Dana Claxton, Buffalo Bone China, 1997, video and mixed media. Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, purchased with the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program.

About the Artwork

In this work, Dana Claxton uses performance, found objects and video to strongly state her message. The work refers to British colonial policies that resulted in the decimation of the buffalo and had devastating effects upon Indigenous people who relied heavily on the buffalo for their survival. Buffalo bones were gathered into huge piles on the prairie and crushed bones were exported to England to be used in the production of fine bone china. 

Curator Tania Willard states about the performance and installation of Claxton’s politically charged Buffalo Bone China, that “[a] more visceral sense of the political act in Dana’s work is seen in her 1997 performance and installation, Buffalo Bone China. In the performance Dana smashes pieces of china and later makes four bundles and places them in a sanctified circle while an experimental video of buffalo plays. Feeling the loss of the buffalo, the backbone of Plains spirituality and sustenance, the artist uses a rubber mallet to destroy plates and bowls. The breaking of the china refers to the use of buffalo bones in the making of bone china during the period of exploitation and decimation of the buffalo.” (Willard, 2007) 

In an interview between the artist and Willard, Willard states, “[o]ur laughter, our cultures, and our spirituality are our survival and this survival becomes another layer, another part of the journey in Dana’s work. Her practice chronicles these histories – the personal and the political – in a way no textbook can ever retell these stories. She tells these stories with heart and spirit, bringing these histories to life, relating them to her own family and journey.” (Willard, 2007) 

About the Artist

Dana Claxton was born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan and is a member of the Hunkpapa Lakota Nation. Her family is descended from Sitting Bull’s followers, who fled persecution from the U.S. Army in 1876 after the Battle of Little Bighorn by escaping into Canada. Claxton talks about her heritage and experience as they relate to her art making, “I’m influenced by my own experience as a Lakota woman, as a Canadian, a mixed blood Canadian, and then my own relationship to the natural and supernatural world. So taking that whole bundle of experiences, it all goes into the artwork, I think that’s where the multi-layering comes in because I’ve had a very multi-layered life.” (Willard, 2007) 

Tania Willard describes Claxton’s process and work as, “[s]tarting from grandmothers and ancestors, land and sky, rage and beauty, Dana Claxton weaves images, sounds, and ideas together with a sense of balance, subversion, and hope. Dana’s work is situated in place, remembering, and history, bringing these elements together in surreal homages and explorations. Dana’s work is part of a journey – the journey of identity of self and Nation (both Indigenous nations and Canadian Nationhood), the journey of history, and the journey of the spirit.”  (Willard, 2007) 

Claxton is a multidisciplinary artist, working in installationperformance and visual art. She is an artist whose challenging works have strong political messages. She is an active member of the arts community and has participated on juriesadvisory committees and is involved in discussions, youth mentoring and curatorial projects.   

Things to Think About

  • On the floor of the installation, Claxton places a pile of bone china that she broke into pieces in an earlier performance. What purpose would be breaking the fine bone china serve 
  • The year 2004 marked the return of the first herds of wild buffalo to the prairies. Why is this release of buffalo important in Saskatchewan history?
  • Discuss imperialism, western development, and Saskatchewan history. Have a conversation about the land, ownership, and how we treat it. 

Post your artwork online using the hashtag #studiosundaysyqr!

Studio Activity

Dana Claxton’s artwork retells stories and experiences from her own life and her culture. Create two poems about yourself that are about your life and your relationship to the environment. 

CREATE YOUR OWN ARTWORK

What you Need:

  • Paper
  • Writing utensils 

What you Do:

  • Create two poems in any style such as haiku, sonnet, free verse, etc.  
  • Poem 1 could focus on your own feelings and thoughts about yourself. 
  • Poem 2 could be more general, or based on the way you see the outside world. 
  • Then combine the poems together by alternating lines. That is, make a third poem by combining the two in this pattern: 
  • line 1 from poem 1,
  • line 1 from poem 2,
  • line 2 from poem 1,
  • line 2 from poem 2,
  • line 3 from poem 1,
  • line 3 from poem 2, etc.
  • What does this new, third poem suggest about you, through the combination of thoughts and feelings, that the other two did not say individually?