At the ‘Rally for Salmon’ in Portland, Oregon, on June 25th, Northwest Artists Against Extinction artist Gabrielle Abbott gifted her canvas mural, Free the Snake, to Julian Matthews and Nimiipuu Protecting The Environment (NPTE).
NPTE is a non-profit organization co-founded by Julian and several other Nez Perce tribal members in 2015. The mural recently traveled to Washington, DC, where it was displayed at a Tribal-hosted reception attended by tribal leaders, supporters, and policymakers from Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration.
In this latest blog, Gabrielle shares her insights about the experience of creating the mural for the ‘Rally’, and gifting work to Julian Matthews and NPTE.
Jeanne Dodds: As an artist participating in the ‘Rally for Salmon’, can you speak about the place or role of art within environmental and social activist spaces, and how you see these spaces including the voices of creatives?
Gabrielle Abbott: Art touches people’s emotions…. and emotions are what drive people to act. Without art, activist spaces can be too conceptual and struggle to connect to new audiences. Art helps us turn logical ideas into stories that we feel in our hearts. When we act with integrated intellect and emotion, we are so much stronger.
JD: Can you please speak to your experience of creating and sharing work intended to be received by Tribal individuals and communities, and why you wanted to create work for this purpose?
GA: When I first started this project, I didn’t know that it would be received by Tribal individuals. I only had the intention to create an image that communicated the essence of the issue in the most beautiful way possible. When I learned that my work would be gifted to Tribal advocates, I was deeply honored and humbled. When I saw all the Native women in traditional regalia taking selfies in front of my work, I felt so proud and grateful for this opportunity. To have your work serve the greater good is the highest honor an artist can receive.
JD: Please describe your experience of gifting the artwork to Nimiipuu Protecting The Environment leader, Julian Matthews. What was this opportunity like, from your perspective?
GA: Gifting my art to Julian was the highlight of the event for me. My mom texted me afterwards and said: “If someone had asked me what kind of artist I’d want my daughter to be someday, that moment would have encapsulated it. “ And she’s right! My 10-year old self would have her mind blown to know I was going to grow up and have a moment like that.
JD: Any other thoughts to share about your experience at the ‘Rally for Salmon’?
GA: I wish more organizations were like NWAEE, and included artists in their efforts for social change. Artists care deeply about the world, and we are highly sensitive and empathic citizens. Unfortunately we are often undervalued and therefore, struggle to share our gifts with the world. The NWAAE not only included me in their efforts, they also compensated me for my time and materials. This felt amazing.
Because of NWAEE, I was economically supported while I painted the mural, and also had the resources to travel to Portland with my friends and family for the event. I could then give extra energy back to a cause I care deeply about because I was being valued.This is a beautiful example of how supporting each other lifts everyone up, including the Salmon!
It is my greatest hope that our combined efforts result in the removal of the Snake River dams, and restoration of our precious salmon and steelhead runs. Thank you so much for including me in this project.