As the onset of the pandemic brought the traditional flow of the art world to a halt, and as nationwide racial justice protests reached a fever pitch in the US, the Indigenous artist Jeremy Dennis (Shinnecock) began developing a momentous project that he envisioned would uplift the voices of Bipoc (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) artists and—most importantly—give them space to work. Based on the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton, New York, the artist began the ambitious renovation of a dilapidated family home that he would convert into an art hub offering year-round artist residencies, workshops and other programmes.
Ma’s House—named after the nickname given to Dennis’s grandmother, who is remembered as a vibrant figure in the community and lifelong proponent of the arts—provides a missing focus on Bipoc artists in Southampton, which is 88% white. The surrounding area of eastern Long Island has long been known for its art offerings, lately in particular for artist residencies, with David Zwirner announcing plans for a forthcoming artist retreat and a residency programme in Montauk launched last summer by the dealers Adam Lindemann and Amalia Dayan.
“Before the pandemic, I was doing a lot of artist residencies, but with the cancellation of everything I realised I had a lack of space to create new work, or had limited access to other artists who were doing similar work in the area,” Dennis says. “Residencies are important to artistic development; the project allowed me to continue that and also give other artists more opportunities.”
He adds, “As a nation, we saw the Black Lives Matter protests getting full attention and press coverage, and people started to realise how not just Black people but Indigenous people were disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, especially artists.”
The grassroots project began in June 2020 with a $50,000 fundraising campaign in which Dennis offered headshots, paddleboard sessions and artwork in exchange for donations that would be used to refurbish the house. In 2022, Dennis hopes to offer month-long residencies year-round, and will fundraise for the construction of a detached studio space on the property.
There are also plans to continue an annual series held in collaboration with the Guild Hall of East Hampton, in which either artists, authors or performers are invited to create and host programmes related to Bipoc representation in the arts.
Ma’s House has hosted six residents since the renovation was completed in August 2021, including the artists Pamella Allen, Beau Bree Rhee, Jacoub Reyes and Yanyan Huang as well as the actress and writer Allie Mitchell and the dancer Leidy Angélica Roa. The space includes a studio, offices, a communal computer lab for tribal members, a library and an outdoor space for other programming.
This week, the nearby Parrish Art Museum will host a screening of a short documentary (also streamable online) on the development of Ma’s House produced by the public media company All Arts as part of a series titled “The First Twenty” that aims to “investigate contemporary society and its challenges through alternative lenses”, says the organisation’s artistic director, James King. “Jeremy’s film offers audiences a rare insight into the multifaceted stories and experiences of contemporary Native American artists and the power of art and creativity to fuel healing and liberation.”