Top Ten Native Art Events of 2017

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First American Art Magazine‘s
Top 10 Native Art Events of 2017

What shone brightly throughout 2017 was the creativity, passion, and dedication of Indigenous American artists and art professionals. Below are our selections for the top ten events but many other exhibitions, publications, and gatherings were competitive. Several listings are multiyear projects, ensuring that Native art world will continue to look bright in 2018.


1. Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Arts and Cultural Heritage Grants for Native American Museum Inclusion, throughout the United States

After a 2015 study of art museum demographics revealed that the curatorial field of museums sorely lack diversity (Native Americans were represented by zero percent in the curatorial and leadership statistics), the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation decided to do something about it. Its mission statement says, “The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the wellbeing of diverse and democratic societies.” The foundation has been committed to supporting Native American education overall but created an Indigenous and Native American component to its Arts and Cultural Heritage (AHC) program. To promote Indigenous inclusion in the museum field, specifically curatorship and preservation, the Mellon Foundation funded research, training, and other professional development opportunities at the Anchorage Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Denver Art Museum, University of Oklahoma, and Wheelwright Museum of American Indian. Funds allocated in 2016 are already bearing fruit in 2017. These funds have provided support for the creation of paid internships and post-doctoral fellowships at the same institutions, while also providing pre-doctoral fellowships and support for the education of a new generation of Native curators and scholars | link
 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation


2. Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts at 25, Salem, OR

First, kudos to the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, a nonprofit founded on the Umatilla Reservation by Walla Walla artist James Lavadour, for its first quarter-century of providing printmaking and other opportunities to the Native and non-Native arts community. The Hallie Ford Museum of Art partnered with Crow’s Shadow to celebrate this achievement with an exhibition of 74 artworks by 50 artists. The museum, part of Willamette University, also hosted lectures, gallery talks, and a panel discussion and published a 160-page catalogue. All these efforts will help further the previously scant scholarship of printmaking by Indigenous peoples of the Americas | link
Crows Shadow


3. The Horse Nation of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Pine Ridge, SD, and traveling

Launched by the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, this major, multidisciplinary traveling exhibition celebrates horse culture of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota peoples of the Northern Plains. Funded in part by the Andy Warhol Foundation, this ambitious project began with We Are a Horse Nation, a 2014 film by Keith BraveHeart (Oglala Lakota), and grew to an exhibition with more than one hundred artworks. The show traveled throughout South Dakota in 2017 and will appear in North Dakota and Minnesota in 2018 | link
Horse Nation at the Dahl


4. PHOTO/SYNTHESIS, Norman, OK

While Native responses to Edward S. Curtis have been profuse, PHOTO/SYNTHESIS at the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art might be most conceptually adroit. Choctaw-Chickasaw curator heather ahtone and Diné photographer Will Wilson teamed up to respond to the portraits Curtis shot of members of seven Oklahoma tribes. Honoring tribal protocols, ahtone and Wilson reached out to the leaders of these seven tribes to chose which individuals they wanted to represent their communities. The sitters then chose their attire and expressions. While Curtis dictated to his sitters how they would dress and how the work would be titled, Wilson gave up a great deal of his artistic control in the spirit of collaboration and reciprocity and gave the sitters the original tintypes producing by Wilson’s wet-plate collodion process. Digital images of the tintypes that transform to short films via the Layar app, the Talking Tintypes series, were displayed alongside Curtis’s original photogravures and completely refute Curtis’s notion of “the vanishing Indian” | link


5. Connective Tissue: New Approaches to Fiber in Contemporary Native Art, Santa Fe, NM

This exhibition at IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts explores textile arts and their techniques (such as in a “quilt” made from circuit boards) and is the first show curated by the new Chief Curator Manuela Well-Off-Man at the museum. The venue is uniquely positioned to explore the content expressed through materiality and technique with a seamless flow from installations with found objects to Ravenstail weaving. Accompanying the 22-artist exhibition is a catalogue with essays by Patsy Phillips (Cherokee Nation), Manuela Well-Off-Man, Amber-Dawn Bear Robe (Siksika), Lara Evans (Cherokee Nation), Molly McGlennen (Ojibwe descent), and Tania Willard (Secwepemc) | link

Connective Tissue

Wally Dion (Salteaux), Star Quilt, 2017, computer circuit boards, wire, copper, 68 ¼ × 63 ½ in.


6. Words for Water: Stories and Songs of Strength by Native Women, New York, NY

Back in March, the Whitney Museum of American Art hosted this program about “the power of language, story, and song in today’s fight for environmental and cultural justice,” Native women poets and musicians from diverse homelands from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coasts. Natalie Diaz (Mojave-Pima), Jennifer Foerster (Muscogee Creek), Joy Harjo (Muscogee-Cherokee), Toni Jensen (Métis), Layli Long Soldier (Oglala Lakota), Deborah A. Miranda (Esselen-Chumash descent), Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache), Heid E. Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe), and Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe) shared poetry, stories, and music focused on water as a healing, life-sustaining force | link

Whitney Museum


7. Indigenous Inclusion at documenta 14, Kassel, Germany, and Athens, Greece

Beau Dick

Beau Dick (Kwakwaka’wakw, 1955–2017), Mask from Undersea Kingdom series (2016–17), Kassel. Photo: Zorro4 (CC0).

Every five years the art fair, documenta takes place in Kassel, but this year was different since organizers added Athens as a second venue and invited Indigenous curator Candice Hopkins (Carcross/Tagish) to join their curatorial team. Highlighting non-Western art forms, Hopkins exhibited several series of cedar masks by the late Kwakwaka’wakw carver Beau Dick. Other Indigenous artists from the Americas participated, including Rebecca Belmore (Ojibwe), Postcommodity, and Abel Rodríguez (Nonuya), and joined international Indigenous artists from Norwegian Sápmi, Aotearoa [New Zealand], and Australia to create a strong collective voice on the global art stage | link


8. Lower Gila River Ethnographic and Archaeological Project, Arizona

This three-year, interdisciplinary humanities program will investigate the unique cultural landscape of the lower Gila River in Southwest Arizona. Archaeology Southwest, the Cocopah Indian Tribe, Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe will partner to connect oral histories and place-based knowledge with the landscape and cultural sites, including petroglyphs, along the Lower Gila River. This innovative study is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities | link

Lower Gila River Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site, Maricopa County, Arizona. Photo: Shereth (CC BY-SA 3.0).


9. Tinkuy: Gathering of the Textile Arts, Cuzco, Peru

Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC), a Peruvian Quechua-led nonprofit, and Andean Textile Arts, a US-based advocacy group, partnered to organize this four-day conference of Indigenous textile artists, art historians, anthropologists, and other people dedicated to the growth of regional textiles. The name Tinkuy means “gathering” in Quechua. Indigenous weavers from throughout South America, as well as Mexico, Guatemala, the Navajo Nation, Laos, and India, participated in lectures and hands-on workshops that included spinning, backstrap weaving, chichilla tubular border weaving, and qhurpus weaving. The exhibition Textiles Ancestrales: Recreando el Pasado, Tejiendo el Presente, e Inspirando al Futuro (Ancestral Textiles: Recreating the Past, Weaving the Present, Inspiring the Future) showcased double cloth, an intricate pre-Columbian technique revived by CTTC weavers | link

Tinkuy 2017 Promo from Emily DeLuca on Vimeo.


10. Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires (PC/Cp), six locations throughout Canada

Interdisciplinary artist/curators France Trépanier (Mohawk) and Chris Creighton-Kelly designed this three-year initiative that “seeks to place Indigenous art practices at the centre of the Canadian art system,” as their website explains. Building upon the nationwide Truth & Reconciliation conversation to address the injustices of the residential school program upon Indigenous communities of Canada, the PC/Cp held a four-day gathering from September 23 to 26, 2017, in six locations to bring 120 elders, culture bearers, arts administrators, curators, and art historians together in a free-flowing conservation and interaction. with many others joining for film screenings and performances. Their numerous ambitions for the gathering include “updat[ing]the 30 year old conversation regarding the arts, race, ethnicity, colonialism, cultural diversity, racism in the arts, etc., by proposing new framing for the future.” PC/Cp will now enter a dissemination phase in 2018 when core participants will share their ideas with thousands more | link

Pimary Colours


Previous Top Ten Native Art Events

2016 | 2015 | 2014

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