Monday, June 17, 2019

Hearts Of Our People - Native Women Artists At The Minneapolis Institute Of Arts

I've been missing writing stories, and then I went to the most spectacular art exhibit yesterday here in Minneapolis, and thought "This is a story for EVERYONE!," and as my Minnesota friends always read about my Venice/Los Angeles stories, I thought it might be nice for them to read about something in their own town, and L.A. to have something to try to get to before Hearts Of Our People: Native Women Artists ends in August (though I suspect it will be extended - it's so good). It was one of the best, most moving art shows I've ever attended, and everyone who can must go. I think I'll make "Clogtown" be my name for my Minnesota stories, after the popular Scandinavian shoe I wear all the time here.

The MIA is huge, so the ticket woman told us to "Look for the black El Camino", which we found easily (and was actually an art installation restored and done up in traditional pottery patterns by Rose B. Simpson - Santa Clara tribe) and collected our audio headsets to really understand the exhibit. Next to the ticket counter was a shelf with various native medicines to be made as offerings from Natives throughout the exhibit. As the sign said, "The center of the circle of life is respect."

You pass over an installation by Mona M. Smith (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate) of a babbling brook in the woods - to enter the exhibit, where another projection of a Native woman (Juanita Espinosa) welcomes visitors in the Dakota language. The state name "Minnesota" comes from the Dakhota word "Mnisota" - "land where the water reflects the sky". If you've ever flown into Minneapolis in the daytime, you know this to be true. I learned that the center of the Dakota universe is "Bdote" - "Where two waters come together" - which is the exact spot where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet. There is no better place for this first of its kind exhibit featuring all Native women to have taken place, and I couldn't have loved it more.

Each title card was written in both English and the Native translation (if available or chosen to do so), where some of the written languages were art unto themselves. The art dates back 1,000 years, and the show is so extensive, you will look at all of this and still have so much more to see. The audio tour was helpful (I've never nerded out and done that before, and now I'm mad at how much I've missed out on!), and when hearing the stories of the art in the artist's voice and with their emotion behind it, it brought chills and tears more than once. Like when learning about the Give Away Horses beaded dress and accessories by three generations of women.

Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty, her daughter Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty, and granddaughter, Jessa Rae Growing Thunder (Dahkota/Nakoda) all beaded this masterpiece together, and the proud legacy passed down is visible in each tiny bead making up the beauty of the whole. It's stunning, and such a piece of living history. The same was true of Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations, 2007 by Marie Watt (Seneca Nation of Indians). The blanket column is meant to resemble Greek columns, but also Native totem poles. Blankets are given for gifts at important life celebrations, and play a large role in Native tradition. How cool.

Also cool were the baskets of offerings that Native visitors have left behind, and all are to be used in a big celebration at the closing of this show.

While some of the art went back centuries, there was also very much a modern presence. In Hit, 2008 by Tanis S'eiltin, (Tlingit) comments on all the massacres of Native people connected with the modern U.S. military invasions. She understands how many of these missions are advertised as "Saving women and children", while really being greedy military actions. Still. Heavy.

Kaa, 2017 was a gorgeous photograph by Cara Romero (Chemehuevi) of her model, Kaa, who comes from a notable pottery family in Santa Clara. The ancestral Pueblo clay designs are overlaid on the nude form, and shows how the spirit of the clay is passed down thousands of years. Everything is tradition, and this show will most assuredly help to keep them all alive.

Another moving piece was Thinking Caps, 1999  by Shelley Niro (Six Nation Turtle clan)- a mixed media installation again showing how the Native arts are passed down from generation to generation. Four sets of images were side by side, each showing a different age of female, with hands from child to old woman surrounding each piece.

Different caps were in front of each one, designed to show the wisdom and growth over time, with the final cap having mirrored parts to reflect you in them. Every piece in this show would make me stop and think, and I probably need to return to process it all. This land is our land, but we took it from them, and the show bears both that heaviness, but also the light that comes from beauty, art and tradition.

One of my favorites was Nahookosji Hai (Winter In The North), 2018 by DY. Begay, (Navajo). It is a painting on textile of Lake Superior in Grand Portage, MN. It invokes the same sense of calm that I've always felt gazing at that Great Lake, with the serenity coming this time from wool, natural dyes and Begay's talent.

Another real favorite was the show stopping painting that serves as the model for the exhibit's promotional materials. The Wisdom Of The Universe, 2014 by Christi Belcourt (Michif) is so beautiful you truly gasp. It depicts the plants and animals that are endangered or extinct in Canada, and is meant to display gratitude for the natural world. It's something special huge ...

... and then you zoom in on the detail and it looks like it almost could be another exquisitely beaded piece (of a hummingbird!), but it's acrylics! I loved it so much.

As much as you were entranced by the beauty of everything, you are also learning a great deal during your walk through this exceptional undertaking. For example, I didn't know that "Bone China" was really Buffalo Bone China, 1997 by Dana Claxton (Lahkota) as buffalo bones were valued by Europeans for their quality and durability, reducing the buffalo population from thousands to a few hundred. For tea cups. Wild buffalo run by on a video installed over a pile of broken china pieces. Ouch.

... the sky is darkening ..., 2018 by Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora) is a remembrance of the passenger pigeons that were hunted to extinction, and this is Rickard's celebration of their song through her bead work. It is yet another gorgeous, but deeply thought provoking piece - as they really ALL are.

Like for sure Sunshine On A Cannibal, 2015 by Andrea Carlson (Ojibwe) which portrays the cultural cannibalism that our Western society always does ... objectify, consume, assimilate, erase ... and this piece asks us to stop and think about how our culture consumes others. Complete with a trigger warning.

Another piece that brings into focus that cultural cannibalism is Childhood, 2013 by Lou-Ann Neel (Kwakwaka'wakw). It is a photo mosaic made up of hundreds of photos of kids taken from their homes and put into boarding schools to try to erase their Native ways. This happened all over the country, and remains an outrage.

I was hired to write a script about this once, but it was for a horror film, and I thought the fact that they were ripped from their homes, made to cut their hair and not speak their native languages, etc ... was horror enough. All of these little faces making up the image of Neel's nephew in traditional costume is impressive, and once again very weighted. As it should be.

Another outrage is depicted in December 5, 2016: No Spiritual Surrender, 2016 by Zoe Urness (Tlingit), a digital photograph that portrays the pride and defiance of the Standing Rock standoff a few years back that remains as yet another blight on our nation's troubled recent history - and past.

And if we're talking about outrages - and we are - you can't forget The Garden, 2017 by Julie Buffalohead ((Ponca). It reminds us of when the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden thought it would be a good idea a few years back to include a piece of a gallows (Scaffold) where 40 Native men were hanged in 1862. People were obviously horrified, and the offending piece was removed. Buffalohead's work shows a wolf carrying off the Sculpture Garden's blue rooster in it mouth, "Revealing the ignorance and vanity of the predominantly white art world and its incompatibility with the Native peoples' lived experiences." - according to the title card. Burn.

Another personal favorite of mine was also called Childhood, 2004 by C. Maxx Stevens (Seminole/Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma), who suffers from memory loss. Family members trigger her memory with objects like a childhood dress - here hung with a light inside and a crow on the outside, for her protection. The unfinished quality is meant to illustrate the fragility of memory ... and this one made me cry again.

The Hide cradleboard, c.1890 by a Kiowa artist was beaded to honor new life, and again shows why Native culture is so beautiful with its symbolism and reverence for nature, family, and tradition. Every single item in this show holds nations inside of it, and the memories that keep them alive, I can't say enough good about it.

A beaded Woman's parka (tuilli), c. 1900 (Inuit) was stunning, and also functional, as they were made from caribou hide and used in the whaling harbors of Canada. They were often passed down from mother to daughter, and were treasured possessions. Of course, look at it!

Another heavy - maybe the most heavy - piece was Fringe, 2007 by Rebecca Belmore (Anishinaabe). This work addresses the violence toward Native women that is sadly not uncommon. The figure is in a traditional European painting pose, but her deep scar shows the trauma for Native people ... and is then sewn up with beads, portraying their resilience, strength, and ultimate survival. Wow.

I loved Women's Voices at the Council, 1990, by Joan Hill (Muskogee Creek and Cherokee), and shows the power that women hold to decide between war and peace. This piece is particularly powerful now, as we as a country attempt to navigate equal rights and less war, along with a renewed respect for women - we hope.

Women from all nations love their shoes, as the intricately beaded moccasins shown off in this exhibit clearly show, but perhaps none more than this stunning pair of Christian Louboutins, Adaptation, II, 2012 zhuzzed up in beaded and feathered Native style by Jamie Okuma (LuiseƱo/Shoshone-Bannock) that I deeply covet.

How could It's In Our DNA, It's Who We Are, 2018 by Anita Fields (Osage) not be one of my favorites? The brightly colored military coat is after those that were given to Osage men by U.S. government officials, but they were too small for them, so the women took to adorning them and wearing them for special ceremonies. Fields took this excellent one a step further by sewing treaties and photographs into its lining ... and adding a top hat that isn't explained. I loved it.

I loved every piece in Hearts of Our People, in fact. It is groundbreaking, it is exquisite, it is moving, it is beautiful, and it is important.  Important because it asks us to celebrate Native women and their art, but also to remember. To remember where and who we came from, and also to remember who we want to be. A poem hanging near the final works called Remember by Joy Harjo (Muscogee/Cherokee) really summed the entire show up for me. I'll leave you here with it, and urge you to visit this magnificent exhibit at MIA at least once during its duration.

Hearts of Our People 
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Now through August 18th, 2019

Thank you to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the Minneapolis Institute of Art for bringing this must see show to Minneapolis for all to enjoy and learn from. It is a tour de force.


  1. Thank you for this blog post. I found it accidentally while googling DY Begay, the artist who did the weaving that resembles a winter landscape painting of water. I'm so glad I found your blog post. I too found the exhibit overwhelmingly beautiful. I was just passing through MN, so I don't have the chance to return, but if I did, I'd go back and spend just as much time, if not more, moving through the exhibit again. Your post is a small way to revisit.

  2. Ahaa, its pleasant dialogue on the topic of this paragraph
    here at this webpage, I have read all that, so at this
    time me also commenting at this place.

  3. It's really a nice and useful piece of info. I'm satisfied that you just shared this useful information with us.

    Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I have read all the comments and suggestions posted by the visitors for this article are very fine,We will wait for your next article so only.Thanks! dresses for women summe