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Text and Texture: Narrative in Contemporary Southwest Native American Art

October 12 - December 16, 2006


This exhibition explores complex relationships between materials and narrative elements in contemporary art by Hopi, Navajo and Zuni artists. Judith Hamera, co-curator with Alfred Bendixen, noted "Works displayed here cross multiple boundaries that apply to more conventional genres of art-making. In so doing, they call into question distinctions between 'art' and 'craft,' 'folk art,' 'outsider art,' and 'tourist productions.' Further, these work represent intricate negotiations between native traditions and innovation, between disruptions of cultural norms and cultural continuity." The exhibition features 30 Hopi kachinas by various artists, Navajo baskets, memory aids and sandpaintings, as well as dozens of Zuni fetishes. This exhibition is organized as part of the Texas A&M University Southwest Writers & Artists Festival, and is supported by The Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, Paul Tipton, Twin Rocks Trading Post, and private collectors who wish to remain anonymous.


Following is training material developed for docents of the show prepared by Dr. Judith Hamera, Professor and Head, Department of Performance Studies:

This brief overview is intended to provide a "one stop" resource you can use to address frequently asked questions. Articles attached offer in-depth discussions of Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni works, and were selected because they specifically link the social and spiritual aspects of tribal live to the works produced.
Show Objectives
To explore intersections of materials and subject matter in contemporary Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni art;
To use contemporary Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni art to gain insights into current tribal concerns, humor, and sociocultural life; and
To examine limits of existing art vocabularies, specifically notions of "folk art" versus "craft" or "fine art."
Geographic Focus
The show examines work by Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni artists living in the southwestern United States. The majority of the artists are living on their tribal reservations. See the attached map for details.
Aesthetic Focus
Works selected for this show include katsina/kachina carvings, paintings, sandpaintings, memory aids, folk art, sandstone carvings, pottery, rugs, and fetish carvings. All share an interesting blend of materials and narrative elements. We are asking: How do native artists present narrative elements (from rituals, from legend and sacred stories, from daily life) in different ways using different materials. The intersections of materials and subject matter in these works illuminate multiple dimensions of contemporary Native American life.
Why "text"?
"Text," "textile," and "texture" share the Latin root "texere: to weave." Stories are woven, as are rugs. Both share the sense of multiple threads/influences coming together to make something greater that the sums of their parts.
How does this work relate to other kinds of "fine art"?
The Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni works presented here expose the arbitrary distinctions between "art" and "craft," between "fine art" and "folk art." Some of the artists and media represented here have been shown in international fine art museums at the same time they appear in trading posts on reservations. This complex relationship to conventional genres of art making is rooted in the history of Native American relationships to the tourist industry and to Indian traders who have traditionally bridged the gap between artists and collectors of this work.
While self-expression is certainly important in this work, as in all art making, many Native American artists do not have the luxury of producing for this reason alone. From the outset, tribal artists have produced art as a way of making a living. Some artists, like the late Charlie Willeto, the best known Navajo folk artist, made pieces to trade for groceries.
The Fred Harvey Company was instrumental in packaging southwestern Native American art for sale to tourists traveling by rail to the Grand Canyon and other sites in the southwest in the late 19th century. Individual traders like C.G. Wallace recognized the commercial potential in "Indian crafts;" Wallace, for example, encouraged Zunis to adapt stone fetish carving, a sacred practice, to commercial purposes. The tourist industry, and individual traders, influence the production and dissemination of this work to the present day.
Cultural Sensitivity and "Authenticity"
There is a reservation joke that goes: "How many people in a typical Indian family?" The answer is "Five: mother, father, two kids and an anthropologist." The humor in the joke calls our attention to the fact that Native Americans have been configured as "exotic," and as "objects of study" since the early 19th century. This scrutiny by outsiders continues into the present. Examples include tourists feeling complete freedom to intrude upon sacred ceremonies to take pictures, ask inappropriate questions about sacred matters of tribal members, and even intrude upon families in their homes. As trader Jonathan S. Day notes in his book Traditional Hopi Kachinas: A New Generation of Carvers":
Picture a vanload of tourists pulling up to your house on the Fourth of July and trampling in your bushes, looking in your windows, and taking pictures of your family. You'd call the police, right? (p. 7)
Native American artists are understandably concerned about elements of their culture being treated with the respect they deserve. In many cases, this means they abide by tribal taboos against representing certain figures and motifs in work meant for outsiders.
Does this mean the work shown here is not "authentic"? No. It means "authenticity" is complicated in Southwest Native American art. It means that the artists represented here must balance their deep generosity in sharing aspects of their culture with tribal taboos, as well as balancing their own unique points of view with demands of the art market. The resulting work represents extremely complex negotiations of relationships between artists, collectors, cultural treasures for insiders, and the desires and curiosities of outsiders.
Tribal Information
We strongly encourage you to visit the tribal websites below. The Hopi, Navajo and Zuni nations have represented themselves here. Note the attention given to educating outsiders on how to visit, view ceremonies, etc.
About the Attached
The attached materials were selected because they offer historical and spiritual overviews of Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni arts that are included in this show.
Hopi Katsinas ("kachinas") are discussed in the attached excerpts from Zena Perlstone's exhibit catalog Katsina: Commodified and Appropriated Images of Hopi Supernaturals. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum (2001): pp. 48-55 and 130-1. These last two pages are a profile of Ramson Lomatewama, a Hopi carver and poet who will be presenting a carving demonstration and poetry reading as part of "Text and Texture."
The origins of Navajo sandpainting are discussed in Mark Bahti and Eugene Baatsoslanii Joe's A Guide to Navajo Sandpainting. Tucson: Rio Nuevo Publishers (2000): 6-11.
Joe Douthitt presents an overview of Zuni fetish carvings, written with the permission of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association, is presented in "Indian Fetishes" (www.collectorsguide.com/fa/fa025.shtml).
These three sources are representative of the ways individual collectors and audiences generally encounter this work: in the museum (Pearlstone), in the popular monograph (Bahti), and on the web for sale ("Indian fetishes").



(above: Bruce Hathale. Memory Aid. "Great Star Evil Chaser." Photo by Judith Hamera)


(above: Bruce Hathale. Untitled Memory Aid. Photo by Judith Hamera)


(above: Not attributed (Hathale family). Water ox and water horse. Painting on muslin. Photo by Judith Hamera)


(above: Harrison Juan. Wood carving. Bill Clinton Photo by Judith Hamera)


(above: Harrison Juan. Wood carving. Close up of Bill Clinton. Photo by Judith Hamera)


(above: Delphine Warren. Sandstone carving. "God bless the USA." Photo by Judith Hamera)


(above: Mamie Deschillie, Cardboard Chickens. "Fabric, Wood, and Clay: The Diverse Worlds of Navajo Art." Heard Museum North. Scottsdale, AZ. January 26 - June 23, 2002. Photo by Judith Hamera)[1]


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1. not in exhibition

rev. 11/13/06

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