Forced North By Molly Nurphy Adams
In 1891, the U.S. government forced the Salish to move off of their primary winter grounds in the Bitterroot Valley, relocating them onto the Flathead Reservation. Murphy-Adams (Oglala, Lakota) commemorates this event in her artwork, Forced North. Intricate beadwork depicts the familiar Missoula valley topography of mountains and rivers. Vivid yellow beads snake over-saturated red-dyed wool to track the heartbreaking path that Chief Charlo and his tribe were forced to walk. Murphy-Adams’s map excludes political boundaries and handmade structures to focus on how the historic journey—now known as the Salish Trail of Tears— still represents an important emotional and cultural relationship between the people and the landscape.
Murphy-Adams’s creative voice rings true in her combination of traditional needlework and interests in contemporary art, politics, and cultural identity. In 2007, before her first solo exhibition at MAM, she reflected on learning techniques from her mother, who in turn learned from a Cree woman with the last name of Stiff Arm: “She started to teach me around age seven or eight. I came to the conclusion that mixed media beadwork is the most authentic means of storytelling for me. The hybridization of technique, imagery, and materials accurately tells my story of mixed blood ancestry, contemporary struggle, and gender roles. And that struggle for authenticity is the core of my work.”