G. Peter Jemison was born in 1945 to an ironworker father and a stay-at-home mother, both of the Seneca Nation of Indians. He grew up in Irving, New York, on the border of the Cattaraugus Reservation, where he often visited his cousins and grandmother. After graduating from Buffalo State University’s arts education program, Jemison spent a brief stint as a shopwindow display artist in Manhattan. There, he found a community of Native painters and had his first major exhibitions, but he soon returned to Western New York, ironworking in Buffalo and serving as the director of the Seneca Nation Organization for Visual Arts. When a fire destroyed much of his archive, which was held in his grandmother’s barn, he stopped painting for a number of years. 

Jemison began making shopping-bag artworks—initially subway doodles on brown-paper lunch bags—in 1978, after returning to New York City as the founding curator of the American Indian Community House Gallery. Paper Bags collects pieces spanning four decades, on bags garnered from Jemison’s own purchases—at Zabar’s, Dansk, and various grocery stores—as well as ones sourced online, such as the golden yellow Fendi bag that serves as the base for Revoke Papal Bulls, which cites the 2022 protests in the county of  Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta, for the Vatican to rescind the colonial  “doctrine of discovery.” Also pictured on that bag is Queen Victoria—under whose reign residential schools across Canada forcibly separated Native children from their families, languages, and cultures—in a Christopher Columbus–style hat. Depicted elsewhere in this portfolio are a player for the Tonawanda Braves, an all-Seneca team that plays the historically Native game of lacrosse, and birds, flowers, fruits, shells, and trees that invoke the Native tradition of dance and concept of orenda, the life force inherent in all things.




Braves, 1992, colored pencil and gouache on Zabar’s bag, 14 × 8 3⁄4 × 5 1⁄2 in. All photographs by Joerg Lohse, courtesy of G. Peter Jemison and 47 Canal, New York.



Decolonize, 2012, colored pencil, collage, oil pastel, and gold foil on paper bag, 23 × 15 1⁄2 × 5 in.