“Minneapolis is Dakota homeland, home to a lot of ancient stories,” artist and animator Marlena Myles said. “My view of the city is that it’s the past, present, and future all existing in the same moment.”
In local rapper Tufawon’s latest music video, for his song “Cinnamon,” Myles brings intricate designs, animals, city streets, and people to life in a colorful, dream-like world.
“I really studied the lyrics, studied the beat,” Myles said. “I wanted to create a surreal vibe that told the story. With animation, you can really break the laws of physics.”
Myles incorporated her perspective as a Native American artist into the way the visuals conveyed the story.
“I see this song as a love song, and I wanted to show that beyond human beings,” Myles said. “Birds are so interesting to watch for me: the way they act in couples, their songs. As a Native American artist, I wanted to pay tribute to the lessons we can learn from nature.”
Both Tufawon and Myles are Dakota artists from Minneapolis; the project embodies shared cultural values and celebrates the city the two call home.
“I want people to see this video as two Dakota artists showcasing who we are, in both traditional ways with the imagery, as well as contemporary,” Tufawon said. “People often have a pre-shaped idea of what Native art is — feathers and bison and tradition — and it is that, but it’s also much more. There’s so much contemporary Native art that doesn’t fit into that shaped idea.”
Creating this video over the past few months pushed the artists to reflect on their work’s relationship to current social movements.
“During the uprising, we checked in to make sure this was still where we wanted to put our energy, and it made me realize this song is very related to what’s going on,” Tufawon said. “Lines like ‘FTP to eternity’ are about police violence, police repression, and my experiences on the Southside of Minneapolis.”
Myles saw the video as an opportunity to reflect on the natural beauty of the city.
“Minneapolis is such a beautiful city,” Myles said. “When you look out from high up in a skyscraper, it almost looks like a forest, the way there is so much green and trees. A lot of cities aren’t like that.”
Myles also expressed home in the way the city’s relationship to the natural world and Native communities are shifting.
“Recently it seems that people are taking more effort to recognize and honor Native people,” Myles said. “And with that comes restoring nature, making safe spaces for wildlife to exist, keeping the water system clean.”
“The video represents our people,” Tufawon said. “More than that, not just our people, but Minneapolis is on ancestral Dakota land, so combining the natural elements, Marlena’s intricate designs, with the cityscape represents who we are.”
This summer has forced everyone to take a step back and create new ways of living, Myles sees some of those changes as crucial lessons.
“During COVID, everyone is trapped in their neighborhood,” Myles said. “This summer has been about a lot of social issues which has been very important. It’s also been about rediscovering our own neighborhoods, our parks, and connecting with our origins, with nature.”