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Migrations: New Directions in Native American Art

February 16 - April 19, 2009

 

(above: gallery image for Migrations: New Directions in Native American Art. Photo courtesy of Hillstrom Museum of Art)

 

 

 

 

This exhibition included close to fifty works by six different Native American artists from six different cultures from across the U.S. The six are artists who, in their work, migrate between Native American cultures, traditional and contemporary aesthetics, and media, to represent the Native American experience. The aim of the exhibit was to support innovative, emerging Native American artists who, while exploring their experience as a Native American, are engaged in work of a more experimental nature than what is generally thought of as "Native American Art." (right: Star Wallowing Bull, My Three Sisters, 2004, lithograph, 22 x 29 inches)

Artists included in the exhibition were Star Wallowing Bull, of the Chippewa Nation from the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota; Marie Watt, of the Seneca Nation, in Oregon; Steven Deo, of the Creek Nation, in New Mexico; Tom Jones, of the Ho Chunk Nation, in Wisconsin; Larry McNeil, of the Tlingit/Nisgaa Nation, in Idaho; and Ryan Lee Smith, of the Cherokee Nation, in Louisiana. 

The artists were chosen by a distinguished national jury that included Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, a member of the Flathead Salish Nation and a prominent artist, curator, educator, and activist; Truman Lowe, an artist and member of the Winnebago Nation, and a Professor of Art and curator at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; Deborah Wye, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Siri Engberg, a curator at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Marjorie Devon, Director of the Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque. 

The exhibition, which is being circulated by the University of New Mexico Art Museum, is accompanied by a catalogue, published by the University of New Mexico Press. The catalogue includes essays by major scholars including Lucy Lippard, who is one of the most prominent art critics today and a specialist in Native American and Feminist art and related issues.

 

Related programming

Related programming for the Migrations exhibition included a public lecture on March 8, 2009 by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, titled "A Survey of Contemporary American Indian Art."  Quick-to-See Smith, who, as noted, served as a juror for the Migrations exhibit, is considered one of the foremost Native American artists today.  Her works are found in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.  She has lectured widely, and, among many other honors, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women's Caucus for the Arts.  Quick-to-See Smith calls herself a "cultural art worker."  Elaborating on her Native American worldview, her work addresses human rights and environmental issues, as well as today's tribal politics, with a keen sense of humor and insight.  Her lecture was presented by the Hillstrom Museum of Art with support from the Lecture Series, the Women's Studies Program, the Department of Art and Art History, and the Ethel and Edgar Johnson Endowment for the Arts, all of Gustavus Adolphus College; and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, headquartered in Prior Lake, Minnesota, and the Lower Sioux Indian Community, headquartered in Morton, Minnesota.

Other related programming included a group of choreographic performances by Gustavus Adolphus College dance students in the Dance Composition course taught by faculty member, Melissa Rolnick, held in the Hillstrom Museum of Art on April 5 and 7, 2009.  The student dancers/choreographers for the program, which was titled Migrations: Moving Installations, included Marissa Augustin, Emily Bulling, Shawn Grygo, Sarah Jabar, Patrick Jeffrey, Denise Stein, Jill Van Osdol.  The program was created under the artistic direction of Rolnick, who noted that the gifted dance students were given the charge to create a "site-specific" dance for the Museum that was inspired by a particular artwork and that was also sensitive to the configurations of space and place in the Museum exhibition.

 

Wall text from the exhibition

Migrations: New Directions in Native American Art
 
Steven Deo
Tom Jones
Larry McNeil
Ryan Lee Smith
Star Wallowing Bull
Marie Watt
 
The six artists represented in Migrations: New Directions in Native American Art, like all of us, are defined by the multiple influences in their environments, which together paint a composite image of each individual's identity. Each of the Migrations artists has experienced the fluid boundaries of culture, and their work embraces both the modern and the traditional. In fact, we selected the title for its diverse implications of movement -- between one time and another, between cultures, between places, between artistic mediums, between obscurity and the limelight.
 
The impetus for Migrations was rooted in Tamarind Institute's decades-long commitment to working with artists from varied backgrounds. These artists have infused our programs with energy and curiosity. While a handful of artists of Native descent have achieved national and international recognition, Indian artists have largely been ignored by the power brokers of the art world. We wanted to identify and showcase lesser-known artists not "Native artists"-who engage in contemporary dialogue in a meaningful way. The six artists chosen -- Steven Deo, Tom Jones, Larry McNeil, Ryan Lee Smith, Star Wallowing Bull, and Marie Watt -- represent a range of stylistic approaches, tribal affiliations, and media.
 
Three artists made prints at Tamarind Institute, and three at Crow's Shadow Press, part of the Crow's Shadow Institute of the Arts located in southeastern Oregon on the Umatilla Reservation near Pendleton. This exhibition presents those prints, along with other works by each artist that further explore creative themes and concepts. As Jo Ortel notes in her essay in the Migrations catalog, "Certainly, for the six individuals selected . . . the migrations are multidirectional and multidimensional. They encompass psychological as well as physical journeys. They enfold art and life, individual and community. Most importantly, they involve a deepening of cultural understanding and self-knowledge." We greatly appreciate the opportunity to present this work.
 
Marjorie Devon
Director, Tamarind Institute
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
 
 
 
This exhibition is organized by the University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, in collaboration with the Tamarind Institute, a division of the College of Fine Arts, UNM. Support for this project was provided by TREX (Traveling Exhibitions Program of the Museum of New Mexico), the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Artists' statements included in the exhibition are taken from the book Migrations: New Directions in Native American Art, edited by Marjorie Devon and published by the University of New Mexico Press (2006).
 
The appearance of Migrations at the Hillstrom Museum of Art is presented with assistance from the Lower Sioux Indian Community, headquartered in Morton, Minnesota; from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, headquartered in Prior Lake, Minnesota; and from the Diversity Center of Gustavus Adolphus College.

(above: Tom Jones, Commodity II, 2004, lithograph, 30 x 22 inches)

 

(above: Larry McNeil, Y'eil (Pontiac Series), 1998, digital print, 24 x 24 inches)

 


Biographies of the artists and object labels

Steven Deo
Born1956, Claremore, Oklahoma
Member of the Creek Nation, Euchee Tribe
 
Studied at:
·Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico: AFA in Three-Dimensional Art, 1991; AFA, Two-Dimensional Art, 1992
·San Francisco Art Institute: BFA, 1994
·Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
·University of Oklahoma, Norman
 
As a contemporary artist of Native American descent, identity has been a constant point of reference. Often, I've looked into the past through the eyes of the camera at images of my family, or at images reproduced in Western histories. Then, nature was our environment: we looked to the sky and made kinship with the stars, the moon, and the sun. The earth lived under our bare feet and rivers flowed through our bodies and minds. Our environment has changed and our "nature" replaced with concrete, steel, and asphalt. We have been relocated and dislocated, grouped and regrouped. Our communality is an extended family called "Indian."
 
Although I grew up in an urban environment in Tulsa, Oklahoma . . . I had other experiences that centered on native religion and ceremony that were very much part of the fiber of my life.
 
For as long as I can remember, I was sent to stay with my paternal grandparents, who had retired on land that was our Indian allotment. They owned a television, but the reception was not very good, so at night Grandma Deo would teach me the language, tell us stories. During the days, I would ride their old plow horse, day in and day out.
 
I also had a relationship with my mother's family. Her mother was a full blood Creek Indian, and her father a full blood Euchee. He was a hereditary chief, a Bear Clan member. When I was very small, I would sit next to him during our dances. They would begin at midnight and last until sunrise, and I would often fall asleep and wake up in his pickup truck. Whenever I can, I still participate in the Greencorn ceremony during the summer solstice, dancing and taking medicine all day.
 
I continually think about the people I came from, although the language they spoke becomes clouded by time and daily life. The songs from the beginning of creation resonate in my daydreams, and I find solace in that sacred place called art.
 
Steven Deo
Principle of Identity, 2004
Lithograph, 22 1/2 x 30 inches
 
Steven Deo
Alluvium, 2004
Lithograph, 22 1/2 x 30 inches
 
Steven Deo
Perpetual Stream, 2004
Mixed media, 60 x 21 x 14 inches (large figure), 40 x 12 x 12 inches (small figure)
 
Steven Deo
Child's Play, 2005
Mixed media, 20 x 40 x 24 inches
 

Tom Jones
Born 1964, Charlotte, North Carolina
Member of the Ho-Chunk Nation
 
Studied at:
·University of Wisconsin, Madison
·School of Visual Arts, New York City
·Columbia College, Chicago, Illinois: MA, Museum Studies, 2002;
MFA, Photography, 2002
 
I feel a responsibility to portray the Native American experience, and the contributions to the history of the United States of Native peoples, who have been largely without a voice in the documentation of this history. For years, I have been collecting photographic postcards from the turn of the last century. In my research, I came across an image of a beautiful Native American woman with a child strapped to her back. Underneath the image was the caption, "The White Man's Burden." This image has remained with me, and was the catalyst for the series of images entitled "Dear America," which ironically juxtapose the lines from the song America with classic images from these postcards.
 
Typically, photographs of the Native American Indians were taken by outsiders. We have generally been represented with beads and feathers, widely known through the extraordinary photographic portrayals of Edward Curtis. Like many Native American Indians, the Ho-Chunk people still adhere to traditional ways even as they have adapted to the white culture that surrounds them. The emphasis of my photographic work is on the members of my tribe and the environments in which they live, giving a name and face to the individuals and their way of life in our own time. First and foremost, I am mindful of my responsibility to the tribe to help carry on a sense of pride about who and what we are as a people. I want the public to see the strength and resilience of the Ho-Chunk people.
 
Everything Ho-Chunks do in their traditional life is a form of art. We have an eye for detail; we are taught as children to observe and to pay close attention to everything around us. We are also asked, "What are you going to do to improve the life of others?" Upon the passing of my grandfather, I was asked to take his place in the Medicine Lodge. I have chosen to follow in his footsteps to carry on the traditional ways of our people; and I followed in my father's footsteps in photography, creating a visual archive for future generations.
 
Tom Jones
Commodity I, 2004
Lithograph and mixed media, 30 x 22 inches
 
Tom Jones
Commodity II, 2004
Lithograph and mixed media, 30 x 22 inches
 
Tom Jones
Choka Watching Oprah/Jim Funmaker
(The Ho Chunk People Series), 1998
Gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 inches
 
Tom Jones
Nina Cleveland
(The Ho Chunk People Series), 1998
Gelatin silver print, 18 x 18 inches
 
Tom Jones
Ho Chunk Veterans, G. Stacey,
E. Hall, and K. Snake
(The Ho Chunk People Series), 2001
Gelatin silver print
 
Tom Jones
Drummers
(Honoring the Ho Chunk Warriors Series), 2003
Chromogenic print, 28 x 36 inches
 
Tom Jones
My Country 'tis of Thee
(Dear America Series), 2002
Digital ink jet print, 22 x 36 inches
 
Tom Jones
Sweet Land of Liberty
(Dear America Series), 2002
Digital ink jet print, 36 x 24 inches
 

Larry McNeil
Born 1955, Juneau, Alaska
Member of Tlingit and Nisga'a nations
 
Studied at:
·School of Photographic Art and Science, Brooks Institute, Santa Barbara, California: BA, Photographic Illustration, 1978
·Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico
·University of New Mexico, Albuquerque: MFA, Photography, 1999
 
Associate Professor of Photography, Boise State University, Idaho, since 1999
 
My place in our American culture is a bit off-center because I, like many other Native Americans, really grew up outside of the mainstream while simultaneously being immersed in it, which is a kind of paradox that confuses the hell out of everyone, me included. As a kid I was likely to hear Roy Orbison blasting Pretty Woman out of the jukeboxes in bars along the avenue, and then go home to traditionally smoked salmon and hearing my grandma talking to my mom in Tlingit.
 
Being raised partly by our grandmother, who was born in the late 1800s, gave my siblings and me an atypical worldview -- and an unusual strength and deep connection to our identity. We were raised in turbulent times that challenged our very existence as Tlingit people-from experiencing racism in our everyday lives to having the government refuse claims to our traditional homeland and our right to exist as a sovereign nation. Our experiences are not unusual . . . many of our friends and relatives have similar stories, and they continue to forge powerful bonds that go deeper than blood.
 
I see my work as a bridge between cultures that is satirical about both. After finding our own mythological creature, the raven, to be very relevant to the absurdities that we encounter every day in America, I drifted toward the broader idea of myths and mythology and how it informs who we are. The title of the series, "Fly by Night Mythology", seemed perfect for everything that I have been making work about because it refers to the Tlingit creation story in which Raven flew by night because in the beginning there was no light. The raven from the Northwest Coast is also a changeling or transformer and is a trickster. "Fly by night" is also a colloquialism that alludes to being an undependable rascal, yet Raven plays a key role in our creation story-which makes him an embodiment of irony, as aspect that the Tlingit people are keenly aware of.
 
I have always had an affinity for words and images. Language and stories became a part of my art without much conscious thought. The use of language is not necessarily literal; I like visual metaphors. Personally, the work is very much a visual manifestation of Tlingit culture and identity, which are comprised of both formal and informal language and stories. Someone from my own Keet Hit (Killer Whale House) would understand the interaction of text and image without having it described to them; I believe it is very innate to us. The postmodern crowd gets it too, as do kids, which is an aspect that I really love.
 
Larry McNeil
Native Epistemology, 2004
Lithograph, 30 x 22 1/4 inches
 
Larry McNeil
Edward Curtis' Last Photograph, 2004
Lithograph, 36 x 28 1/4 inches
 
Larry McNeil
Dad, 2002
Digital print, 24 x 40 1/2 inches
 
Larry McNeil
Grandma, We Who are Your Children, 2002
Digital print, 24 x 40 1/2 inches
 
Larry McNeil
Once Upon a Time in America, 2002
Digital print, 24 x 37 inches
 
Larry McNeil
In the True Spirit of the White Man, 2002
Digital print, 24 x 40 1/2 inches
 
Larry McNeil
Y'eil, (Pontiac Series), 1998
Digital print, 24 x 24 inches
 
Larry McNeil
Tee Harbor Jackson, 2002
Digital print
 

Ryan Lee Smith
Born 1972, Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Member of the Cherokee Nation
 
Studied at:
·Baylor University, Waco, Texas: BFA, 1997
·University of New Orleans, Louisiana
 
As a child living in a small town in Oklahoma, my main interests were rurally based. I enjoyed setting trot lines for catfish and seining creeks for the bait. Venturing . . . far out into the country was always exciting, sometimes scary. I would walk the woods and notice everything. After high school, I went to Baylor University and worked with Karl Umlauf. There, I decided that I wanted to paint, but I lacked discipline. I moved to Durango, Colorado, in 1997, soon after graduation because I hadn't seen the mountains before. It was in Colorado that I really focused on my work -- I did hundreds of drawings and paintings in the mountains. I traded or sold them for a few dollars just to make ends meet. I now regret that those paintings are not accounted for, but those five years of just exercising my abilities outside the context of contemporary art were vital to my work's evolution.
 
I returned to Oklahoma with my soon-to-be wife, whom I met at a wood mill where we were both working. I decided to apply to grad school in New Orleans because I wanted to live near water, but more importantly, I wanted to be back in an educational environment. I wanted to see what other artists were doing. The University of New Orleans awarded me the Marcus B. Christian Graduate Scholarship, so I went. The urban environment in New Orleans is a big influence on my work and my life. I love the accessibility of everything and am excited by the overall vibe of the city. Every time I see the streetcar or drive by the Superdome, I am proud to be here. However, as Merle Haggard says, "the roots of my raisin' run deep," and I plan to move back to Oklahoma, to the country. I would like to do something for Native arts in Oklahoma and other places. I want to erase the stereotype attached to Native American art. I want to show the art world that Native art is not solely about representation.
 
There is a pulse or drumbeat that Native people have inside them. I want to translate that feeling in my work. I work spontaneously, combining everyday observations with past experiences and my thoughts or concerns of the moment. I translate these with color, line, and form. I use music to set a pulse -- many different rhythms and sounds occupy a single composition. I want to make real, honest, and personal art.

Ryan Lee Smith
Be Prepared to Stop, 2004
Lithograph, 22 1/4 x 30 inches
 
Ryan Lee Smith
Bare Foot, 2004
Lithograph, 22 1/4 x 30 inches
 
Ryan Lee Smith
What, 2004
Mixed media, 32 x 40 inches
 
Ryan Lee Smith
Artificial Reef, 2005
Mixed media, 22 x 25 inches
 
Ryan Lee Smith
Jack-o-Lantern, 2004
Mixed media, 47 x 35 inches
 
Ryan Lee Smith
Lung Transplant, 2004
Mixed media
 
Ryan Lee Smith
Push It, 2004
Mixed media
 

Star Wallowing Bull
Born 1973, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Reservation
 
I spent most of my life in Southside Minneapolis, until I moved to Fargo, North Dakota, in 2001. My mother is Arapaho, from the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. My father, Frank Big Bear, is an artist who is also a tribal member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Reservation. Growing up, I watched him draw and paint. I was always fascinated with his work. At a very early age, I was drawing faces and lines, and people were amazed by my unique gift. My father smiles each time he speaks of that. The greatest influence on me has been his art.
 
When my sister and I were reunited with my father after living with our mother in Denver for two years (I remember him crying when he saw us), he continued to encourage my artistic skills. Throughout grade school and junior high, my friends and teachers admired my work-especially my art teacher, who gave me a bag full of art supplies on the last day of school each year. He always told me I had a bright future.
 
My art comes out of my personal life: it is grounded in my heritage and my past. I am very attracted to bold, bright colors. Mostly I make the colors harmonize, but sometimes I use random colors that are often jarring. I am experimenting and exploring through the use of color. Like other artists today, I use imagery from advertisements and popular culture in my work. But it is from a Native American perspective, with a twist that relates the imagery to Native American ideas and issues. Although a person can enjoy my artwork without knowing anything about me or the specific piece, a deeper appreciation of the work can be gained by learning more about the images and symbols that I choose to depict.
 
I am on a path of self-discovery and this informs my artwork: I hope the viewers, through engagement with the work, can also learn and discover, and thus enrich themselves.

Star Wallowing Bull
A Moment of Silence, 2004
Lithograph, 28 x 22 5/8 inches
 
Star Wallowing Bull
My Three Sisters, 2004
Lithograph, 22 x 29 inches
 
Star Wallowing Bull
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,
Now I Know Who You Really Are, 2003
Prismacolor pencil on paper, collage, 30 1/4 x 44 inches
 
Star Wallowing Bull
Windigo versus the Cannibal Man, 2002
Prismacolor pencil on paper, 12 x 30 1/4 inches
 
Star Wallowing Bull
Mind to Mind Combat, 2001
Prismacolor pencil on paper, 22 1/4 x 30 inches
 
Star Wallowing Bull
Rising Star, 2006
(left, on wall end)
Prismacolor pencil on paper
 
Star Wallowing Bull
Custer's Last Stand, 2006
Prismacolor pencil on paper
 
Star Wallowing Bull
Chippewa Medicine Bear, 2004
Prismacolor pencil on paper

 
Marie Watt
Born 1967, Seattle, Washington
Member of the Seneca Nation
 
Studied at:
·Willamette University, Salem, Oregon: BS, Speech, 1990
·Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico: AFA, Museum Studies, 1992
·Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine
·Yale University School of Art, New Haven, Connecticut: MFA, Painting and Printmaking, 1996
 
When I was in kindergarten, our teacher asked us to share something about our cultural backgrounds. I said that I was part cowboy and part Indian-my way of saying that my mom is Seneca and grew up at the Cattaraugus Reservation in upstate New York, and my dad, part German and part Scottish, grew up in a family of educators and ranchers who originally homesteaded ranchland in Wyoming. Like most children with rich imaginations and impressionable minds, I was influenced by television, particularly John Wayne Westerns. But I rooted for both sides. It was easy for me to ignore issues regarding identity until kids began to tease me for being different, or until I left home and suddenly questioned what "home" really was. When I went to Yale School of Art, I felt very far away from home. I tried to compensate by working with cornhusks, a material that was personally meaningful and that metaphorically represented home. The values of community and family, and a strong work ethic, were passed on to me from an early age.
 
My work is about social and cultural histories embedded in commonplace objects. Like Jasper Johns, I am interested in "things that the mind already knows." Unlike Pop artists, however, I use a vocabulary of natural materials (stone, cornhusks, wool, cedar) and forms (blankets, pillows, bridges) that are universal to human experience (not uniquely American) and noncommercial in nature. My approach to art making is shaped by the protofeminism of Iroquois matrilineal custom, political work by Native artists in the 1960s, a discourse on multiculturalism, as well as Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art.
 
Marie Watt
Transit, 2004
Lithograph, 22 x 30 inches
 
Marie Watt
Receive, 2004
Lithograph, 17 1/8 x 20 1/8 inches
 
Marie Watt
Three Ladders, 2005
Lithograph
 
Marie Watt
Ledger: Loved, 2004
Reclaimed wool blankets, 17 x 18 inches
 
Marie Watt
Almanac, 2006
(center, on floor)
Reclaimed wool blankets and yellow cedar, bass 3 x 40 x 40 inches; blanket stack 96 x 21 x 19 inches
 
Marie Watt
Recipe Project, 2004
Mixed media, each piece 4 _ x 7 inches
 
Marie Watt
Compass (Seven Ladders), 2006
Reclaimed wool blankets

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