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Beautiful Resistance: Works on Paper from the Heard Museum Collection

May 22 - December 31, 2005


With the founding of the American Indian Movement in 1968, Native American people took to the streets to protest issues of inequality including racism, relocation, boarding schools and assimilation in the history of the United States. A precursor to this activist resistance against oppression can be found in a more subtle expression -- in paintings that explore distinct and personal American Indian identity. This quiet resistance, which began decades before the street protests and social activism, is documented in the upcoming exhibit Beautiful Resistance: Works on Paper from the Heard Museum Collection. This exhibit is adjacent to the Heard Museum's new signature exhibition HOME: Native People in the Southwest, which will open on May 22, 2005.

According to Joe Baker, Delaware Tribe of Indians, Loyd Kiva New curator of fine art, the resistance that is embodied in the 57 watercolor and gouache works on paper from the early 1900s through 1970s is not a loud and militant resistance. Rather, these works are quiet, meticulously crafted and visually stunning portrayals of tribal culture and life. Popularly identified as "flatstyle" or "traditional" paintings, these pieces were in high demand in the 1950s and '60s in an art market that was fueled by wealthy collectors enraptured by the romantic myth of the West.

Yet despite their traditional subject matter, these works are imbued with a spirit of resistance and resiliency. By capturing in exquisite detail the ceremonies, dress and depictions of Native cultures, theseartists were preserving a way of life that was changing at astronomical speed says Baker. Thus, in the detail of these water-based works, visitors will see images of the past precisely and accurately rendered.

In one work, an untitled watercolor, Navajo artist Raymond Johnson depicts the "Kinaalda," a coming-of-age ceremony for young Navajo girls. The painting shows a girl running, being molded by the Godmother and making a ceremonial cake. These details illustrate the importance of family cooperation and ceremony. And it is through accurate detail, Baker explains, that the artists contributed to a "visual diary" of the past -- one that is about both personal and cultural identity.

"Indian Drummer," painted before 1943 by Julian Martinez, San Ildefonso, depicts a drummer. The drummer wears beaded moccasins and is shown supporting the weight of the drum with a drum pole. Martinez's attention to detail demonstrates not only what the drummer wore but also how ceremonial objects are used in practice.

Yet, despite their focus on preserving the past, the paintings in Beautiful Resistance are also a distinctly modern expression. That is because paper, as well as the technique of easel painting, was a tradition that Native artists did not begin to use until the late 1890s. Easel painting comes from Europe, and many Native artists first encountered and began to paint using this technique as part of the drawing and painting curriculum of Indian boarding schools. The federally run boarding schools, first of which was established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1879, were the product of a national effort to "civilize" Native Americans. Children were separated from their families and tribal cultures and were required to conform to Euro-American society. Despite the original intent to "civilize" Native Americans, Indian boarding schools became a force that has shaped Native American identity. And within the harsh and rigid structure of the boarding schools, painting and drawing provided an important outlet for students. 

Once Native artists embraced this modern way of painting as their own, it became an important way to express cultural identity and a distinct Native American aesthetics. Fred Beaver, Creek, who has several works in the exhibit painted in the 1960s and '70s, describes his paintings as tools for documenting American Indian identity. "I want to change the non-Indian's image of my people, and I want to help my own people understand themselves, especially the young," Beaver says. He explains that by painting scenes from his childhood and stories told to him by his parents and grandparents, he creates an "authentic record" for his people.

Beautiful Resistance: Works on Paper from the Heard Museum Collection opens May 22, 2005, as the debut exhibit in the newly redesigned Edward Jacobson Gallery of Indian Art, which is adjacent to the new Heard Museum signature exhibition HOME: Native People in the Southwest. It will be on display through December of 2005.The Public Grand Opening of the new 21,000-square-foot west wing marks the culmination of the Heard Museum's 75th Anniversary celebration.

Images pending

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