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Performance artist highlights cultural conflict by walking Broadway

A participant was covered in gold foil as he walked backward from Battery Park to the Bronx.

On Thursday afternoon, Peruvian artist Iván Sikic and Kumeyaay-Ipai tribe member Paul Cannon traced the old Wickquasgeck Trail, now Broadway’s route through Manhattan, in a performance art piece meant to find beauty within the context of centuries of conflict between Native Americans and Western governments.

During the piece, which began at Battery Park and would end in the Bronx, Cannon wore traditional clothing and walked backward while Sikic covered Cannon’s body with gold foil as the art piece progressed. This was Sikic’s third such piece in a series that focuses on indigenous or displaced populations; two other similar pieces were performed in Melbourne, Australia, and Madrid.

“My intention is never to tell people that something is right or wrong. Rather, I only aim to highlight an issue in a way that opens a dialogue that I think is important,” Sikic explained.

The disjointed gold foil was inspired by Kintsugi, a Japanese practice where broken ceramic vessels are pieced together with lacquer and gold, and which the artist intends as an homage to highlighting beauty within conflict. 

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Before the performance began, he believed that this New York version might be quieter than his two previous versions.

“I think the New York version may end up being quite understated,” Sikic explained. “There is so much happening in the city at all times, that I feel like this piece may just exist in quite a silent way as it makes its way north from Battery Park.”

He was intent on including a New York performance in his series, though, given the area’s historical relationship to Native Americans.

“The seed for this work was planted in my head early in 2015, after I learned about the history of Broadway, and how it used to be the Wickquasgeck Trail,” Sikic said. “At that point, I had already done the Australian version and was working on the Spanish project, and after learning about the history of this trail, it just felt natural that this had to be the third iteration of this series.”

Compared to the other two previous performances, the New York piece was unique in that his collaborator, Cannon, wore traditional clothing.

“I felt it was important to respect not just the heritage and history that Paul embodies, but to also highlight the cultural richness that Native American tribes have, and I felt that one way of doing this was by inviting him to wear these garments,” Sikic stated.

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