Jimmie Durham (1940–2021) was an artist, poet, and writer who lived in Europe. From the early 1960s he was politically active in the American civil rights movement and began to work as a sculptor in 1964. In the 1970s, he was a co-founder and chairman of the International Indian Treaty Council at the United Nations, where his and others’ work led to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Durham became internationally known in the 1980s with objects and sculptures made from materials such as stones, animal skulls and bones, and carved wood, ironically related to Euro-centric notions of “Indian art.” In 1987, Durham left the United States, first to go to Mexico and then, in 1994, to Europe. From this point on, he also increasingly observed European political developments. The relationship between history and environment, architecture and monumentality, and a critical attitude towards political structures of power and narratives of national identity are often at the center of his artistic and literary work. In sculptures, film and video works, drawings and texts, Durham described behaviors and norms of coexistence and the relationship with nature in different cultures and societies.
Jimmie Durham has exhibited worldwide, including at the 58th Venice Biennale (2019); MAXXI, Rome (2016); Serpentine Gallery, London (2015); Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (2015); dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel (2012); and documenta IX, Kassel (1992), among many others. In 2017–18, a retrospective of his work was exhibited at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Remai Modern, Saskatoon. Durham was awarded The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of the 58th Venice Biennial (2019), the Robert Rauschenberg Award in 2017, and the Goslarer Kaiserring Prize in 2016. The artist passed away during the preparation period of documenta fifteen on November 17, 2021.