Indigenous art. Indigenous perspectives.

We Have Words for Art | Indigenous Art Writing Symposium

Words for Art symposium

Virtual Symposium | February 27 & 28, 2021



Keynote Address: “Shifting the Paradigm: A Love Story”
heather ahtone, PhD (Choctaw Nation/Chickasaw), senior curator at the First Americans Museum

Through an autobiographical lens, heather ahtone will consider the field of writing about Indigenous American art, identifying progress made and progress needed to address the need for culturally guided critical analysis.

“Native Arts Scholarship: How-to, What and Why?”

Nancy Marie Mithlo, PhD (Chiricahua Apache)

While there is a rising professional class of Native arts academics and practitioners, a cohesive platform for theorizing an Indigenous arts pedagogy has not yet been articulated or developed. Structural inequalities and strategies for addressing this “broken system” are addressed.

“Tribal Affiliations in Art Writing”
America Meredith (Cherokee Nation)

In-house publication styles often invent new names for tribes, resulting in confusion and inaccuracy. Meredith shares experience-based strategies for balancing accuracy, brevity, and consistency while supporting tribal sovereignty. She suggests research strategies to address the persistent and widespread issue of misrepresentation.

Roundtable Discussion
“Finding Balance in Dialogue: Artist and Art Writer Relationships”

Gloria Bell, PhD (Métis), moderator
Melissa Melero-Moose (Northern Paiute/Modoc); Michelle J. Lanteri; Nanette Kelley (Osage Nation/Cherokee Nation)

Rewriting the face of art history is an act of sovereignty that requires collaboration and the imagining of new archives including in-depth conversations among Indigenous artists, cultural leaders, curators, and writers. Active listening and meaningful conversations between artists and writers fuel successful arts criticism, interviews, and feature articles rooted in lived experiences. We will discuss a range of processes of finding balance in dialogue with artists through collaborative journalism contexts. In doing so, this roundtable both reflects upon and demonstrates the necessity of conversation as a method of arts scholarship and praxis with a particular emphasis on the interconnections between perspective, interaction, renewal, and place.


12:00 pm: “The Nuts and Bolts of Exhibition Text”
Adrienne Lalli Hills (Wyandotte Nation)

What makes a good label? Within museums, this question has inspired countless spirited debates, visitor research studies, and institutional task forces. In this presentation, you’ll explore data-based insights into label design, best practices in interpretive writing, and replicable strategies and processes to implement in your own organization.

“Writing for Depth in the White Cube”
Miranda Belarde-Lewis, PhD (Zuni/Tlingit)

This session details Miranda’s experiences writing labels and exhibition catalogue essays as a means of communicating the depth of knowledge and history to a mainstream art-focused audience who usually insist on “letting the art speak for itself.”

Roundtable Discussion
“Walking the Line: Reaching Art World Insiders and the General Public”

Suzanne Newman Fricke, PhD, moderator
Andrea L. Ferber, PhD; America Meredith (Cherokee Nation); Matthew Ryan Smith, PhD

Writers in 2021 face unique challenges when addressing Indigenous art. This tightrope walk requires being accessible to a broad audience who usually lacks even basic facts about Indigenous history and culture while also involving scholars in the field. All too often, reviews of Native shows and books have not been properly fact-checked as publishers do not understand the Indigenous systems of information and sources. This panel will explore the difficulties and look for parameters to guide successful writing on the topic.

Roundtable Discussion
“Criticism of Indigenous Art of the Americas”

Marina Tyquiengco (CHamoru), moderator
RoseMary Diaz (Santa Clara Pueblo); Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi, PhD (Alutiiq); Stacy Pratt, PhD (Mvskoke)

A crucial part of the art ecosystem, art criticism is a temporal response to art and a source for future thinkers. This roundtable attempts to demystify critique and criticism of Indigenous art of the Americas. We will discuss what makes one an art critic, why we need art criticism, what critique looks like within our communities, and the challenges faced by emerging critics of color, particularly Indigenous critics with ties to the communities of artists they critique.

Presenter Bios

Mesoamerican grammar naziheather ahtone, PhD (Choctaw Nation/Chickasaw), is the senior curator at the First Americans Museum. Based in Norman, Oklahoma, she earned her doctoral degree from the University of Oklahoma. She served as assistant curator of Native American and non-Western arts at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and has independently curated numerous exhibitions with catalogues.

Miranda Belarde-Lewis, PhD (Zuni/Tlingit), is an independent curator living and working in Coast Salish territories (present-day Seattle). She has guest-curated exhibitions for the Frye Art Museum in Seattle and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma. Her exhibition essays can be found in the museum catalogues Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight (University of Washington Press) and Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment (Yale Press).

Gloria Bell, PhD (Métis), is an art historian and Terra Foundation Rome Prize Fellow working at McGill University. Bell’s research interests include Inuit, Métis, and First Nations arts, exhibition histories, sashes, beadwork, creative writing, global histories of Indigenous tattooing and body arts, and histories of photography. You can subscribe to their newsletter here.

RoseMary Diaz (Santa Clara Pueblo) is an anthologized poet and award-winning writer based in Santa Fe. She studied literature and its respective arts at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Naropa University, and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Andrea L. Ferber, PhD, is an arts writer and independent curator focused on identity politics and collection histories. Her current research compares museological approaches to managing and exhibiting Indigenous art across North America and Western Europe.

Suzanne Newman Fricke, PhD, directs Gallery Hózhó in Albuquerque. She taught art history at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, University of New Mexico, and Institute of American Indian Arts and has curated several international traveling exhibitions.

Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi, PhD (Alutiiq), is an art historian and museum consultant based in Alaska. She is a program director for the Journey to What Matters: Increased Alaska Native & Culture program at The CIRI Foundation and an occasional art history instructor, including serving as a 2021 spring quarter Native Knowledge lecturer in art history at the University of Washington.

Adrienne Lalli Hills (Wyandotte Nation), is an educator and interpretation specialist living and working in Oklahoma City. The associate director of Studio School at Oklahoma Contemporary, she has received the American Alliance of Museum’s Excellence in Exhibition Label Writing Award. She has served on board and volunteered with the Association for Art Museum Interpretation, Museum Computer Network, and the Museum Education Roundtable.

America Meredith (Cherokee Nation) is the publishing editor of First American Art Magazine and an art critic, visual artist, and independent curator, whose curatorial practice spans 28 years. Based in Norman, she earned her MFA degree from the San Francisco Art Institute and taught Native art history at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe Community College, and Cherokee Humanities Course.

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Melissa Melero-Moose (Northern Paiute/Modoc) is a mixed-media artist, curator, and founder of the Great Basin Native Artists (GBNA). Based in Nevada, Melero-Moose has a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and a BS degree from Portland State University in Oregon. Currently, she is creating an archive and directory of Great Basin artists for the GBNA at the Nevada Museum of Art.

Nancy Marie Mithlo, PhD (Chiricahua Apache), is a professor of gender studies and serves on the faculty advisory committee for American Indian studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her curatorial work has resulted in nine exhibitions on the occasion of the Venice Biennale. Among her publications, she recently wrote Knowing Native Arts (University of Nebraska Press, 2020) and edited Making History: IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (University of New Mexico Press, 2020).

Denise Neil, PhD (Delaware Tribe/Cherokee Nation), is the executive director of the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City. She earned her doctoral degree in Native American Art History from the University of Oklahoma and her master’s degree from the University of New Mexico. She recently curated Laughter and Resilience: Humor in Native American Art at the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe.

Nanette Kelley (Osage Nation/Cherokee Nation) is the 2021 California Arts Council Administrators of Color Fellow for the Greater Northern Region (Upstate California). A professional writer and artist based in California and Oklahoma, she is obtaining her master’s degree in Indigenous education and policy with an art and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) curriculum design emphasis from Arizona State University.

Michelle J. Lanteri is a curator, writer, and Mellon predoctoral fellow in Native American art history at the University of Oklahoma, where she teaches courses in global arts and has contributed research to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art collections. Lanteri earned an MA in art history at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, where she worked on curatorial collaborations for the campus gallery and museum.

Stacy Pratt, PhD (Mvskoke) is the staff writer for an international music nonprofit, a book reviewer, a musician, and an art writer specializing in Indigenous art and literature of the Americas. She formerly taught Native American literature and other courses at SUNY-Jefferson in Watertown, New York. She is based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Matthew Ryan Smith, PhD, is the curator and head of collections at Glenhyrst Art Gallery in Brantford, Ontario. Based in London, Ontario, he taught art history and theory at the University of Toronto (Mississauga), OCAD University, and Western University. Matthew is also the Canadian section editor of the Art Market Dictionary and serves on the editorial board of the Yearbook of Moving Image Studies (YoMIS).

Marina Tyquiengco (CHamoru), is a curatorial assistant in the department of contemporary art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Based in Providence, Rhode Island. Previously she taught an introduction to Indigenous art at Brown University. She is a scholar of global Indigenous art and a doctoral candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation examines embodiment as a strategy of four contemporary Indigenous artists.


Neebinnaukzhik Southall (Rama Chippewa) of Neebin Studios designed the logo for our symposium. The macaw embodies the ability to speak in all languages and its speak glyph was inspired by Anishinaabe birchbark etchings.

Press Release

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Hosted by First American Art Magazine. Sponsored in part by Critical Minded, Noksi Press, University of Virginia Mellon Indigenous Arts Initiative, and the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians.

Mellon Indigenous Arts Initiative, University of Virginia