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Keeper of the Fire / Benjamin Harjo


“When some of the Southeastern Indians were removed into Oklahoma, they would bring an ember from the ceremonial fire, keep it alive, and bring it into the ceremonial ground that they established here. . . You have someone that keeps the fire and makes sure that it never goes out. Each time a ceremony is performed, they take an ember and relight the fire.”
—Benjamin Harjo Jr., July 27, 2021

Seminole and Absentee Shawnee artist Benjamin Harjo Jr. created Keeper of the Fire in honor of the Indigenous nations that were forcibly removed by the U.S. Army from their ancestral lands to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). As an artist, Harjo is a proponent of cultural resilience. For Keeper of the Fire, he was inspired by the popular culture of 1989, commercial advertisements for gemstones, and fine jewelry, evident in the artwork’s faceted, gemlike appearance. Keeper of the Fire creates a visual language that viscerally connects the collective experiences related both to forced removal and to resilience over time: the durability of gemstones is akin to the resilience of removed tribes, and the vibrancy of the gemstone colors mirrors the vibrancy of Indigenous cultures in Indigenous Territory.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

This text was developed from an interview with artist Benjamin Harjo Jr. by Jordan Poorman Cocker, July 27, 2021

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Keeper of the Fire
Benjamin Harjo (Artist)
Native American; Absentee Shawnee, Seminole
ink on paperboard
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift of Homer and Ruth Herrington
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
TL1993.355.29; 0227.1803; 23407
Not On View

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