30 January 2011

In Session: Jolene Rickard and Lucy Lippard In Conversation

“In Session: Conversations with Contemporary Native Artists and Scholars” is a lecture series organized by the Museum of Contemporary Arts. Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora) is an Associate Professor at Cornell University, a visual historian, artist, curator, and scholar of Indigeneity on a global scale. Lucy Lippard, art critic and curator, has written 21 books, is a Guggenheim fellow, and lives in Galisteo, New Mexico

Lippard met Rickard three decades ago at the American Indian Community House (AICH), when it was on Broadway in the SOHO strip of New York City. Rickard and Peter Jemison (Seneca) then introduced Lucy to the Native American art world. Native art history books don’t place time period in context, but Rickard observed a disempowerment of Native artists then, especially in comparison to African-American artists. She cites the lack of theoretical tools and a “lack of recognition of a discrete indigenous political space” as contributing factors to this disempowerment. Now, the art world’s strategy to deal with Native art is for “artists to be seamlessly integrated into the international art scene” without cultural context, which results in “erasure,” Rickard observes. However, Lippard frequently encounters Native artists who actively want to be part of the mainstream.

Rickard is currently at Cornell and focused on intercultural analysis — a center-fringe analysis. She has traveled to indigenous communities beyond those in Canada and United States, as well as exploring the biennial art circuit. She says the situations in Central and South America is dramatically different from the situation north of the Rio Grande. Indigeneity in Australia, Africa, and Indian are highly complex, especially in countries where ostensibly the indigenous population is the majority. Despite the challenges, “if we don’t mark spaces,” Rickard says, “the other side of it is erasure.” Land is the defining concept for indigenous peoples, and she says, “We need to maintain these land bases.” The Maori are ahead of theorizing their own work.

“There will always be artists directed towards satisfying collectors in a particular way,” but Rickard does not write about those artists. “Our work articulates our philosophy. If an artist has a thin knowledge of this philosophy, they aren’t serving their community.” Rickard says, “Inserting yourself back into your community and maintaining a dialogue, you effect the people around you.” She says her tribe is “always willing to take people back in,” but when one returns to their tribal community, they do not return as an expert.

No artists are unanimously accepted by their home communities, so Rickard points out that it’s wrong to expect that of Native artists. “Our communities aren’t perfect,” she says and wants the next generation of artists and writers to critique the problems and challenges the stereotypes. “That has to be an indigenous writer,” says Lippard. Rickard disagrees, but that would have to be an incredibly thick-skinned non-Native writer to try to write about what’s wrong with a Native community

Native Americans are a comparatively small percentage of the United States’ population, globally indigenous people are a huge population and merit serious scholarship. The primary texts are still lacking in the indigenous art world. Lippard points out that the scholarship is happening in other fields, but points out, “Art is decontextualized when it enters the art world.” Once the underlying information is broached, people complain because, “they aren’t talking art.” A challenge of discussing indigenous art in the Americas, Rickard observes, one has to talk about colonialism—which the art world is reluctant to do.

"To be a post-colonial scholar is dubious,” Rickard says. “To the powers that be,” Lippard concludes. The public is happy enough to look at contemporary indigenous art but is not always prepared or willing to deconstruct colonialism, as it is seen as being too divisive. Lippard wonders if artists have more “wiggle room” on the subject than writers, and notices that post-colonial writers are going into teaching or art making.

Native artists in the United States maintain an adversarial relationship with the government. Rickard feels that First Nations artists in Canada, with the exception of the Haudenosaunee, appear to be more integrated with their government and part of the Crown. Continuing with the idea of sovereignty, Rickard points out that the Czech Republic has allowed a Six Nations girl’s team enter the country with their Six Nations passports. Hillary Clinton was supportive of other countries honoring Six Nations passports, but the United Kingdom refused — possibly due to an Anglo-Canadian agreement. “Canadian indigenous peoples have less rights than indigenous peoples in the United States,” she says.

Some indigenous groups that Rickard has observed, such as the Brazilian Yanonamo “don’t care what the rest of the world is doing. They move ahead with their own cultural projects.” The indigenous people of Taiwan have their own television station and are better versed about current issues of indigenous peoples across the globe than anyone else.

Rickard was asked about her plans for an upcoming scholarly journal of indigenous arts, and she says she is working on a website and wants to write about artists that don’t already have a monograph book about them. Certainly something to look forward to in the future!

28 January 2011

Who's on First?

When I interned at the Jacobson House Native Art Center, I was instructed to tell visitors how the Kiowa Six were the first Native artists to exhibit and achieve international recognition in the art world, when they exhibited at the 1928 First International Art Exposition in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Although their European exhibitions were an important milestone in Native American art history, it simply isn't true that they were the first. My copy of Tamara Leigerot Elder's Lumhee Holot-Tee: The Art and Life of Acee Blue Eagle states on its back cover that Acee "Blue Eagle was the first Indian artist to actively pursue a solo career as an artist, dependent upon his artwork for his livelihood." However, this is also not true. Edmonia Lewis (African-Mississauga Ojibwe) is the easiest example to refute these two previous statements, since she achieved remarkable success as a fine sculptor in Rome in the 1870s. But more importantly, Indigenous Americans artists have been trading their art work for tens of thousands of years, across nations and even across continents (South and North America and from Alaska to Asia).

Because so much interest in Native art flowered in 1930s, much of the art writing focuses on that time period and dismisses anything that occurred beforehand. I cannot count the number of articles I've read that present the Santa Fe Indian School's Studio program as being the first Native American art program. Actually almost all Indian boarding school had art programs at the turn of the century and several date back into the 19th century. At the dawn of the 20th century, Quechua artists studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Quito, Ecuador and several studied in Europe. But before these schools, fine arts were taught through master-apprenticeships and through families, exactly how they were taught throughout the rest of the world. Hopefully today, scholars of Native art will hesitate to place the word "first" before any achievement by a Native artist.

26 January 2011

Timeline of Native American Art History

This handy timeline comes from Wikipedia (with some correction and additions) and is public domain (yay!). The citations are on the original site. It's a chronological list of significant or pivotal moments in the development of Native American art or the visual arts of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Earlier dates, especially before the 18th century, are mostly approximate. Feel free to add to or change any listings.

Before Common Era

  • 11,000 BCE: Mammoth bone etched with a profile image of a walking mammoth left near Vero Beach, Florida is the oldest known art in the Americas

  • 10,200 BCE: Cooper Bison skull is painted with a red zigzag in present day Oklahoma, becoming the oldest known painted object in North America.

  • 9250–8950 BCE: Clovis points - thin, fluted projectile points created using bifacial percussion flaking - are created by Clovis culture peoples in the Plains and Southwestern North America

  • 9250–8550 BCE: Monte Alegre culture rock paintings created at Caverna da Pedra Pintada become the oldest known paintings in South America.

  • 8000 BCE: Fiberwork left in Guitarrero Cave, Peru is the earliest known example of textiles in South America

  • 7650 BCE: Cave painting in the Toquepala Caves, Peru

  • 7370±90: Stenciled hands are painted with mineral inks at the Cueva de las Manos, near Perito Moreno, Argentina, as well as images of humans, guanacos, rheas, felines, other animals, geometric shapes, the sun, and hunting scenes

  • 7300 BCE: A painted herringbone design from Tecolate Cave in the Mojave Desert of California is the earliest well-dated pictograph in North America.

  • 5630 BCE: Ceramics left at Caverna da Pedra Pintada, Brazil are the earliest known ceramics in the Americas.

  • 2885 BCE: Valdivia culture pottery is created in coastal Ecuador

  • 2600-2000 BCE: Monumental architecture, including platform mounds and sunken courtyards, built in Caral, Supe Valley; Asia; Aspero; Salinas de Chao; El Paraíso; La Galgada; and Kotosh, Peru

  • 2500-1800 BCE: Elaborate twined textiles are created at Huaca Prieta in northern coastal Peru, part of the Norte Chico civilization

  • 2000-1000 BCE: Poverty Point culture in northeastern Louisiana features stone work, flintknapping, earthenware, and effigy, conical, and platform mounds, as well as pre-planned settlements on concentric earthen ridges

  • 1500 BCE-250 CE: Maya art is created in their Preclassic Period, in central and southeastern Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador

  • 1400-400 BCE: Olmec culture thrives in Norte Chico, the tropical lowlands of Mexico. Their art includes colossal basalt heads, jade sculpture, carved writing in stones, and ceramic effigy jars.

  • 1000-900 BCE: The Cascajal Block is carved with writing by the Olmec people, becoming the earliest known example of writing in the Americas

  • 1000-200 BCE: Adena culture, known for its mound building, originates in Ohio and expands to Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, and parts of Pennsylvania and New York.

  • 900 BCE: Construction begins on Chavín de Huantar, a Chavín city in Callejón de Conchucos, Peru

  • 900-200 BCE: Chavín synthesis flourishes in central coastal Peru and is characterized by monumental architecture, goldsmithing, stirrup spout ceramics, and Karwa textiles.

  • 750-100 BCE: Paracas culture flourishes in south coastal Peru

  • 730 BCE: Porcupine quills used as binding agent in Utah and Nevada.

  • 500 BCE: Zapotec civilization emerges in the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. They are known for their ceramics, jewelry, and stonework.

  • 200 BCE-500 CE: The Hopewell tradition flourishes in Ohio, Ontario, and surrounding area, featuring ceramics, cut mica, weaving, carved pipes, and jewelry.

  • Common era

    • 1: Ancestral Taíno people paint over 6,000 pictographs in the Pomier Caves in the Dominican Republic
    • 1-600: Moche culture flourishes in northern coastal Peru, characterized by monumental adobe mounds, murals, metalwork, and ceramics
    • 1-700: Nasca culture thrives in southern coastal Peru, characterized by double spout and bridge vessels and the Nasca lines, monumental geoglyphs
    • 200-700: Maya civilization's Classic Period. Architecture, painting, stone glyphic writing, books, painting, ceramics, and Maya textiles created in central and southeastern Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador
    • 400-900: Tiwanaku culture emerges from Lake Titicaca and spreads to southern Peru, eastern Bolivia, and northern Chile
    • 500-900: Wari culture dominates central coastal Peru
    • 755±65—890±65: likely dates of the Blythe Geoglyphs being sculpted by ancestral Quechan and Mojave peoples in the Colorado Desert, California
    • 800-1500: Mississippian cultures flourish in the Eastern Woodlands, featuring ceramics, shell engraving, textiles, woodcarving and stonework.
    • 900: Earliest event recorded in the Battiste Good (1821–22, Sicangu Lakota) Winter count
    • 1000: Island of Marajó flourishes as an Amazonian ceramic center
    • 1000-1200: Dresden Codex written and illuminated. This Yucatecan Mayan codex from Chichén Itzá is the earliest known surviving book from the Americas
    • 1000-1200: Acoma Pueblo and Old Oraibi are established, become the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the present day United States.
    • 1070: Great Serpent Mound built in Ohio.
    • 1100: Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon reaches apex in size at 800 rooms
    • 1100-1470: Chimú culture thrives in Chimor, today's north coastal Peru. Their art is characterized by monochromatic pottery; fine metal working of copper, gold, silver, bronze, and tumbago (copper and gold); and monumental abode construction in their capital city Chan Chan
    • 1100: Hohokam Culture reaches apex in present day Arizona
    • 1142: Wampum invented by Ayenwatha, which the Haudenosaunee used to record information.
    • 1200-1533: Inca civilization originated in the Peruvian highlands and spreads across western South America
    • 1250: Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde, and other Ancestral Pueblo architectural complexes reach their apex
    • 1325-1521: The Aztec Empire thrives, based in Tenochtitlan, central Mexico. Their arts are characterized by monumental stone architecture, turquoise mosaics, stone carving, ceramics, cotton textiles, and Aztec codices
    • 1430: Construction of Machu Picchu begins, a classic example of Incan architecture
    • 1479: Aztec Sun Stone, a monolithic calendar stone, almost 12 feet in diameter, is carved
    • 1492: Glass beads are introduced to Taíno people
    • 1500: Muspa people flourishes in Key Marco, Florida, and their art is characterized by woodcarving, painting, incised ceramics, and netted textiles
    • 1500-1800: Navajo people learn loom-weaving techniques from Pueblo people
    • 1600-1615: Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (Quechua) illustrates his 1,189-page book, El primer nueva corónica [sic] y buen gobierno.
    • 1600-1650: Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxochitl (Texcocan, 1568/1580-1648) illustrates the Codex Ixtlilxochitl with watercolor paintings
    • 1688: European and Mestizo members of the Cuzco School part ways with the Indian painters, allowing them to develop their own styles.
    • 1725: Quebec Grey nuns and Mi'kmaq women devise new floral appliqué techniques in moose hair embroidery
    19th century

    • 1820s: Haida argillite carving emerges, in the wake of the declining Fur trade
    • 1820s: Tuscarora brothers David and Dennis Cusick, both self-taught artists, begin painting, founding the Iroquois Realist Movement
    • 1825: Ursuline nuns teach floral embroidery to Métis and Dene women in Fort Chipewyan and Winnipeg, which will revolutionize Great Lakes quillwork, embroidery, and beadwork
    • 1830-1900: Tribes near Niagara Falls create beadwork whimsies, birch bark boxes, and other art forms, jumpstarting an active souvenir trade, following the decline in the fur trade
    • 1840s: Zacharie Vincent (Huron, 1815–1886) begins his career as a realist oil painter
    • 1826/8: David Cusick (ca. 1780-ca. 1831) published his self-illustrated Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations.
    • 1853: Atsidi Sani (ca. 1830-1918) becomes the first known Navajo silversmith
    • 1858-1869: Aron of Kangeq (1822–1869), a Kalaallit sculptor and carver, paints over 300 watercolors about traditional lifeways in Greenland, later to be published in books
    • 1860s: Depletion of buffalo and forced relocation onto reservations causes Plains Indians to shift from hide painting to painting and drawing on cloth and paper, giving birth to Ledger art
    • 1876: Mississauga Ojibwe sculptor Edmonia Lewis is the talk of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia for her monumental marble sculpture, The Death of Cleopatra.
    • 1870-1900: Navajo weavers incorporate new Eyedazzler patterns and Germantown yarns.
    • 1875-1878: Southern Plains artists imprisoned at Fort Marion become prolific Ledger artists
    • 1885-1890: Nampeyo and her husband Lesou (Hopi) revive Sikyátki style pottery
    • 1885-1905: Alaska native arts thrive in the curio trade precipitated by the Klondike Gold Rush
    • 1890s: Silver Horn (Kiowa, 1860/1-1940) creates paintings for anthropologist James Mooney
    • 1895: John Leslie (Puyallup) published a book of his photography at Carlisle Indian School and exhibits his photographs at the Atlanta International Exposition
    • 1899: Tsimshian photographer Benjamin Haldane establishes a professional photography studio in Metlakatla, Alaska
    20th century

    • 1904: Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri features Native American art, such as paintings by Silver Horn (Kiowa)
    • 1906-1915: Ho-Chunk artist Angel De Cora serves as director of Carlisle Indian School's Native American art program
    • 1906: Carlisle Indian School builds state-of-the-art photography school and offers photography classes to its Native students
    • 1910s: Maria Martinez (1881–1980, San Ildefonso Pueblo) revives her tribe's blackware ceramics
    • 1910-1932: San Ildefonso Pueblo Painting Movement thrives in New Mexico, led by artists Crescencio Martinez, Julian Martinez, Alfredo Montoya, Tonita Peña, Alfonso Roybal, and Abel Sanchez
    • 1914: Louisa Keyser, Washoe basket maker, experiences peak of her fame
    • 1915: Iñupiaq men invent baleen basketry
    • 1916: In a controversial move, Navajo weaver Hastiin Klah (1867–1937) incorporates Yeibichei imagery into a rug 
    • 1917: Quechua photographer Martín Chambi establishes his own photography studio in Peru
    • 1917-1930s: Seminole women in Florida develop their unique patchwork appliqué designs
    • 1918: Julian Martinez (San Ildefonso Pueblo) invents the matte-on-glossy blackware ceramic technique
    • 1920s: The Kwakwaka'wakw Four (Chief George, Charley George, Sr., Willie Seaweed, and George Walkus) collaborate to revive and modernize Kwakwaka'wakw art
    • 1922: Social Indigenist movement begins in Peru and thrives for three decades
    • 1922: First Santa Fe Indian Market held, sponsored by the Museum of New Mexico
    • 1926: Indigenist Movement formed in Ecuador by Camilo Egas, Oswaldo Guayasamín, and other Quechua and Mestizo artists
    • 1927: First Nations art exhibited with Euro-Canadian art in the Exhibition of the Canadian West Coast Art in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa
    • 1928: Kiowa Five participate in the International Art Congress in Prague, Czech Republic
    • 1931: Exposition of Indian Tribal Art opens at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City
    • 1932: Kiowa Five participate in the Venice Biennale. Their art, according to Dorothy Dunn, "was acclaimed the most popular exhibit among all the rich and varied displays assembled."
    • 1932: Professor Mary Stone McClendan "Ataloa" (Chickasaw, 1895–1967) founds the Ataloa Art Lodge, a Native American art center at Bacone College, in Muskogee, Oklahoma
    • 1932: The Studio at the Santa Fe Indian School is established by Dorothy Dunn
    • 1934: Arts and Crafts of the Indians of the Southwest opens at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco
    • 1936: Indian Arts and Crafts Board created in the US
    • 1938: Osage Nation establishes the oldest continuing tribal museum in Pawhuska, Oklahoma
    • 1939: Many Native artists participate in the 1939 New York World's Fair including realist landscape painter Moses Stranger Horse (Brulé Lakota, 1890–1941) and Fort Sill Apache sculptor Allan Houser (1914–1994)
    • 1939: Hopi artist Fred Kabotie curates a Native American art show at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco
    • 1941: Indian Art of the United States exhibition shows at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City
    • 1946: Qualla Arts and Crafts is founded on the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina by Eastern Band Cherokee artists, becoming the first arts and crafts cooperative founded by Native Americans in the US
    • 1948: Allan Houser completes his first monumental sculpture at the Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas
    • 1950s and 1960s: Maya weaving cooperatives established by the Mexican government
    • 1957: West Baffin Eskimo Co-op Ltd., an Inuit graphic arts workshop, is founded by James Archibald Houston in Cape Dorset, Nunavut.
    • 1958: Yanktonai Dakota artist Oscar Howe (1915–1983) writes his famous letter after his work was rejected from the Philbrook Museum art show for not being "Indian" enough
    • 1958: Heard Museum Guild hosts their first annual Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix, Arizona
    • 1958-1962: Norval Morrisseau (Ojibwe) develops Woodlands Style painting in Ontario
    • 1962: The Institute of American Indian Arts is founded in Santa Fe, New Mexico
    • 1965: University of Alaska, Fairbanks creates their Native Arts Program
    • 1967: Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota hosts its first annual juried, competitive, intertribal art show which continues today
    • 1971: The Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma hosts the first Trail of Tears art show, an annual juried, competitive, intertribal art show which also continues today
    • 1971: The Institute of American Indian Arts Museum (now called the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts) is founded by the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, as the only museum to focus on contemporary intertribal Native American art
    • 1972: Two American Painters shows at the Smithsonian Institution's National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington, DC, featuring T. C. Cannon (Kiowa-Caddo-Choctaw) and Fritz Scholder (Luiseño)
    • 1977: Sna Jolobil (House of the Weaver) in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico becomes the first artist-run Mayan weaving cooperative
    • 1990: Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act passed in the US
    • 1990: American Indian Arts and Crafts Act passed in the US
    • 1992: Crow's Shadow Institute of the Arts, a center for fine printmaking, is founded by Walla Walla artist James Lavadour on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
    • 1992: Eiteljorg Museum hosts their first annual Indian Market and Festival
    • 1995: Edward Poitras (Plains Cree) represents Canada at the Venice Biennale, with Gerald McMaster (Plains Cree) curating.
    • 1999: Native American Arts Alliance, curated by Nancy Mithlo (Chiricahua Apache) sponsors Native American artists Harry Fonseca, Bob Haozous, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Kay WalkingStick, Frank LaPena, Richard Ray Whitman, and poet Simon Ortiz in the Venice Biennale

    21st century

    • 2000: Mapuche printmaker Santos Chávez is granted the Altazor award and named "illustrious son" of Tirúa, Chile
    • 2004: National Museum of the American Indian opens its doors in Washington, DC
    • 2005: James Luna (Luiseño) represents NMAI at the Venice Biennale.
    • 2006: Chile hosts its first Biennial of Indigenous Art and Culture in Santiago, featuring over 120 artists from Chile's nine indigenous groups.
    • 2006: The first Bienal Intercontinental de Arte Indigena (Intercontinental Indigenous Arts Biennial) is held in Quito, Ecuador, which continues today
    • 2009: Pottery by Jereldine Redcorn (Caddo), who single handedly revived her tribe's ceramic tradition, is exhibited in the Oval Office of the White House

    24 January 2011

    A Glimpse into 16th Century Nahuatl Art Theory

    Since the majority of Indigenous Americans did not have writing before the 16th century, oral history, songs, dances, and visual art record precontact philosophies, history, and worldviews. In Mesoamerica, writing dates back 3,000 years, beginning with the Olmecs. Mayan, Mixtec, and Aztec peoples created vast libraries of books; however, many of these were burned by Spanish invaders. From the surviving manuscripts, or codices, we can glean a little of early Mesoamerican thought, including their views about art. Below are some excerpts from Nahuatl poetry recorded after Spanish contact.

    Here through art I shall live forever...
    A singer, from my heart I strew my songs
    I carve a great stone, I paint thick wood
    My song is in them…
    I shall leave my song-image on earth
    (Brotherston 160).

    Toltecayootl a ycaya ninemiz ye nicã ayyo.
    Ac ya nechcuiliz ac ye nohuan oyaz onicas a anniihcuihuana ayayyan cuica-nitl y yehetl y noxochiuh nõcuicayhuitequi on teixpã ayyo.
    Hueyn tetl nictequin Tomahuac quahuitl nic ycuiloa yã cuicatl ytech aya oncan no mitoz in quemanõ in can niyaz nocuicamachio nicyacauhtiaz in tlpc
    (Bierhorst 220).

    –Nahuatl poem (circa 1570)
    Cantares Mexicanos, fol. 27r-27v

    The Cantares Mexicanos is a collection of lyrical poetry from the courts of the Triple Alliance (Aztec). The manuscript is in the collection of the Biblioteca Nacional de México in Mexico City. Approximately one and a half million people speak Nahuatl today.

    The Artist

    The artist: disciple, abundant, multiple, restless.
    The true artist, capable, practicing, skillful;
    maintains dialogue with his heart, meets things with his mind.

    The true artist: draws out all from his heart;
    works with delight, makes things with calm, with sagacity,
    works like a true Toltec, composes his objects, works dexterously, invents; arranges material, adorns them, makes them adjust.

    The carrion artist: works at random, sneers at the people,
    makes things opaque, brushes across the surface of the face of things, works without care, defrauds people, is a thief.

    -Nahuatl poem from the Codex Matritensis,
    fol. 115 v. (208), ca. 1540—1585

    Miguel León Portilla writes that artists had a central role in Mesoamerican society, and “they had to learn to converse with their own hearts.” He writes that since the painters manifested sacred imagery into their artworks, they strove to become Yolteotl or “one with God in his heart” (Portilla 209). The above poem comes from the Codex Martritensis, also known as the Florentine Codex, which is a collection of a dozen books written between 1540 and 1585. Other Nahuatl poems from the Codex Matritensis describe jewelers and metalsmiths, stonemasons, textile artists, and potters. These poems juxtapose the habits of worthy artists with inept artists, described as “careless,” “greedy,” or “like a turkey with a shrouded heart” (208). In describing great artists, one such poem says, “The artists knew how to place them,/truly they put their deified heart into them./What they made was marvelous, precious/worthy of admiration” (211).

    • Bierhorst, John. Cantares Mexicanos: Songs of the Aztecs. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1985.
    • Brotherston, Gordon. Book of the Fourth World: Reading the Native Americas through their Literature. Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge, 1992.
    • Inman, Mason. "Oldest Writing in New World Discovered, Scientists Say." National Geographic News. 14 September 2006. Web.
    • Portilla, Miguel León. Native Mesoamerican Spirituality, Ancient Myths, Discourses, Stories, Doctrines, Hymns, Poems from the Aztec, Yucatec, Quiche-Maya and Other Sacred Traditions. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980.

    23 January 2011

    Questionartist #1

    Who is an artist that people might not know yet about but should?

    Native artists people should know are: Nakia Williamson-Cloud (Nez Perce) and John Wilson (Nez Perce). Both artists are known in north-central Idaho state. They are recognized a little bit in the interior Northwest, but little National acknowledgement. Neither artist participates in the larger Native Art Shows in the USA or Canada.
    —Roger Amerman (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma), Idaho, bead artist

    It isn't easy being humble........
    —James Luna [Pooyukitchum (Luiseno)], La Jolla Reservation, CA
    Performance and Multimedia Installation artist

    There’s this one guy, Darren J. Oliver. I know him from Flagstaff and his work is great. He really knows how to draw.
    —Brandon Williams (Diné), New Mexico, artist and NAGPRA enthusiast

    Wheel: Polly Nordstrand

    Looking Back to Look Forward
    Polly Nordstrand (Hopi-Norwegian)

    Polly Nordstrand examines Native art writing published since 1990 as a means of assessing progress in Native art. She begins with Lucy Lippard’s 1990, Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America, which looks at Asian-, African-, and Latin American art, as well as Native American art. It stands out because it is not a catalog and covers contemporary and experimental Native artists that have been underrepresented.

    Since Native art is left out of mainstream art history texts, exhibit catalogs are particularly important. Rennard Strickland and Margaret Archuleta’s 1993 Shared Visions: Native American Painters and Sculptors in the Twentieth Century is a catalog accompanying a major exhibit responding to the quincentennial of Columbus’ arrival in the American. Strickland and Archuleta voice the desire for Native artists to achieve visibility, an ongoing sentiment, echoed in David W. Penney’s 2004 North American Indian Art. Shared Visions traces the influence of federal Indian policy on 20th century Native arts, and Nordstrand feels this casts the artists in the role of the victim (146). She wonders if survival narratives are compelling or relevant to mainstream society.

    In the 2002 After the Storm: The Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art, 2001, edited by Jackson Rushing, writer Colleen Cutschall (Oglala Lakota) compares cross-cultural communication in art as aboriginal multi-lingualism” (151).

    Nordstrand points out the lack of critical review of Native American art by the art world, but looks at one art magazine with an issue dedicated to Native art: the 1992 volume of Art Journal Vol. 51 (1992) No. 3 (Fall), co-edited by Jackson Rushing and Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee/Winnebago). The lack of art criticism and lack of judgments is a widespread problem that exists throughout the art world. Nancy Mithlo (Chiricahua Apache) writes, “the purpose of contemporary Native arts criticism in a more proactive frame of reference is less about what others think (getting in and being witnessed by others as in a ceremony) and more about what we thinking of ourselves in relationship with others” (152).

    Since catalogs are geared towards a general readership, Nordstrom argues that they are no substitute for scholarly art history. She criticizes Janet Berlo and Ruth Phillips’ 1998 Native North American Art for bending interpretations of art terminology, specific the term “modern,” in respect to Native art.

    She mentions the catalog for the 2004 National Museum of the American Indian exhibit, Native Modernisms: The Art of George Morrison and Allan Houser, edited by Truman Lowe, 2005. Finally looking at Linda B. Eaton’s 1990 A Separate Vision: Case Studies of Four Contemporary Indian Artists, Nordstrand asks, “Can we identify true movements and aesthetics in history of art by American Indians?” (156).

    The last two decades have seen a groundswell of books about Native art, including an increasing number of monographs. More Native writers are publishing and some tribes and tribal schools have their own presses. This bodes well for generating realistic art histories, and there are far more works than could ever be examined in a single essay.

    Wheel: Lucy Lippard

    All Six Legs
    Lucy Lippard (European-American)

    Lucy Lippard examines the factors that make Native art partly invisible in her essay “All Six Legs.” Lippard is sensitive to the challenges of being a non-Native writing about Native art and wonders if Native perspectives are “even available to non-Indians?” (128) She points out something very crucial in Native art writing, that “non-Indian writers tend to depend on our own culturally approved taste, education, and background, which is rooted in Western civilization” (128), which, possibly unconsciously, promotes assimilation to the Western mainstream. She encourages Native writers to examine and question Western influences on their work.

    The space between cultures is a liminal space — a threshold or, in Gerald McMaster’s Reservation X, “a socially ambiguous zone” (133) African, Asian, Latin, as well as Native American artists move around the long-entrenched Eurocentrism of the art world. Oscar Howe demonstrated this by creating new expressions of abstraction that drew upon his own tribe’s art history. “It is history, whether or not it’s written down by white people” (131) – Lippard pretty well nails it with that statement. Most tribes have predominantly oral cultures, and Native scholars have struggled for decades to have oral histories recognized as valid in academia. Tribes reflected upon the art they created, even if they did not write everything down.

    Lippard brings up the reoccurring notion of the indigenous artist versus the artist who “happens to be indigenous” (131) (kill the Indian, save the artist, to paraphrase Captain Richard Pratt). I’ve long noticed how the artists who say that they are “artists who happen to be Native” tend to show in Native venues and speak to Native audiences quite a bit. Lippard observes that Fritz Scholder was a prime example of “a non-Indian Indian but was not adverse to reaping the rewards of Native affiliation” (139).

    Agreeing with Mithlo that modernism (or post-modernism) and tribal traditions are not incompatible, Lippard writes, “…for many Native artists, tradition is not the antithesis of modernism, but its mulch” (131). Sometimes what passes for “traditional art” becomes so romanticized in non-Indian circles that some young artists break away from their traditional arts just to avoid the sentimentalization, commercialization, and trivialization of those arts.

    Ghettoization is a concern among many different groups, not just Native Americans, and while some Native artists aspire to show in the global art world, Native art shows and venues still hold value. “[I]f a woman artist makes a big reputation under a male name or Native artists never mention their tribal affiliation, nothing is gained for the constituencies we care most about” (133). Artists should not have to hide who they are to make it in the mainstream.

    "One of the most effective weapons against stereotypes," Lippard writes, "is recontextualization" (136). She agrees with Mithlo that stereotypes can be springboards for new communication; however, she also warns that, “Obsession with the cruelties and stupidities of the dominant culture—even as it remains meaningful as a warning—is related to what we in the feminist movement used to call ‘being ruled by the opposition,’ or forced into a position that’s reactive rather than proactive, cliché rather insight. At some point it may become more challenging to construct intricate criticisms of internal as well as external problems, fueled less by individualism then by collective energy” (136). Being simply reactionary is throwing away much of our power as artists. Native artists face the question of art world individualism and tribal collectivism, but “[o]ver the centuries, tribal traditions themselves have been flexible and open to change without damaging the core” (139, 142).

    Although identity politics have detractors in the mainstream art world, identity remains an important, reoccurring theme. Lippard suggests that if identity is a central part of an artist’s work, it should be analyzed, not ignored. “The problem of too much attention being paid to Native identity and to little to art” (142) can be solved by bypassing romanticism and nostalgia and studying contemporary Native art in its indigenous art historical context.

    As an aside, on the subject of liminality, Edward De Bono’s great and accessible book, I Am Right, You Are Wrong, demonstrates how the grammar of English language that hinges on anagrams (opposites) encourages artificial dichotomies.

    Image: Act, Don't React, America Meredith, gouache on paper.

    Wheel: Nancy Marie Mithlo

    A Realist View of Image Politics Reclamation of the ‘Every Indian’
    Nancy Marie Mithlo (Chiricahua Apache)

    In Nancy Mithlo’s essay, she examines the role of Native women artists and stereotypes of Native Americans in her “an attempt to define a critical indigenous arts theory” (105).

    Asking if negative stereotypes of Native Americans in popular culture matter, Mithlo answers, “Yes” – a view backed up by cognitive science. She sees mascots and other stereotypical caricatures of Natives as having real world ramifications, including violence; however, she argues that artists can use stereotypes as tools for cross-cultural communication, and cites examples of artists using the two most common stereotypes of Native women, the “squaw” and “princess,” to educate their audiences.

    Mithlo points out that tribes and Native people themselves sometimes contribute to these stereotypes. For instance, the poster child of the "Indian princess" stereotype, the Land O’ Lakes butter maiden, was actually designed by Red Lake Ojibwe artist Patrick DesJarlait (Anthes 99).

    Often non-Native’s ignorance of diverse tribes is blamed for the stereotypes; however, this has not proven to be the case, especially in areas where non-Native peoples are competing for limited resources with high concentrations of Native peoples (114). In the art world, this means when Native artists are designated by tribe and exhibiting in their own venues, such as Indian markets, prejudice is reduced; however, when Native artists seek to show their work in elite, mainstream environments, prejudice is more likely to occur. Mithlo provides several appalling examples of the backlash that occurs when Native artists exhibit in the mainstream arts arena instead of “knowing their place.”

    Over and over the discussion of “segregation” of Native art comes up, but Mithlo puts things in perspective: why should the contemporary arts world be a place devoid of any ethnicity? It’s “an odd kind of segregational racism” (114). I think it’s important to hear about experiences from Latino, Black, Asian, and other artists and writers with similar experiences – they are also often directly or indirectly asked to downplay their own cultural heritage to “make it” in the mainstream.

    “To talk about Indian art, you must talk about race,” (107) she writes, and “a negation of ethnicity also implies a negation of history.” Besides being an ethnic definition, “Native American” is also a political definition, with rights and access to resources relayed through citizenship in sovereign tribes.

    The Native women Mithlo interviews discuss being part of a tribe – a communal approach to art making that flies in the face of the iconic mainstream Rugged Individualist Art Hero. Mithlo argues that in contemporary Indian art the communal aspect should take precedence over the individual. Instead of trying to separate the art and the artists from the fabric of their daily life or home, their “extended lives as mothers, tradition-bearers, and wage earners” are important components to examine in interpreting and appreciating their art (111). It is not that the artists Mithlo profiles do not express individually, but their work gains depth and meaning when seen in the context of their respective community circles.

    However, many Native artists are clear that they cannot speak for their tribes; it’s a more nuanced matter of seeing the individual as a community member – in Diné artist Gloria Emerson’s words, "a case study, of what’s going on throughout the reservation" (111).

    Mithlo admits, “Both the motivation to alter preconceived notions of the Native as well as the availability of counternarratives are strikingly missing from general discourse…” (121) Mainstream media and the global art world tend to simply ignore real Natives in favor of the stereotypes. Native artists in the mainstream art world defy preexisting categories and are therefore threatening and subsequently ignored.

    "Native artists who move in both mainstream fine arts and rural reservation communities defy the dated analysis that strictly sees the tribal as separate in time and space from the modern. The concept of Native Americans as mobile, contemporary, and, simultaneously, tribal has not yet been recognized by the non-Indian public," she writes (121).

    It is not enough to simply study the aesthetic qualities of Native art – to take the formalist, Modernist approach of the mid-20th century. Mithlo concludes, “To fully engage in Indian arts, one must participate in a fairly rigorous intellectual exercise in which personal doubt may productively serve to further one’s depth of understanding. Counterintuitive measures such as an embrace of stereotypes, generic Indian identity, and realism are reasonable places to start the difficult process ahead” (123).

    • Anthes, Bill. Native Moderns: American Indian Painting, 1940-1960. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.
    • Blomberg, Nancy J., ed. [Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2008. ISBN 978-0914738596.

    Wheel: Alfred Young Man

    Segregation of Native Art by Ethnicity: Is It Self-imposed or Superimposed?
    Alfred Young Man (Cree)
    Note: This is my summary of Alfred Young Man's essay

    With 2,000 art spaces in Canada and 17,500 art spaces in the United States, Dr. Alfred Young Man wonders why so little space is available to exhibit indigenous art. Most of the art spaces are controlled by non-Natives and all too often by “people who often know little to nothing about Native Americans and First Nation peoples” (79). When Native art does get shown, it's often shown separately from other art forms.

    Anthropological Classification
    Canadian Museum of Civilization
    Even today, Native art is typically shown in anthropological or natural history museums, and is still sometimes labeled “primitive art” instead of “art written large” (81). This stems from the colonial ideology upon which Canadian museums were founded. “Part of the problem with answering the question about the segregation of Native art can be laid squarely at the feet of anthropology,” Young Man writes (86).

    Anthropological institutions such as the Canadian Museum of Civilization depend upon Victorian classification systems (96). Young Man says the question of inclusion would have been settled by now if it pertained to any other group and blames the extraordinary persistence of the problem on “institutional racism” (96). He points out that Vine Deloria, Jr. was concerned that “the parochial nature of Western scientific thought” (98) would become integral to Native peoples’ own perceptions of themselves.

    Young Man suggests that many non-native art professionals would prefer the question of “Native art writ large” to simply disappear, in part because they refuse to learn anything about Native art history. A compromise strategy currently used by museums is to present Native art as part of the Post-Modern mainstream without any cultural context (97).

    Anthropology was instrumental in creating Modernism, as Young Man explains. The Victorian era spawned both ethnography and Modern art. In 1894, Otis T. Mason, an anthropologist, created the notion of the “cultural status” of human societies, designated by their tools, which would place them in the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, or Atomic Age. This gave birth to an idea of societies progressing along a set line — an idea long since abandoned by the academic world but unfortunately very much alive in popular culture. With the minimal use of metallurgy, especially for tools, pre-Columbian cultures were categorized as being “Stone Age” (97), despite their superior developments in other areas such as medicine, hygiene, and agriculture.

    National Gallery of Canada

    Only in 1987 did the National Gallery of Canada begin seriously collecting Native art. When the museum moved into a new venue in 1989, it showcased its fledgling contemporary Native art collection together in one space. Native artists complained about this segregation, or “ghettoization”—saying the museum created an art “rez.” In response to artists’ complaints the museum dispersed the collection throughout its displays with no tribal affiliation listed on the pieces’ labels. “Assimilation by any other name,” writes Young Man, who saw this move as a denial of Native art history (82). This disassociation is damaging because so little has been written about many of these First Nations artists that the average view while have no context in which to place their work. By showing Native work together, a Native art history can begin to emerge (85).

    Solo exhibits of First Nations artists, such as Daphne Odjig (Odawa) and Norval Morrisseau (Ojibwa), at the National Gallery are positive new developments (101) but no other plans for more such exhibits existed at time of writing. [Note: As Greg Hill has pointed out in his comment below, much has changed since [Re]inventing the Wheel was published. Hill (Kanyen'kehaka-Mohawk) was appointed Curator and head of the department of Indigenous Art at the CNG in 2007, has actively acquired aboriginal art for the permanent collection, curated a traveling solo retrospective of Carl Beam (Ojibwe), and created other aboriginal art shows.]

    The Question of Positioning

    National Gallery of Canada curator Diana Nemiroff writes that the issue of where to positioning Native art has reemerged on and off since 1927, inspired by the series of exhibitions throughout the 1910s and 1920s displaying non-Western art alongside Modern Western art. In 1978, the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation sponsored the first national Canadian gathering of indigenous artists and other art professionals, who debated the question of positioning for three straight days. Young Man described a dizzying list of symposia and articles discussing positioning of Native art, all of which were influenced by anthropology and ignored the possibility of Native art history. “Ironically,” Young Man observes, “the gridlock that Native art is experiencing today should not have to happen to what are arguably the most studied people on the planet…” (86).


    Young Man describes the trend of artists having to hide their ethnic roots to create “art for art’s sake” and be seen as an isolated individual. The curator’s policy at the National Galley appears to be, “if you are an Indian who insists on working as the Native artist you are, well, you need not apply for the gig” (85).

    All art is ultimately ethnic and influenced by the culture in which it was created. Picasso did not have to surrender his Spanish identity. No art is universal. Ironically in other countries, mainstream Canadian artists are looked at as being “Canadian” instead of universal, and Canadian art history as a whole is ignored (93).

    It is good to bear in mind the incredible diversity of perspectives and cultures of Aboriginal artists of Canada. Inuit peoples are not Indian, and their arts are accordingly unique.


    Young Man writes, “it will take a great change of consciousness before this question of Native art writ large is going to be able to make that fundamental metamorphosis from one paradigm to another…,” and Native peoples will have to initiate this evolution (95). Western art writers won’t initiate these changes, and really how can they be expected to understand the motivations and meanings of Native art without guidance from the Native art community?

    “We need … to do away with the term traditional altogether,” writes Young Man, “for by one account we are the traditional” (96). He encourages Natives to coin new art terms and to do away altogether with the anthropological approach to classifying Native art. “[T]he politically and historically autonomous Native artist and Native art historian, critic, scholar, and academic need to be publicly acknowledged and respected…” (101).

    With so many art spaces not showcasing Native arts, organizations such as the Canadian Museums Association, Canada Council for the Arts should take a leadership position to place Native arts on equal footing as non-Native Canadian art and end tokenism. Today, a Native artist should not be seen through the lens of anthropology or as a “Western art hybrid” (102). While anthropologists have rejected the idea of “primitive” and “civilized,” the art world must also do so (103).

    Images reproduced from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons attribution license.

    [Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art

    The Denver Art Museum, a long-term supporter of contemporary Native arts, hosted a symposium, "[Re]inventing the Wheel" in 1996. Inspired by Edgar Heap-of-Bird's monumental sculpture, Wheel, commissioned by the museum, this symposium yielded critical discussion that was compiled in the book, [Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art. Like most good books about Native American art, this one is out of print, and a used copy is currently available on Amazon for a mere $268.24 last time I checked.

    The symposium examined questions of the nature of Indian art that date back at last half a century with no consensus to the answers. Editor Nancy Blomberg writes, "We're not really going around in circles—or are we?" and describes “stagnation in the field of native arts in articulating a satisfactory contemporary native art theory." And she goes on to ask, "why are we now well into the twenty-first century still using the unproductive rhetoric of the last century?" The individual essays attempt to address these reoccurring questions and move forward with them — what is the role of Native art in the mainstream art world? How should Native art be exhibited? What terminology should be used to describe it? How can such diverse art practices of hundreds of tribes be grouped together? Should they be?

    As Cherokee-Osage art writer Rennard Strickland wrote almost three decades ago, "A reasoned evaluative perspective must be established so that current Indian art controversies do not continue forever. The debate over modernism and traditional must be brought to an end..." (24) Why do these discussions never die or evolve? Possibly because people don’t really want them to, possibly because the scholarly circles discussing Native art are too small or removed from their home communities; possibly because the powers that be in the mainstream art world ignore Native artists completely. No matter, this book attempts to address issues and map a way forward.

    Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne-Arapaho) provides the first essay, "Life as Art: Creating through Acts of Personal and Cultural Renewal.” He describes his personal development as an artist and discusses public art collaborations he created in several countries, leading up to his monumental public art piece, Wheel, commissioned by the Denver Art Museum. Two interesting points he brings up are a warning against overly creating art that simply refers to itself and his comment: "…I think it is very important for Native artists to realize that when one is making, or creating, modern art, it is essential, especially for me, to make sure it does not subvert religious aspects of sacred tribal knowledge" (35).

    In his essay, “The Prehistory of Wheel: Symbolic Inversions and Traumatic Memory in the Art of Edgar Heap of Birds,” W. Jackson Rushing III examines Heap of Birds’ art practices that led up to the 50 foot wide art installation, consisting of ten red porcelain-enameled structures and additional text in Cheyenne and English. Rushing also lists other monumental public art reflecting an “'un-celebration’ of colonial culture” (75) placing Wheel within a larger art movement.

    Other essays from the book are summarized in subsequent blog entries.

    … [A]n Indian painting is any painting that's done by an Indian.—TC Cannon (15)

    • Blomberg, Nancy J., ed. [Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2008. ISBN 978-0914738596.


    Hello and welcome! I created this blog with the goal of making Native America art writing and art history more accessible to a wider audience, especially indigenous artists. Is Native American art a small, recent addition to the art world? Absolutely not. Native American art extends back at the very least 13,000 years and spans two continents—from the southernmost people in the world, the Yaghan of Tierra del Fuego, to the Inughuit of Polar Greenland, the northernmost people of the world. The Native art world is older, newer, richer, and stronger than art literature has yet been acknowledged. I support a hemispheric approach to Native art, because cultural exchanges constantly happen between North and South American, and have for centuries — after all, where did tobacco originate?

    Many exciting developments are happening in the Native art world — new institutions, new scholarship, more and more Native peoples earning higher degrees are publishing. The theoretical framework may not yet in place to make sense of the dizzying diversity of Native arts, but that should not hold anyone back from appreciating the amazing works from the part and present and making contributions towards an indigenous art theory that can encompass all Native arts, not just the most Westernized.

    Hybrid artists tend to get written about when the critics or the audience is non-Native, but we should also celebrate those artists who provide art for their own tribes, especially those artists whose creations are used in our ceremonies, dances, and community events. An art theory that ignores traditionalists and the core people that hold our tribes together is not a Native American art theory.

    For those Native artists whose chosen audience is the non-Native art world, perhaps they can find allies among historical theorists and writers of the Western art canon, such as Ferdinand Saussure, Herbert Marcuse, or André Malraux, and present their art within these people’s theoretical context? It’s a matter of providing familiar ground that the audience can relate to, much in the same way many Native painters employ pop iconography as an entré for non-Native people into the work.

    Many institutions in the Native art community are governed by people who simply do not have an art background. So a great deal of discussion about Native art is governed by hand-me-down notions of art that have been abandoned by Post-modern art institutions in the last few decades. We do not live in the Modern Era — that ended over a half century ago, so there’s no need to try to hamstring Native art today with outmoded ideas of universality, formalism, or Eurocentricism.

    Above all, it’s good to remember that art is subjective. We’re all going to have wildly different views, but this diversity of opinion, experience, and perspective makes for a richer dialogue about Native arts. I’m going to strive to present artists who are off the beaten path, including artists who have found success outside of the gallery and market framework. Any writing or information about Greenlandic or Latin American indigenous art would be very welcome!

    To get things rolling, I have summarized the different essays in [Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art, which presents many of the dominant themes and obstacles with which Native art writers are currently wrestling.

    Here's to the start of a great discussion!
    America Meredith (Cherokee Nation)
    Santa Fe, New Mexico

    A note about images: Images that appear on this blog are either ones that I hold the copyright to (my own art or photographs) or are public domain or have Creative Commons or GNU licenses obtained from Wikimedia Commons or Flickr. Any copyrighted images from other artists will limited to those reposted with permission or are part of a review (Landes 6). Images in art show reviews fall under the doctrine of fair use. The site will fully comply with international copyright laws.

    • Landes, William M. “Copyright, Borrowed Images, and Appropriation Art: An Economic Approach.” George Mason Law Review. Fall 2000.