Broken Boxes has continued to grow for the last four years. In the podcast, Dunnill carves out a platform for Indigenous artists, queer, gender non-conforming and women artists, and artists of color and those of “mixed/lost/stolen heritage.” Her style of interviewing allows for a palpable sense of space—the space to talk, of course, but that conversation is underpinned by the the vitality of these words, and Dunnill's way of honoring them. Herein, artists and activists share their stories in their entirety, shaping their own narratives as they wish them to be heard without much editing or direction. What the podcast arrives at is a fullness of truth that is special in our overproduced world. Dunnill hasn’t limited her podcast in its scope, and also created a series of live broadcasts from Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock, allowing individuals there to share their unique stories in real time. She also collaborates on the Dear Patriarchy podcast.
Dunnill—who is not just a podcaster, but herself an artist and activist—shared her wisdom on on these things over the phone in mid-August.
Alibi: Did you see a need for this kind of platform?
Dunnill: I did see that there was something missing from the overall arc of podcasting when it was created—this was about four years ago, since then there has really been a shift—but something that I saw missing from the Native art world … was space for artists to really be vulnerable and tell their stories without it being chopped up and put into a hetero-patriarchal, romantic gaze. An oppressive gaze. I thought there was space lacking for artists to really break down their process and how they exist and the multiplicities of themselves. I wanted people to be able to unfold their complexities.
That speaks so much to the format, so open-ended and largely unedited.
It is really a gift of time and space for the artist. I try to be as neutral and supportive as possible. On the flip side, the audience, especially queer, trans, activist youth, have felt relevant because of listening to these stories, the backgrounds of people they admire. An underlying reason why I do this is to combat suicide in our communities—young people feeling isolated and like they aren’t reflected. It’s critical right now. There’s so much oppression going on around narratives and we have such an idolatrous society—a society of celebrity, where we celebrate people as idols, and it is just not authentic or true.
It’s been a massive labor of love. When I went into this project, I decided from the beginning that I wasn’t going to capitalize off the stories of my peers, so I’ve never asked for money or support and never condoned advertising. It’s been straight out-of-pocket, a gift I can share with the world. What I’ve gotten is a feeling of continued solidarity and the ability to create long-term partnerships and friendships. One example of that was the resulting exhibition that I held last August in Santa Fe through the Fulcrum Fund. … We had a beautiful time bringing the conversation into a physical place and sharing our work. Solidarity is important because I live out here on a hill in Glorieta, and I have two kids, and I don’t get out in the world. What I get from it is friendship and knowing that I’m not alone. As much as I am giving that to the world, that is what I am receiving as well.
Where is it heading?
I’m realizing the work with the podcast is shifting for me. … I’m considering approaching doing the podcast in a series of segments—taking six months off to record interviews, then release them over the course of the following six months, so I can be caring and respectful to the stories while not taking away from what I think is a true act of decolonizing and activism, which is raising conscious and aware people. … My ideal vision and dream for this podcast is to be able to go out in the field more and do on-site recording of activist work, but it is challenging to get authentic recordings on-site with young children. … When I did all the broadcasting from Oceti Sakowin in 2016 at Standing Rock, it was so inspiring and powerful to meet random people and sit with them and hear their stories in a super authentic way and release it in the format that I do with artists. It is just moving to tears. People aren’t given that opportunity to speak for themselves in those ways. We need that. We are missing that authenticity in our culture right now.
What is the relationship between that kind of story sharing and the interviews with artists? Between art and activism?
I think it is different for everyone. I advocate for all angles of approach right now. Some artists work more in market-based work, but they have subtle engagements with voicing their community’s stance on Indigineity, et cetera. Then there’s artists who are on the front line and are very political. … We are in critical times and I think there is space enough for all artists to penetrate the mainstream in whatever way they see fit. … The spectrum is wide and activism and art intersect in so many different ways for so many different people and nothing is wrong. There’s a place and audience for everyone within that spectrum.
For people who don’t consider themselves creatives, what do they stand to learn from giving an ear to those making this kind of work?
People who don’t consider themselves artists or creative were taught that by somebody else. I think, inherently, as human beings, we want to express ourselves. … My advice is to just listen to these stories. Hear the passion of these people working through what makes them feel full as a human being and find that in yourself. You don’t have to be a painter. You don’t have to do ceramics. Anything can be art at this point.
How does one discover what is authentic to them?
I don’t think there is any one answer. It is unfortunate that in this society we are taught to mute, dumb-down or bury our gut feelings. Those butterflies. The feeling we get when we are engaging in the act of flow, where we lose hours because we are immersed in this, whatever it is. I think authenticity is finding that space. Finding what makes you feel like your spirit is shining. It’s hard because we are forced out of that space of engaging with ourselves. A big way to do that is to reconnect with your community and the places that you come from. Associating ourselves with place, speaking up, holding up causes that you believe in. That is where you find authenticity. You begin to walk what your heart and mind are trying to connect to.
Your work is so encouraging in that way.
One thing the podcast tries to unravel is the myth that you need resource and money to be a creative person in the world. It literally just takes your agency and your willingness to be patient and make space. We are just tortured into the idea that we have to be busy to be successful, that we have to consume ourselves in these public spaces. But coming into yourself and doing a practice that you think is important is very intimate.
What is your advice for aspiring podcasters, artists and activists?
Forgive yourself. And forgive the people who told you that you weren’t good enough and just continue in whatever way feels most authentic to you. Something that we are missing in our popular culture is that authenticity. As long as you can be authentic to yourself and respect yourself and your community through the work that you do, you’re going to thrive. … We are in a privileged space of technology, and have access to so many tools—even at our public libraries. There are ways. Don’t let feeling like you don’t have privilege or funding stop you from doing what you feel is important and necessary for the world. It is critical times. We need each other. We need to form solidarity. We have the tools to do that globally—so let’s do it.