ARTIST TALK: WUNETU WEQUAI TARRANT, ANDRINA WEKONTASH SMITH, AND AYIM KUTOOWONK

Wunetu Wequai Tarrant. Photo: Jeremy Dennis
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Join Guild Hall Community Artists-in-Residence, Wunetu Wequai Tarrant, and the members of Ayim Kutoowonk (She Speaks), a Shinnecock language revitalization collective, as they discuss the formation of Ayim Kutoowonk and the works they developed, currently on view in Guild Hall’s exhibition, First Literature Project.

Ayim Kutoowonk (She Speaks) is a collective of three Indigenous Shinnecock Women, Cholena Boyd-Smith, Kaysha Haile, and Ahanu Valdez, working towards the reclamation and revitalization of the Shinnecock Language. Facilitated by Shinnecock Linguist, Wunetu Wequai Tarrant, and guest lecturers, Christina Tarrant, Conor McDonough Quinn, and Kaylene Big Knife, Ayim Kutoowonk works to bridge the divide between academic linguistics training and contemporary Indigenous culture, easing anxieties and building a language-learner focused pedagogy through multi-media projects and learning tools. The collective was founded in Spring 2023 as part of Guild Hall’s Community Artist-in-Resident program, sponsored by the Library of Congress’s Connecting Communities Digital Initiative.

The conversation is moderated by Shinnecock writer, actor, storyteller, and Guild Hall Academy of the Arts Member, Andrina Wekontash Smith.

  • Wunetu Wequai Tarrant

    Wunetu Wequai Tarrant is a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, located on the East End of Long Island, NY. She grew up with her family on the Shinnecock reservation peninsula. Wunetu has been inspired by her grandmother and matriarch of the ThunderBird clan, Elizabeth ‘Chee Chee’ ThunderBird Haile, to promote cultural preservation and education. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Alfred University in 2011, a Masters of Native American Linguistics and Languages from the University of Arizona 2020 and is currently a Linguistics Ph.D. candidate at the University of Arizona focusing on the reconstruction and revitalization of the Shinnecock dialect of Southern New England Algonquian.

    Wunetu has worked closely with the Algonquian Language Revitalization Project on designing curriculum and activities for teaching Shinnecock and related dialects and continues to research best practices in language research and production of materials that will be accessible to community members and teachers regardless of linguistic education experience. She has continued to advocate for Indigenous students as the Julia & Bernard Bloch fellow (2019-2022) and special interest groups through the Linguistic Society of America.

    Wunetu is a 2022 – 2024 Guild Hall Community Artist-in-Residence (CAiR). With support from the competitive Creatives Rebuild New York grant, Wunetu and filmmaker, Christian Scheider will spend the next two years developing the First Literature Project (FLP) work. The FLP aims to support the preservation of Indigenous stories, culture, and language by utilizing immersive 3D, VR, and holographic technology to create two immersive orations to be exhibited at Guild Hall in Spring 2024. Additionally, another component of this project will include a compilation of all materials utilized to help with Shinnecock language research to create a centralized database that will help with future research, as well as a video archive for the Padoquohan Medicine Lodge to document the interviews with Shinnecock Tribal members.

    firstliterature.org

    Photo: Phil Lehans

  • Andrina Wekontash Smith

    Andrina Wekontash Smith is a Shinnecock storyteller, writer, performer, and educator whose work explores the complexity of racial and indigenous identity. Currently, she is working on a series with ABC Signature, produced under Kerry Washington's Simpson Street banner. She recently wrote the script for an immersive VR collaboration between TIME Studios and the Martin Luther King Foundation, which examines the racial disparities in policing, housing, and voting in society today. The VR experience will be showcased at SXSW 2023. 

    In 2021, Andrina was a NAMA fellow and recipient of the Netflix accelerator grant. Her collaboration with the Facebook app, "The Darker Red Road," received over three million views. Her piece, "Women of Herstory," was highly praised. As a sketch performer, director, and performance artist, Andrina has received residencies at Guild Hall and The Watermill Center.

    Her written work and essays have been featured in publications such as Edible's East End, Native Max Magazine, and WildSam's East End Edition. Overall, Andrina's work seeks to bring attention to the nuances of identity and elevate the voices of underrepresented communities.

    Photo: Lindsay Morris

  • Ayim Kutoowonk (She Speaks)

    Ayim Kutoowonk (She Speaks) is a collective of three Indigenous Shinnecock Women, Cholena Boyd-Smith, Kaysha Haile, and Ahanu Valdez, working towards the reclamation and revitalization of the Shinnecock Language. Facilitated by Shinnecock Linguist, Wunetu Wequai Tarrant, and guest lecturers, Christina Tarrant, Conor McDonough Quinn, and Kaylene Big Knife, Ayim Kutoowonk works to bridge the divide between academic linguistics training and contemporary Indigenous culture, easing anxieties and building a language-learner focused pedagogy through multi-media projects and learning tools.

    The collective was founded in Spring 2023 as part of Guild Hall’s Community Artist-in-Resident program, sponsored by the Library of Congress’s Connecting Communities Digital Initiative, part of the Library’s Mellon-funded program Of the People: Widening the Path.

  • Cholena Boyd-Smith

    Cholena Boyd-Smith is a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation of Long Island, NY where she was raised to love her culture and the outdoors. Cholena has been an early childhood educator since 2016. Cholena enjoys crafting, walking, and exploring new places with her husband and daughter. Cholena also travels with her family to educate others about Shinnecock history and culture through song, dance, and storytelling.

  • Kaysha Haile

    Kaysha Haile is a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, an artist, and self-taught baker. Kaysha graduated from Binghamton University with a B.S. in Environmental Studies. She is currently the Operations Coordinator at East End Food. Prior to East End Food, she worked with the certification agency, NOFA-NY Certified Organic.

  • Conor McDonough Quinn

    Conor McDonough Quinn is a documentary and revitalization/reclamation linguist with a strong set of applied-theoretical interests that center primarily around morphosemantics and morphosyntax. His most recent research pursues a practical radical minimalism, working to identify a strictly limited set of cross-linguistic/universal structures and categories by comparison/contrast of a typologically maximally broad base of languages: i.e. those that are superficially as different from each other as possible, and particularly those outside of the heavily-researched European and Northeast Asian languages. The primary outcomes of this work are a much-reduced set of basic semantic-syntactic structures and a clearer sense of their relation to (and the inner workings of) language-specific lexicons, with promising potential for next-generation NLP applications.

    Conor has worked for over 25 years in language revitalization/reclamation and documentation, most recently working with the Long Island-area Algonquian Languages Reclamation Project and the St. Mary's First Nation Maliseet revitalization efforts on an promising new approach to adult heritage-learner pedagogy, one which seeks to minimize learner anxiety (through explicit and ongoing engagement with this and related socioemotional issues) and maximize immediate communicative competence (through a series of carefully constructed, readily shareable mini-lessons). Together with the Penobscot Nation Dept. of Cultural and Historic Preservation, the American Philosophical Society, and co-PI, Dr. Pauleena MacDougall at the University of Maine Folklife Center, Connor is currently finishing a three-year DEL-funded project to finalize and publish a dictionary of Penobscot, an Eastern Algonquian language of central Maine. He is also collaborating with Carol Dana and Margo Lukens on a two-volume annotated edition of Penobscot literature performed by Newell Lion and transcribed by Frank Speck.

    Photo: Conor Quinn

  • Ahanu Valdez

    Ahanu Valdez is a mixed media artist specializing in poetry, pottery, and watercolor painting. A proud member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton, NY, Valdez has lived her entire life on the Shinnecock territory. Her art is a beautiful blend of traditional and modern indigenous styles that bridge the gap between past and present. Valdez's work is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of her people, and her passion for her craft is evident in every piece she creates.

     

    Photo: Rebekah Wise. 

Sponsors

The exhibition First Literature Project is supported by The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

Guild Hall’s Community Artist-in-Residence Program and collaboration with Wunetu Wequai Tarrant, Christian Scheider, and the Padoquohan Medicine Lodge was made possible through support from CRNY’s Artist Employment Program. Creatives Rebuild New York (CRNY), a project of the Tides Center, is a three-year, $125 million investment in the financial stability of New York State artists and the organizations that employ them.

Additional project support was provided by the Long Island Community Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, and an anonymous donor.

The formation of Ayim Kutoowonk was made possible through the Library of Congress’s Connecting Communities Digital Initiative, part of the Library’s Mellon-funded program Of the People: Widening the Path. The program provides funds to projects that offer creative approaches to the Library’s digital collections and center Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic or Latino studies.

First Literature Project’s VR installation was developed by Khora, a leading Scandinavian virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) production studio, creating cutting-edge content within multiple application areas.

Guild Hall’s Learning + New Works programs are made possible through The Patti Kenner Arts Education Fellowship, Vital Projects Fund, the Glickberg/Abrahams S. Kutler Foundation, Stephanie Joyce and Jim Vos, the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Endowment Fund, and The Melville Straus Family Endowment. 

Museum programs are supported by Crozier Fine Arts and funding from The Michael Lynne Museum Endowment and The Melville Straus Family Endowment.  

Free gallery admission is sponsored, in part, by Landscape Details. 

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