WASHINGTON — Women have been a predominant creative force behind Native American art, yet their individual contributions, for centuries, have largely remained unrecognized and anonymous.
In the first major thematic exhibition to explore the artistic contributions of Native women, “Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists” celebrates the achievements of these Native women and establishes their rightful place in the art world.
The critically acclaimed exhibition “Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists” was organized by Jill Ahlberg Yohe, associate curator of Native American Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and Teri Greeves, an independent curator and member of the Kiowa Nation.
At the core of the exhibition is a firm belief in the power of the collaborative process.
The Minneapolis Institute of Art formed an all-female Exhibition Advisory Board, which included Native artists, curators and Native art historians, to generate new interpretations and scholarship relating to the art and its makers, offering multiple perspectives that explore traditional and contemporary voices and techniques foundational to the art of Native women.
The presentation at the Renwick Gallery includes 82 artworks dating from ancient times to the present, made in a variety of media, from textiles and ceramics to sculpture, time-based media and photography.
This exhibition is multi-lingual with wall text and labels presented in the artist’s Native American or First Nations languages, as well as English, aiming to present the works in the context of each artist’s own culture and voice.
“Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists” is on view at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum from Feb. 21 through May 17, 2020. Robyn Kennedy, Renwick Gallery manager, is coordinating the presentation in Washington, D.C.
“We are honored to present this groundbreaking and bold exhibition, designed by and for Native women artists, that showcases their powerful voices and artistic traditions,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
“Hearts of Our People” highlights the traditional and integral role of Native women artists in serving the cultural, economic, diplomatic and domestic needs of their communities, reaching beyond longstanding conventions of treating these artworks as unattributed representations of an entire culture.
The exhibition is organized according to three overarching themes: “Legacy,” “Relationships” and “Power.” These themes are a testament to the underlying purpose with which Native women have historically made art and enable visitors to note variations in the works of art created for similar purposes across time and Native cultures.
“Legacy” examines the way in which Native women artists acknowledge their lineage by creating works that simultaneously embody the experience of previous generations, address the present moment and speak to the future. Fiber work by D.Y. Begay (Navajo) and sculptural works by Cherish Parrish (Ottawa/Pottawatomi) are featured in this section of the exhibition.
“Relationships” explores the concept of connectivity and reciprocity that exists beyond the human world to include animals, plants, places and living and nonliving elements.
Christi Belcourt’s (Michif) painting “The Wisdom of the Universe” and the intricate bead work of Nellie Two Bear Gates (Gathering of Clouds Woman, Iháƞktȟuƞwaƞna Dakhóta, Standing Rock Reservation) highlight this link.
“Power” encompasses works created for diplomacy and influence to empower others and for the empowerment of oneself.
Photography by Rebecca Belmore (Anishinaabe) and Rosalie Favell (Métis [Cree/English]), adornments by Keri Ataumbi (Kiowa/Comanche) and Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone–Bannock), and shoes embellished by Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone–Bannock) represent the spiritual, social and political power Native women hold.
The accompanying catalog, Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists, includes essays, personal reflections and poems by 20 members of the Exhibition Advisory Board and other leading scholars and artists.
It is available for purchase ($39.95) in the museum store.