Updated: Nov 16, 2021
Updated November 16, 2021: A link to the Ma's House episode of The First Twenty on ALL ARTS has been included towards the end of this entry.
In the 1960's, a house was built on the Shinnecock Reservation utilizing scrap materials such as joints and studs salvaged from an old church dating back to the 1800's. That house was the home of Loretta Silva, often affectionately referred to as "Ma". Before her passing, Ma wanted a plan carried out to make her house "a museum that is dedicated to Shinnecock's history, to our family history". For a decade the house unfortunately stood empty, with disrepair and water damage present, and at one point being used to store archival material. But Jeremy Dennis - Indigenous artist, photographer and grandson of Loretta - wanted to restore the Silva family house he grew up in. Fast forward to the present day and he's done not just that, but something even more beautiful.
Ma's House serves as a communal art space and residency for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) artists on the Shinnecock Reservation. While operating as an art studio, it also serves as a library and host of art and history-based programs for tribe members and the broader local community. Additional features of the house include a garden in the back full of a wide range of plants donated by friends of Jeremy. On the site also sits a beehive gifted to Ma's House by Roger Waters (Pink Floyd's bassist) and his partner.
The COVID-19 pandemic put and end to Jeremy's previous exhibition space and residency programs Jeremy was working towards. During this time he reflected on his own circumstances as well as those of other BIPOC artists, as well as the health disparities and economic injustice compounded by the pandemic. He also drew inspiration from the rise of social justice activism against police brutality, bigotry and systemic racism - all of which being challenges also faced by BIPOC artists alongside/reverberated by this pandemic.
When Jeremy set out to make Ma's House a reality as a safe space for artist residency, he was met with an outpouring of support for his goal. While receiving this support, Jeremy reconfigured his vision in order to dedicate most of the house to communal events as well. This support came in the form of an ongoing GoFundMe campaign he set up to make this a reality, and continual support also exists in the form of a Patreon that Jeremy runs. The House also has an Instagram and Facebook page that anyone can follow to keep up with any events that are taking place involving the space and artists residing at the time. On the subject of upcoming events, there will be an opening reception at the House for Beau Bree Rhee's exhibition "Les Parages" on November 16th between 5:00PM and 7:00PM. This exhibit centers around the power of the land and honoring its resilience to colonialism, with Beau Bree Rhee being inspired by indigenous ecology.
Recently, the WNET Group's broadcast platform ALL ARTS released an episode of 'The First Twenty' centering around Ma's House. After being introduced by James King (ALL ARTS Assistant Director), the episode explores how Jeremy's own digital photography intersects with visual art and social justice. Jeremy discusses the use of Ma's House, it's history, and how it plans to function as a BIPOC artist residency. There are also interviews with additional artists such as David Bunn Martine, Andrina Smith, Yanyan Huang and Denise Silva-Dennis. The episode is available to view online here.
As the pandemic continues, as socio-economic precarity persists, and as injustice toward marginalized people continues in all forms, Jeremy hopes that Ma's House will continue to be a safe space for creativity, imagination and liberation for BIPOC artists.