MU artists build tepee for voyage out west

Setting Up the Tepee

COLUMBIA — The Fourth of July prompts many people to think about American identity, but for some, that identity has roots reaching back further than 1776.

Sydney Pursel, an art student at MU and member of the Ioway tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, is one of those people. Pursel said she spent a big part of Independence Day sewing together a cover for a tepee that she put up in her yard with fellow MU artist Justin Rodier.

The tepee will serve as a movable art gallery during the couple’s month-long voyage across the American West, designed to promote their art.

“I’m interested in getting art out of the gallery system to a wider public,” Pursel said. “This tepee sort of reinvents the traditional tepee because it’s made out of metal and nylon instead of wood and animal hide, but it is cheap, lightweight and portable.”

Pursel and Rodier plan to visit about 11 states this month and will stop at Native American reservations and universities as part of their exploration of American culture. Rodier said the trip serves to promote various art projects, including his new website,, and The Ruthless Project, an artistic collaboration that he helped found last year.

Pursel said the tepee would house numerous pieces of art made by the pair as a comment on stereotypes of Native American life versus contemporary reality. They hope to set up the tepee in cities where they are a rare sight to prompt thought about the Native American experience.

The Ioway tribe of Kansas and Nebraska to which Pursel belongs used tepees for portability during the hunting season and in times of war, in addition to more permanent, earth-covered houses.

“One of my main interests is to break ideas about what Native American culture is,” Pursel said. “I’m interested in doing activist art, and the tepee is a mobile gallery and a statement in itself.”

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