The Great Lakes watershed— the world’s largest concentration of fresh water—spans two countries and eight states and has been the ancestral land of the Anishinaabe peoples since well before these borders were drawn. The term “watershed” refers to the geographical network of the Great Lakes basin—the five lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior) and the rivers, streams, and reservoirs that feed into them. But it also signals a crucial turning point. Our region faces a host of crises brought on by the misuse of resources and by cultural, economic, and environmental discrimination, even as communities in the region mobilize to assert their rights, reclaim their histories, and protect their waterways from further degradation.
Watershed features fifteen contemporary artists who explore issues central to the Great Lakes region and its future, including several invited by UMMA to create new artwork for the exhibition. Some give voice to the experiences of those who are marginalized, particularly in Black and Indigenous communities, making personal and visceral the relationships among power, resources, and people. Many sound an alarm about the pervasive and lasting effects of corporate self-interest and extractive pollution, sometimes using the water and pollutants as materials in their art practice. Others reflect on water as a repository of memories and communal and personal histories, especially those tied to settler colonization of the watershed. All demonstrate how art can contribute to and shape current dialogues on the critical problems confronting our region.
In recognition of the Anishinaabeg—the original inhabitants of the Great Lakes watershed—the interpretation for this exhibition is presented in both Anishinaabemowin and English.
Jennifer M. Friess
Associate Curator of Photography
Lead support for this exhibition is provided by the U-M Office of the Provost, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Michigan Arts and Culture Council, Susan and Richard Gutow, and the U-M Institute for the Humanities. Additional generous support is provided by the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, Graham Sustainability Institute, and the Department of English Language and Literature. Special thanks to Margaret Noodin and Michael Zimmerman, Jr. for translating the gallery texts into Anishinaabemowin.