Indigenous art. Indigenous perspectives.

Top Ten Native Art Events of 2016


2016First American Art Magazine‘s Top 10 Native Art Events of 2016

This last year brought us daring art projects, extraordinary exhibits, illuminating publications, new institutions, and challenging discussion of art by Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Selecting only ten events from so many was challenging, but our writers and advisory board ranked the following ten as the highlights of the last year.

1. The Art and Activism at Standing Rock, SD

Since April 2016, Water Protectors gathered in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Members of hundreds of different Indigenous groups from North and South America have traveled to Standing Rock to protect waterways through non-violent action. Artists active at the North Dakota camps and worldwide created works about this struggle such as prints, posters, t-shirts, and other works to promote awareness and raise funds for the Water Projectors. Others shot amazing photography and video at the camps or conducted art workshops. Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan-Arikara-Hidatsa-Lakota), Rory Wakemup (Bois Forte Ojibwe), and fellow artists from the Native American Community Development Institute in Minneapolis crafted 500 mirror shields that Water Protectors used when confronting the police and security guards. | link

2. Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain, traveling

Curators Jill Hartz and Danielle Knapp curated this retrospective of the beloved Mad River Wiyot painter, printmaker, and sculptor in 2015 but the exhibit has been traveling throughout Indian Country this year and gained greater poignancy with Bartow’s passing on April 2nd of this year. The sculptures, drawings, paintings, and hand-pulled prints, as well as the accompanying catalogue, reflect four decades of Bartow’s art practice. In 2016, Things You Know But Cannot Explain hit the Gilcrease Museum, North Dakota Museum of Art, and the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. It will continue traveling through early 2019. | link

Rick Bartow

Cover of “Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain” catalogue

3. Reading the Talk, traveling

Reading the Talk is a multiyear, traveling exhibit of contemporary Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee artists “in critical conversations about relationship to lands, region, and territory, while considering distinct indigenous perspectives on the history of treaties in this land now referred to as Canada.” Artists also drew inspiration from the wampum belts that often commemorated these treaties. Rachelle Dickenson and Lisa Myers curated this provocative and complex exhibit featuring work by Michael Belmore, Hannah Claus, Patricia Deadman, Vanessa Dion Fletcher, Keesic Douglas, and Melissa General. Each iteration of this extraordinary exhibit has proven unique and increasingly collaborative in its dialogue. | link

Reading the Talk

Dion Fletcher (Potawatomi-Lenape), Relationship or Transactions (detail), 2014, five-dollar bills and replica five-dollar bills, jute.

4. SakKijâjuk: Inuit Art and Craft from Nunatsiavut, traveling

The exhibit’s title is an Inuttitut word meaning “to be visible,” and this ambitious traveling exhibit, curated by Heather Igloliorte (Nunatsiavummiut Inuk), is the first Labrador Inuit art show to tour throughout Canada. An earlier iteration launched in late 2015 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. SakKijâjuk opened at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in October to coincide with the 20th biennial Inuit Studies conference and the 10th anniversary of the settlement of the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement and the founding of the Nunatsiavut. Nunatsiavut’s government oversees health, education and cultural affairs for Inuit people of Newfoundland and Labrador. SakKijâjuk features approximately 80 works by Labrador Inuit artists that range from video, digital photography, sealskin-sewing, moose hair tufting, saltwater grass basketry, stone sculpture, and much more! | link


Cover of SakKijâjuk catalogue

5. Museu de Arte Indígena, Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil

Eastern Brazil boasts a new Native art museum. While the bricks-and-mortar museum space opened to the public on November 18, 2016, business woman Julianna Podolan Martins began building its permanent collection of Indigenous Brazilian featherwork, ceramics, basketry, masks, musical instruments, and more in 2009. Ana Itália Paraná Mariano serves as the museum’s chief curator to help the MAI achieve its stated mission: to showcase “pieces that materialize the mythology and rituals of the Brazilian Natives. We believe that the valorization of Indigenous culture will only happen with the pedagogical integration of this arsenal of knowledge into Brazilian culture.” | link

6. Lloyd Kiva New Project, Santa Fe, NM

Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee, 1916–2016) wanted to be an arts educator, not an artist. He abandoned a multimillion-dollar fashion design studio in Scottsdale, Arizona, to co-found the Institute of American Arts in Santa Fe. He always wanted to point the spotlight upon others, but the LKN Project celebrates his accomplishments, artistic and otherwise. Spearheaded by Lloyd’s widow, Aysen New, this multi-institutional program included exhibits, publications, and a symposium. Carmen Vendelin curated Finding a Contemporary Voice: the Legacy of Lloyd Kiva New. Tony Chavarria (Santa Clara Pueblo) curated Lloyd Henri “Kiva” New: A New Century at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts hosted a three-part exhibit Lloyd Kiva New: Art, Design, and Influence, curated by Ryan Flahive, Rose Marie Cutropia, and Tatiana Lomahaftewa-Singer (Hopi-Choctaw). The project produced two books: The Sound of Drums: A Memoir of Lloyd Kiva New, Lloyd’s memoir edited by Flahive, and Lloyd Kiva New: A New Century, a catalogue for all three exhibits. The collaboration also featured a two-day convocation at the Institute of American Indian Arts—a testimony to the continued legacy of Lloyd and his efforts to provide Native youth with access to arts education. | MIAC | MoCNA | NMMA

lloyd kiva new

Detail of textile design by Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee, 1916–2016). Image courtesy of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

7. Culture Shift: Une Révolution Culturelle—Contemporary Native Art Biennial, 3rd Edition, Montréal, QC

In this third iteration of Art Mûr’s biennial, curator Michael Patten (Cree) drew inspiration from the 4,000-page report published by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission—particularly its 94 Calls to Action. While Culture Shift was limited to Native artists from Canada and the United States, within that scope the artists are diverse—established, mid-career, and emerging—working in a wide range of media with approaches from playful to probing. This biennial has emerged as a significant venue providing true artistic license and free expression seldom afforded to Indigenous artists. | link

Promotional image from Culture Shift: Contemporary Native Art Biennial, 3rd edition

8. Grolier Codex Authenticated as the Oldest Known, Surviving Book in the Americas, Chiapas, Mexico

In 1965, looters discovered this manuscript in a cave and sold it to a Mexican antiquities collector, José Sáenz, who sent the book to New York’s Grolier Club, a society for bibliophiles and designers. After displaying it in 1971, the club ultimately donated it to the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. Due to its dodgy provenance and unusual graphic style, the codex had long been dismissed as a fake, but a research team led by Stephen Houston of Brown University decided to investigate further. The researchers found that the eleven-page book tracks the cycles of Venus. The pigments include a manufactured Maya blue, the recipe of which was only rediscovered in the early 1990s. Carbon dating revealed that the huun, or fig bark paper, pages date between 1147 and 1367 CE. Only four surviving, precontact Maya codices have been authenticated. | link

Unknown Maya scribe, folio from the Grolier Codex, ca. 1250 CE, paint on stucco-coated huun, Chiapas, collection of the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia, Mexico City, MX

9. The Zuni Show, Santa Fe, NM

With so many new Native art markets being launched, many struggle to recruit accomplished artists and attract enthusiastic collectors. The Zuni Show achieved both on its first try. The Keshi Foundation, a nonprofit group formed by Keshi the Zuni Connection and other supporters of Zuni artists, organized this weekend market at the Scottish Rite Temple and launched a highly successfully marketing campaign. Zuni tribal leaders were present, and Zuni dance troupes invited participation, while vendors sold Zuni cuisine. Approximately 89 percent of adults at Zuni, the largest New Mexican Pueblo, are actively engaged in the arts, and this fair showcases their talent beautifully. | link

Zuni Show

Crowd scene at the Zuni Show

Crystal Migwans10. Conference: Scales of Visibility in Global Indigenous Art, New York, NY

In 2006 the Denver Art Museum held a conference, [Re]Inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art, that discussed how Native art conferences have been rehashing the same material for two decades. After they publicly acknowledged this stasis, conferences are increasingly breaking new ground, as evidenced by the Scales of Visibility in Global Indigenous Art conference hosted by CUNY’s Center for the Humanities. The gathering examined “ways in which the practices of Indigenous artists operate within the globalized platform of contemporary art.” For those who weren’t fortunate enough to attend in person, organizers uploaded video recordings to keep the discussion going. | link


Annual Top Ten Native Art Events

2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020



  1. Jesse Staniforth on

    These are great, though I’m a little disappointed not to see Montreal’s Tillutarniit festival, which showcased three days of Inuit films, food, music, and culture in the heart of downtown Montreal. That festival was a direct response to the film “of the North” by white shock-documentary director Dominic Gagnon, who cut together images both of Inuit and non-Inuit (which he did not identify as such) from youtube to create what he called “a non-consensual documentary” which purported to show something about Inuit self-expression. (Among his choices were images of white Americans in Texas and florida making moonshine and fighting drunkenly, in order to encourage the racist view of Inuit as drunk and violent.) In response, filmmaker Isabella Weetaluktuk filmmaker/artist/activist/journalist Stephen Agluvak Puskas worked with Concordia Faculty of Fine Arts (FOFA) Gallery curator Jennifer Dorner to bring together ACTUAL films by Inuit of Inuit, alongside country food (seal and char) traditionally cut with an Ulu, Northern games, and music by Beatrice Deer of Quaqtaq, Nunavik.

    This was an enormously important event because Indigenous presence in Montreal is often contentious. As journalist Ossie Michelin pointed out earlier in the year, people like him–urban Inuit–either pass as white or Latino, or they’re assumed to be homeless. This assumption makes the greater Inuit population of Montreal invisible–and leaves it up to the lenses of culture-creators like Domenic Gagnon to determine how Inuit are seen. For that reason, Tillutarniit was a powerful push back in the core of an urban centre where visible Inuit are too commonly presumed to be homeless, drunk, or subject to any number of racist cliches.

Leave A Reply