An ambitious series of exhibitions, demonstrations and more come together in Project Indigene.
For centuries, the Southwestern United States has been home to myriad Native American cultures and traditions. It goes without saying that the distinct tribes and Pueblos spanning the region each have their own artistic histories, preserved across generations. Santa Fe, New Mexico, has long been proud of its multicultured inhabitants, and as one of the country’s oldest cities, this nexus of Indigenous art traditions continues to be an ever-evolving home to uniquely captivating creative practices.
With around 83,000 inhabitants, Santa Fe is a relatively small city, but it boasts an impressive number of arts-based institutions. Many of the area’s museums, and quite a few of its commercial galleries, are focused on the region’s original inhabitants, and Native American art flourishes across the city. Beginning in spring 2018, eight of Santa
Fe’s cultural institutions joined together to organize an ambitious series of art shows, demonstrations, lectures and collaborative events. Collectively called Project Indigene, programming includes IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MOCNA), the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (MIAC), the Museum of International Folk Art, the Native Treasures Art Market, the Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts, the School for Advanced Research (SAR), the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. Project Indigene’s organizers asked that included artwork respond in some way to four themes: authenticity, appropriation, activism and artistic identity; it’s a seemingly straightforward request with far-reaching and complex creative interpretations. Of course, the four themes investigated in Project Indigene
have been around for decades, if not much longer. Issues of appropriation, for instance, are so widespread and ingrained in our everyday lives that we might not be immediately aware of them. Artist Ashley Lynn Browning (Pojoaque/santa Clara), who will be in this year’s Santa Fe Indian Market, says, “The theft of one’s identity isn’t something to be brushed off. The mass media does not spotlight this issue enough, but as a Native artist, I have seen it happen too frequently. I strive to use my artwork as a way to highlight the culture, identity and power that a Native American holds.”
School for Advanced Research, a center for the study of regional Indigenous cultures, turned 40 this year, and celebrated with Trailblazers and Boundary Breakers: Honoring Women in Native Art, a special series of participant-based lectures and exhibitions. “Craft is art, and art is craft,” says featured artist Teri Greeves (Kiowa). “I am a beadworker, and in my community, that means something. Almost all Native art is
women’s work and it’s considered crafts by the larger art world. They don’t know what they’re looking at.”
MOCNA will contribute to the conversation in Without Boundaries, which grew out of a series of conversations led by guest curator and artist Sonya Kelliher-combs (Iñupiaq / at ha bas kan) at the Anchorage Museum, Anchorage, Alaska. True to MOCNA’S consistently innovative form, the artists in this show take both a playful and sobering look at oppression, appropriation and numerous other themes which continue to affect Native people today.
MIAC will showcase works from its permanent collection, meant to be examined within the context of Project Indigene’s four themes. Heavy hitter local artists like Mateo Romero of Cochiti Pueblo will join forces with David Bradley (Minnesota Chippewa) and Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan/hidatsa/arikara/ Lakota) who, though he lives in New Mexico, was raised on the Standing Rock Reservation of North Dakota. It can be challenging to describe Hanska Luger’s work, which blends both sociopolitical commentary and collaborative, mixed media. For his participation in the MIAC show, Hanska Luger began by thinking about the woefully underreported scores of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. “I was struck by the work of Canadian photographer Kaylie Spencer,” says Hanska Luger, “and when I read that 4,000 women are missing, I knew it couldn’t have ended with an even number of zeros like that—you’re rounding up or down to get to this number, but each
one represents a human life.” What’s missing? Hanska Luger decided to humanize this staggering statistic visible by making beads which symbolically represent the missing. “The process was like a prayer,” the artist recalls. “Across different cultures, beads keep track, giving your body something to do when your mind is setting an intention. And ultimately,” he says, “the process, or the ‘art’ became the verb, the action.”
Museum of International Folk Art’s Crafting Memory: The Art of Community in Peru is on view through early March 2019. Alongside intricately designed weavings and a large section of recycled, contemporary crafts and art, the exhibit showcases work by renowned Quechua artist Edilberto Jiménez Quispe, whose plaster-and-potato starch crafted retablos—tiny, sculpted scenes, placed in open-front boxes—convey both everyday glimpses of village life, but also, more troublingly, the widespread and devastating effects of political corruption. The small scale of these often heart-wrenching pieces makes them all the more poignant; the work clearly speaks to Project Indigene’s emphasis on activism, as they recount kidnapping and even graphic murder in a way that’s both aesthetically and emotionally affecting.
IMPRINT, on view at the Ralph T. Coe Center, will open in mid-august, and will examine Project Indigene’s four themes through the creative talents of six renowned Native American printmakers: Eliza Naranjo Morse (Santa Clara), Jamison Chās Banks (Seneca-cayuga/cherokee), Jason Garcia (Santa Clara/ Tewa), Terran Last Gun (Piikani), Dakota Mace (Diné) and Jacob Meders (Mechoopda/maidu). IMPRINT’S
curators, Bess Murphy and Nina Sanders (Apsáalooke), spent over a year gathering inspiration and material for the project. Maybe most intriguing? The exhibition isn’t static—it will not only be on view at the Coe Center, but will also expand into public spaces around Santa Fe—appearing, for instance, on wheat-pasted posters affixed to city walls and telephone poles.
Native Treasures Art Market, which runs twice annually, in late spring and over the winter, highlighted the work of Nocona Burgess (Comanche) and Maria Samora (Taos) over the course of Memorial Day weekend. An aptly named show if there ever was one, Native Treasures
offers a unique opportunity to visit with dozens of some of the nation’s most beloved artists.
No discussion is complete without mentioning Santa Fe’s SWAIA, which works year-round to ensure the continued success of the world’s largest exposition of Native American art, Santa Fe Indian Market. In this milieu, authenticity—another of Project Indigene’s four themes—is of the utmost importance, and though artists come from around the nation, all must be enrolled in federally recognized continental or Canadian tribes. Now entering its 97th year, Indian Market is a juried show, which means each and every of the nearly 1,000 artists on view is carefully vetted by a team of experts.
Two distinctive shows will be on view through early October 2018 at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. Memory Weaving: Works by Melanie Yazzie, a tribute to the multifaceted career of Navajo artist and educator Melanie Yazzie, will
“Authenticity; Appropriation; Activism; and Artistic Integrity. I believe these words come from the same thought once the art has been created. The art gets associated within these or specific terms based on what type of art it is. These term associations often come from outside sources. I think the importance of what the artist says or thinks should be the focal point of these examinations and events.”
—Nocona Burgess, artist
include sculpture and works on paper. A stunning presentation of jewelry by Norman Peshlakai will act as a mini retrospective, offering a glimpse of dozens of jewelry items by the master silversmith. Says curator Ken Williams, “It took us around a year to organization this show.” Williams, the manager of the Wheelwright Museum’s Case Trading Post, explains, “The exhibit contains work from both private and public collectors. In total, we worked with over 30 lenders, and will be showing around 200 individual pieces.”
In press materials, we are urged to pay attention to complex, sometimes problematic issues faced by legions of Native American artists today. “These polarizing topics tie into larger issues of privilege and politics that make it tempting to throw one’s hands in the air and walk away in frustration,” reads a statement from El Palacio Magazine, a publication of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. “However, the stakes are high; the questions are more than worthy of deeper consideration and reflection.”
Though it never shies away from challenging discourse, Project Indigene also encourages deep reflection and contemplation. It’s a hopeful step in the increasingly crucial discussion of recognizing and honoring our nation’s most phenomenal—and original—artists.
2. Cannupa Hanska Luger. Photography by Marco Pavan, 2017.
1. Two pairs of beaded shoes by Teri Greeves.
3. Nora Naranjo Morse in her studio. Photo by Eliza Naranjo Morse. 4. Ashley Lynn Browning (Pojoaque/santa Clara),Paper Doll, 2013. 1st Place at SWAIA (Class III, Division F, Category 1602). 5. Susan Hudson with her Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Quilt.Photo by Caitlin Jenkins.
6. Ashley Lynn Browning holds her Ndn-opoly board.
7. Nocona Burgess at NativeTreasures Art Market in 2017. Photo by Carol Franco.