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Leonard Peltier sculpture

Richmond Art Center opens doors to free event for Indigenous People’s Day

on October 7, 2021

In honor of Indigenous People’s Day, the Richmond Art Center will host “Gathering in the Spirit of Gwarth-ee-lass,” a free event on Sunday featuring spoken word, candid conversations and live music, all in the backdrop of artist Rigo 23’s newest exhibit “Time and Again.”

The exhibit’s centerpiece is a 12-foot sculpture created from a self-portrait of Native American political activist Leonard Peltier.

Peltier has been in prison for about 45 years, serving two life sentences after his controversial conviction in the murders of two FBI agents during a shootout at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975. 

At his trial in North Dakota, Peltier acknowledged being involved in the confrontation along with other members of the American Indian Movement, one of whom was killed. But he maintained he did not kill the agents. Two others charged in the murders were tried in Iowa, where a jury found that they acted in self-defense. 

The firefight occurred at the site of the famous 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, where U.S. soldiers killed about 300 Lakota people, most of them women and children.

Peltier has been incarcerated since 1977. The sculpture of him is about as high and as wide as a standard prison cell, said Roberto Martinez, a curator at the Richmond Art Center.

“I wanted the visitor to feel enclosed and uncomfortable, similar to a prison cell,” Martinez said. 

Leonard Peltier sculpture
Kathy Peltier (right) stands in front of Rigo 23’s statue of her father, Native American activist Leonard Peltier. (Courtesy of Rigo 23)

Peltier’s daughter Kathy and her mother, Anne Begay, as well as Rigo 23 will attend the event. There will be a recitation of “He Sits Behind Prison Walls,” a poem Kathy Peltier crafted as a tribute to her father. 

“I wrote this poem about my father when I was 16, thinking of the day when he’ll be free or just breathe fresh air,” she said.

Kathy Peltier was a child when her father was tried for the murders and sent away. 

“My dad has been in prison all my life,” she said. “I try to not feel sorry for myself but understand why he is in this position, ”

Leonard Peltier is a member of the Anishinabe, Dakota, and Lakota nations. He was an activist even before joining the American Indian Movement, which fought for fair treatment of Native Americans and came to prominence in the 1970s. 

In “Time and Again,” Rigo 23 pays tribute to that activism. Originally from Portugal, Rigo 23 has spent much of his life in the Bay Area, where he was inspired by what he saw on the streets and on the walls. 

“I came to the Bay Area and I encountered murals of the Chicano Movement. I saw the urban graffiti which was all about style and calligraphy, and it just blew my mind,” he said. 

Much of his work has been influenced by activism, especially the protests and civil unrest of the 1960s. In “Time and Again,” Rigo 23 pays tribute to Peltier and recognizes the 25th anniversary of his own first exhibition, which was curated by the Richmond Art Center.  

“As the title suggests, it refers to a process of something that keeps on happening, and the focus is centered on Leonard Peltier’s plight,” the artist said.

The exhibit opened on Sept. 9 and will run through Nov. 19. It includes three stories that provide insight into Peltier’s life and the impact he continues to have on society. 

Martinez spoke of the power of art, saying it should be approached with respect and dignity. 

“Art is so dangerous that it makes the powers that be tremble,” he said. 

From 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, visitors at the center will receive a tour, hear a conversation with Rigo 23, and enjoy poetry and spoken word featuring Tongo Eisen-Martin, San Francisco poet laureate, and music by DJ Petrelli. 

Guests must RSVP, wear masks and sign waivers to enter the center. 

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