Poughkeepsie resident Elizabeth Phelps Meyer is an artist fueled by spiritual practice and transformation. Her latest project, Each Day, Water: A Monument for the Water Protectors of Standing Rock and Beyond is an immersive and interactive ceramic and sound installation that honors the indigenous-led Water Protector Movement. In April 2016, the movement gained historic power and momentum at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota when people protested the Dakota Access Pipeline. The movement has been spreading worldwide ever since.
“I care about these people and the planet,” Meyer says. “My art matters only to the degree it can change people’s minds and feelings.”
Elizabeth Phelps collecting water at Missouri River / Photo by Benjamin Loyseau
The display debuts at Art Centro in Poughkeepsie on October 2 and closes on October 27. The exhibit features 365 river water-containing porcelain vessels that Meyer created and wood-fired herself. Water from the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers at Standing Rock, as well as water from other important places that struggle with fossil fuel infrastructure, fills the vessels. This includes the Hudson Valley region’s own Muhheakantuck, known more commonly as the Hudson River.
Porcelain water cups / Photo by Evan D’Arpinoâ€‹
“The cups are expressive of the beauty of water, to remind people of the necessity for clean water, each day,” Meyer says. “I view the cups as burnt offerings.”
Audio from over 20 Water Protectors from Standing Rock and other Sioux communities, as well as non-native allies in the Water Protector Movement, features in the exhibit as well.
Joye Braun, “Eagle Feather Woman,” of Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, with porcelain cup / Photo by Elizabeth Phelps Meyer
Joye Braun, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, talks about how water is an important part of her community at the Standing Rock Prayer Camp.
“When I heard they were coming to destroy my water, I had to stand up. We have no choice. We are down to less than 10 percent of clean water in the world. When we say ‘mni [wiconi, water is life’], it’s not just a word. It is a prayer – to remind ourselves how sacred water is to life, and everyone must stand up for the water.”
Meyer’s overarching goal for the project is to celebrate indigenous resistance to ongoing forms of violence, to shine a light on the leadership indigenous people provide to restore balance in the world, and to cultivate a joint consciousness among non-native people.
“Our country faces critical choices about the energy infrastructures we invest in and support, it is imperative to have public, open, informed, and creative dialogue about pressing dangers, available options, and viable pathways for actions to help realize greater social-environmental justice,” Meyer says. “I hold that these conversations can be deepened, enriched, and motivated in part by direct experiences in acts of ritual and participatory art.”