Brings Yellow says.

Finding out more about her step-grandmother and other tribal families in Montana has been a rewarding process for Gilles-Brings Yellow. Still, the art can only do so much for a family’s pain.

“I don’t think there’s any healing,” she says. “It’s mostly anger, but through that anger, I get to have awareness.”

The MAM exhibit is meant to not only spread awareness for those who don’t know about the MMIR Crisis but also as a place of comfort for affected families.

“A lot of times when you address a specific issue in an art show, it’s only about raising awareness for other people– and that's critical, because that allyship and us working together, that's how we're going to approach these issues– but at the same time, it was really important to us that we made it really a place that our native community members could come in and feel safe and feel heard as well.”

The exhibit is open through Sept. 7 at the Missoula Art Museum, which is free to visitors.