Brandon S. Copley

Maidu, Northern California; Seneca, Western New York

About the Artist

Brandon S. Copley is a two-spirit artist who tells Indigenous stories through found objects, mixed media, and symbolism. The assemblage artist grew up in California’s Bay Area. His father is from the Seneca Nation of Western New York and his mother hails from a small band of Maidu in Northern California. Not religious and growing up off the reservation, Copley became a cultural sponge with a passion for learning new things. His artistic curiosity started with photography, which segued into collage, sewing, mixed media, and eventually assemblage, finding a balance between traditional Native influences and fine art contemporaries. He started his journey as an assemblage artist after learning about the discovery of child remains on Indian residential school grounds. His first piece, “Boxes That Broke Us,” highlighted “colonizer buildings, like houses, schools, and churches that broke the Native spirit.” It was displayed at the Sierra Arts Annex Gallery in downtown Reno, Nevada. Copley has been greatly inspired by the boundary-pushing assemblage artist Betye Saar and her work redefining stereotypes and playing with expectations.

About the Art

U.S. Treaties with Indians

“U.S. treaties with Indigenous people have been disregarded or discredited by government officials. The U.S. government has left promises unkept and many Natives empty-handed, making these treaties seem like little more than disposable pieces of paper. This assemblage was created with a printed parchment copy of a treaty from the National Archives — specifically the ratified treaty of 1785 that included the Wyandot, Delaware, Chippewa, and Ottawa Tribes. I rolled it up to look like toilet paper displayed on a Victorian-inspired bathroom fixture I found online. I loved it because it had the word ‘crown’ on it.” —Brandon S. Copley

Copley Gallery Image

Profile Q&A

What does the idea of “justice for Native communities” mean to you?

Although accountability and reparations are a starting point, a fair and truthful education about Native culture and history would be an ideal outcome. Our next, younger generations should have access to knowledge that shares an inclusive perspective. There are too many misconceptions about Native communities that are still being taught today.

What do you think needs to happen in the world to achieve justice for Native communities?

The passage of time. Thomas Paine said it best, “Time makes more converts than reason.” More stories will become known and with the help of the Internet, there is more transparency. Nowadays, news travels quickly and people will come around when the facts are verified.

How do you express justice through your artwork?

As an assemblage artist, I like to play with people’s expectations. I take mass-produced objects from the dominant culture and encourage the viewer to look at them from a different perspective. I use regular objects and twist their intended purpose into a new meaning, which might make some people uncomfortable, but who goes to look at art for comfort? Don’t we want something new and exciting?

Is there anything else you would like to share about Native justice and your artwork?

I am so grateful that I have been selected to be part of this project. I hope I can continue to highlight more Native justice issues through my work.