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9.6: Modern Indigenous Art (1970-2000)

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    The world's Indigenous Peoples all have distinctive social and cultural groups with ancestral connections to the natural lands and resources they currently reside or where they were dislocated. These resources and locations are intimately part of their ancestral identities, spiritual well-being, financial assets, and cultures. Generally, most groups maintain their leaders and organizations separate from the majority society and still have their ancestral languages. Indigenous Peoples own, live on, or use a quarter of the world's surface area and safeguard eighty percent of the world's remaining biodiversity, retaining ancestral knowledge of land management.[1] Most of the land inhabited by Indigenous Peoples is based on customary ownership, as most governments only recognize a small portion of land as legally held by the Indigenous Peoples. Even in those places acknowledged as officially owned, ownership is insecure and often taken or infringed upon by most governments. The identity of the Indigenous Peoples is defined as descendants of peoples who inhabited the Americas, the Pacific, and some regions of Asia and Africa before European colonization.[2] This section discusses contemporary female artists of the Indigenous Peoples in Oceania, the United States, and Canada.


    The Oceania region comprises thousands of islands in the Pacific Ocean. It includes the larger landmasses of Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, independent islands, and those islands under other countries' oversight. Early Indigenous Peoples were developed as sea-faring cultures, traveling between islands and establishing permanent communities. The expansion of European exploration and incursion into other places, the Japanese takeover of many islands, and the ensuing war led to control of the land by outsiders over economics, religion, government, and civil rights.

    As the largest Oceania landmass, Australia has hundreds of indigenous groups, composing 2.5 percent of the total population. They are classified as Aboriginal Australians or Aborigines and have cultural and spiritual connections with their local environment. In 1992, the Australian courts recognized Aboriginal rights to land as defined as land owned before Captain Cook arrived, although they inhabited the land for 50,000 years. In New Zealand, the indigenous Māori are almost 15 percent of the population. New Zealand has established a tribunal to oversee Māori land claims and define outcomes. Seven hundred different Indigenous groups are found in Papua New Guinea and are recognized in their constitution with rights under the customary land title. Indigenous Peoples in Australia, New Zealand, and other Oceania areas are still working to codify their rights and treatment under existing governments as conflicts continue between the Indigenous Peoples and governmental and corporate entities.

    United States

    In the United States, Indigenous Peoples are defined as Native American or American Indian and refer to those whose ancestors lived there before European incursion. American Indian is a specific legal determination by the laws of the United States. Between 2.5 and 6 million Indigenous Peoples live in the United States, with 20 percent residing directly in defined American Indian or Alaskan villages. The largest Indigenous population is in California.[3] The United States government has over 300 treaties with 574 American Indian nations and individuals recognized as citizens of an individual nation by legal definitions. Some states also have different treaties, and many nations are still unrecognized. Each treaty varies; however, they generally include land boundaries, hunting and fishing rights, and protection from domestic and foreign enemies. The treaties supposedly give the nations specific jurisdiction, responsibilities, and economic determinations. However, through the last two centuries, the United States still does not always honor treaties, and individual nations have suffered from continued broken promises.

    In 1887, the Dawes Act broke up tribal lands and divided the land into separate sections. Over ninety million tribal lands were taken and sold to non-native people. The ruling explicitly occurred to destroy Native societies and cultures. Today, the United States government rules require tribal consultation for most issues; however, the government still maintains plenary power, and tribal rights frequently must be handled in the courts. Although the United States government legal system refers to the Indigenous Peoples as Native Americans, they were here long before the country was named 'America.' The term is an example of white exceptionalism and the belief nothing existed on the continent before the Europeans.


    Canadian constitution identifies three Indigenous Peoples groups: First Nations (Indians), Inuit, and Métis. Each grouping is based on history, language, culture, and spiritual beliefs. Over 1.5 million people identify with one of the groups. Canada has over 630 First Nation groups representing 50 Nations and languages. The approximately 65,000 Inuit live in 53 communities stretching across the northern parts of Canada and speak Inuktut. Over 587,000 people identify as Métis and live throughout Canada.[4] Much like the United States, the European governments signed treaties with the people living in Canada. Most treaties covered hunting and fishing rights, religious practices, trade relations, fur trade, and military requirements. After the Revolutionary War, some treaties granted First Nation groups land; however, as outside immigration grew, land, governmental and religious relationships changed. Treaties were disregarded, the land was taken, and the Indian Act of 1876 imposed greater controls on the Indigenous Peoples. Today, a new methodology, the Inherent Right to Self-Government Policy, provides legal ways for First Nations to negotiate their claims.

    Before Europeans came to North America, native women were active and essential in tribal governance, operations, and day-to-day activities. The European definition of the subservient female's role changed native women's positions and roles. Tribal men and women had specific responsibilities. Women generally had control over the household, children, and agricultural production, giving them most property rights. In some tribes, property descended through the matriarchal line, and some scholars opine that up to one-fourth of Indian tribes in the United States were matrilineal.[5] That all changed when European ideals became part of the government's definitions of how native cultures should act.

    Art has always been a part of the activities of native women, traditions, and knowledge passed between the generations. Because they created culturally important items and used different materials than the defined European models, native art was considered primitive and inferior. Indigenous women used their artistic talents in pottery, weaving, beadwork, and quillwork. They integrated their art into everyday life and necessities, decorating clothing, cooking supplies, or shelters. Much of their art was destroyed, lost, or hidden away. By the late twentieth century, indigenous women were restoring the importance of native artwork and bringing back the past to support the future. Today indigenous female artists use tools and techniques from the past and modern methods to create new artwork. Their work is a tribute to those women who preceded them while demonstrating their strengths and talents to create art for the future. Artist in this section:

    • Oceania
      • Gloria Petyarre (1942-)
      • Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-1996)
      • Dorothy Napangardi (1956-2013)
      • Kaylene Whiskey (1976)
    • United States
      • Nora Naranjo-Morse (1953-)
      • Roxanne Swentzell (1962-)
      • Wendy Red Star (1981-)
      • Teri Greeves (1970-)
      • Jaune Quick-to-see Smith (1940-)
      • Rose Simpson (1983-)
    • Canada
      • Daphne Odjig (1919-2016)
      • Rebecca Belmore (1960-)
      • Faye Heavyshield (1953-)
    Interactive Element

    “Hearts of Our People” is the country’s first-ever exhibition devoted solely to the works of Native American women. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts assembled the retrospective, which is currently at Nashville's Frist Art Museum and will visit Tulsa and Washington, D.C., in 2020. Jeffrey Brown reports on how the show brings attention to a realm previously “not at all addressed in the art world.”


    Storytelling has been an essential part of the Aboriginal culture in Australia for thousands of years, and contemporary artists today use the same concepts in their colorful art. Artists incorporate traditional, sacred symbols, relating the practices and laws of past legends. The artwork usually represents aspects of the Dreaming, a concept of supernatural beings and their creation's beginnings as part of Australia's land and shape. In the 1970s, Aboriginal groups formed small community art centers in remote locations, beginning contemporary Aboriginal artists' works. Some art centers perform as community centers where painting is a social event, laying the canvas on the ground and painting directly without sketches or preliminary drawings. Artists use traditional materials or mediums in the geographic areas and today's commercially available media. Much of the Australian art features circles, wavy lines, or dots usually defined in earth tones. The paintings often reflected ritualistic rites; however, some images were forbidden to be seen and were hidden under the dots and swirls.

    Gloria Petyarre

    Gloria Petyarre (1942-) (Anmatyerre community) used her traditional leafy and feathery style to paint the very long painting of Leaves (9.6.1). The image projects the feelings of movement, the leaves on a tree, or endlessly falling. Petyarre started as a batik painter and, in the 1980s, started painting on canvas. Also hidden in the painting are references to ceremonies for women and body markings as part of the rituals. She originally started painting with dots before changing to the elongated feathery appearance. "Petyarre grew up learning traditional techniques of reading the landscape to identify foods, medicinal plants, and everything else needed to thrive. Sitting under mulga bushes, helping the elder women prepare their seeds for small cakes, she would see the leaves swirl overhead."[6] Many of the women in Petyarre's family are artists whose work is based on the surroundings and rituals of the central desert territory. Their Aboriginal world had existed for tens of thousands of years until pollution by the white cattle ranchers who took the land. Petyarre and the other artists began to paint and demonstrate their knowledge of the historical landscape and the importance of natural substances like leaves.

    a black and white painting of feathers
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Leaves (2002, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 180.3 x 400 cm) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
    Interactive Element: Gloria Petyarre

    Artist: GLORIA PETYARRE Dreaming: BUSH MEDICINE LEAF Painted in Alice Springs 2010

    Emily Kame Kngwarreye

    Anooralya (Wild Yam Dreaming) (9.6.2) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-1996) (Utopia community) represents the desert parts of central Australia, a place where outsiders only perceive broad stretches of red dirt. In 1988, Kngwarreye started painting with acrylics and discovered the fluid capabilities of the paint. The churning network of roots from the anooralya or yam plant in the painting demonstrates the vigorous growth in the dry, arid desert. The Aboriginal people understood the land and the resourceful plants able to sustain life. Kngwarreye is considered one of Australia's most important contemporary artists, starting at the age of eighty. She was extremely prolific and produced over 3,000 paintings in her short eight-year career. Her work was stimulated by her position as an Anmatyerre elder and her custodianship of the women's Dreaming sites. When asked to explain her images, she always replied the same: "Whole lot, that's whole lot, Awelye (my Dreaming), arlatyeye (pencil yam), arkerrthe (mountain devil lizard), ntange (grass seed), tingu (Dreamtime pup), ankerre (emu), intekwe (favourite food of emus, a small plant), atnwerle (green bean), and kame (yam seed). That's what I paint, whole lot."[7]

    a painting of reds, oranges, and yellows on a dark background
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Anooralya (Wild Yam Dreaming) (1995, polymer paint on canvas, 152 x 122 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Dorothy Napangardi

    Dorothy Napangardi (1956-2013) (Warlpiri speaking) painted Salt on Mina Mina (9.6.3), portraying ancestral women traveling on foot and marking their land with digging sticks. Even today, women gather at the Mina Mina, re-enacting the Dreaming story. The site of the Mina Mina and a stand of large numbers of Eucalyptus trees is where tradition believes the digging sticks came from the ground. Napangardi connected her designs to the traditional designs of the Dreaming using interconnected lines and dots. Her works represent the land, the ancestral tracks, and the stories of her female ancestors as they moved through the landscape.

    black and white lines vertical and horizontal painting
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Salt on Mina Mina (acrylic on Belgian linen, 98 x 127 cm) (Copyright; author via source)

    Kaylene Whiskey

    Kaylene Whiskey (1976) (Pitjantjatjara), a modern Aboriginal artist, creates her art in one of the remote communities in South Australia. She was the granddaughter of an earlier artist whom she used to watch paint in the art center. As Whiskey developed her style, she used bright colors listening to American pop singers who inspired her work. She incorporated their images into her paintings. Whiskey said she liked having fun and painting people in exciting outfits combining contemporary life and her remote community. Rikina Kungka Kutju (One Really Cool Lady) (9.6.4) demonstrates her comic book painting style, illustrating popular Western culture and her Indulkana community with evident feminist undertones.

    a painting with text a various action figures
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Rikina Kungka Kutju (One Really Cool Lady) (2015, acrylic on linen) (CC BY-ND 2.0)
    Interactive Element: Kaylene Whiskey

    Exhibition walkthrough showcasing Kaylene Whiskey's exhibition 'Sistas,' on display at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.

    United States

    The Indigenous Peoples living in the United States are composed of multiple nations, tribes, and clans, and their artwork reflects the diversity of the people. In the past, indigenous art was classified as a craft because most surviving arts included clothing, baskets, or pottery created by women and anonymous. Today's modern female artists still maintain a connection with the past, and their artwork is recognized. Contemporary Native artists come from hundreds of recognized tribes and nations and may work with materials of the past or modern materials. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, native children were taken from their homes and placed in boarding schools throughout the United States to assimilate into the white culture. Students' names were changed, their native dress was replaced, and they were forbidden to speak native languages. The art and culture of the generations are lost. Many schools were open for over one hundred years, only closing in the late 1980s. Today, the scope of Native people's art has changed; even museums are holding exhibits incorporating "traditional" art with contemporary. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York stated: "The art of the indigenous peoples of North America have not historically been prioritized in these spaces. The longstanding curatorial practice of designating arts as "primitive" or as "ethnographic," or as "nonwestern" has limited our capacity to see a broader and more shared humanity…"[8] Modern and contemporary Indigenous artists work in the same artistic mediums as other artists, and the omission of Indigenous art brings an incomplete picture of today's art.

    Nora Naranjo-Morse

    Nora Naranjo-Morse (1953-) (Santa Clara Pueblo) was the youngest daughter of a well-known potter. She had eight siblings, and their mother gave each of them clay to play with while working, inspiring Naranjo-Morse to continue the tradition. She is also known for her writings as a poet. Although there isn't any word for an artist in her Tewa language, they did have a concept of the artful life. Naranjo-Morse believed her work with clay and writing poetry gave her creative expression. She used the traditional idea of Pueblo figurative statues (9.6.5) created in a contemporary method. The female figure stands slightly in front of the male, acknowledging the role of women in a previously matrilineal government. The concept of leading females was changed when the society modeled Euro-American governments, a patrilineal model. Many tribal ruling structures were reorganized when Congress enacted the Indian Reorganization Act in the 1940s, evolving tribal life forever. The bronze sculptures are abstracted; the female has a turquoise necklace, and the male wears a zig-zag pattern.

    2 stone features carved from red brown stone with black painted tops
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Khwee-seng (Woman-man) (1991, bronze, 123.1 x 147.3 x 27.94 cm) (CC BY 2.0)

    Always Becoming (9.6.6, 9.6.7) is installed outside the National Museum of the American Indian. Naranjo-Morse made each statue from clay, stone, pottery shards, agave fiber, sand, wood, bamboo, and dirt, each sculpture changing and eroding over time from the weather. She stated in an interview, "I'm hoping the Native community sees themselves in this. [I want them to see themselves in a way] that's always changing, relating to the environment, and always adapting and transforming. And in that process, being empowered."[9] Naranjo-Morse incorporated smaller pieces of shards, stones, and other materials, and part of the structures was based on small pieces eroding and falling to the ground, leaving them to become part of the earth again. In her book Mud Woman, Naranjo-Morse wrote about the Pueblo people's long-term relationship with clay. "Veins of colored earth run along the hillsides of New Mexico, covering remote trails with golden flecks of mica. Channels of brown and scarlet mud wash across the valleys, dipping and climbing with the sprawling landscape. Intricately woven patterns of clay fan out under the topsoil, carrying the life of pottery to the Pueblo people."[10]

    Tents made of earth colors
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Always Becoming (2007, dirt, sand, straw, clay, stone, black locust wood, bamboo, grass, yam vines) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
    a set of three tents made of natural materials
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Always Becoming (C BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    Roxanne Swentzell

    Roxanne Swentzell (1962-) (Santa Clara Pueblo) was also from a family of artists, her aunt Nora Naranjo-Morse. She learned traditional pottery making from her mother, other family members, and local potters, playing with clay scraps as a child and turning them into little figures. Her artwork is based on her childhood memories and experiences to focus on female issues, politics, family, and identity. Swentzell learned how to make small coil pots as a child, which she uses today to create figures. However, she does not dig and process her clay. Instead, Swentzell uses commercially made clay. To construct a figure, Swentzell manipulates the clay into thick coils for the walls of her sculptures, then smoothing the sides. This process makes the statues hollow, except for the fingers and toes. She generally paints the finished clay figure.

    Mud Woman Rolls On (9.6.8) is an immense sculpture. The figure has straw wattles (long tubes of straw) for the basic form, then covered with clay. The straw wattles are flexible and able to be shaped. Mud Woman has four children, each one holding the other. Swentzell used mud from different locations for the color of the figures. The mother's hair was composed of various types of grass dyed with natural colors to make the hair strands. Swentzell wanted to celebrate the female body and the nurturing relationship between mothers and the earth. She wrote, "The Mother holds the largest child, who's holding the next child, who's holding the next, and so on. I loved the perspective of understanding that we all come from the Earth, generation after generation, an endless family of life passing on the seed."[11] The figure of Kosha is similar to the image of a clown who appears in ceremonial events, teaching others through their actions. In the Pueblo story of creation, the Kosha emerged first from the underworld. The statue, Kosha Appreciating Anything (9.6.9), depicts the clown gazing at his hands as though something important is happening, a reminder to think before making choices. The stripes on the Kosha symbolize balance, another of Kosha's lessons. The statue is hollow and made with coils, smoothed and then fired.

    a mother, and 4 kids sitting on each others lap
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Mud Woman Rolls On (2011, clay, plant fiber, 304.8 x 384.8 x 207 cm) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
    a clay sitting figure with brown and black stripes
    Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Kosha Appreciating Anything (1997, clay and pigment, 40.6 x 33 x 43.1 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0)
    Interactive Element: Roxanne Swentzell

    Artist Roxanne Swentzell shares why she created this work of art and what it means to her.

    Wendy Red Star

    Wendy Red Star (1981-) (Apsáalooke-Crow) grew up on the Crow Reservation, uncomfortable with her "otherness" when she left the reservation until she learned to deal with it through her artwork. In college, she focused on sculpture, including painting, beadwork, fiber art, photography, and performance art. Red Star uses multiple media, frequently incorporating fiber work and photography to depict issues of Native cultures through disparate layers of images. Although Red Star combines stereotypical and authentic imageries in her work, she wanted to refer to and integrate modern and past, humanizing Native people as still relevant and authentic today. Red Star noted: "It is critical to preserve and pass along culture, heritage, and shared values while also providing future generations with a sense of identity, solidarity, and empowerment."[12]

    Red Star believed the traditional photographs of Crow women were flat and colorless. She used herself and her daughter as models and took photographic images dressed in fashionable Apsáalooke (Crow) clothing. In Apsáalooke Feminist #2 (9.6.10), bright blue blankets cover their laps, one with bold flowers, the other fringed. They are sitting on a modern yet plain white couch, a background for Red Star's decorative blankets folded and laid on the couch. She and her daughter wear clothing to honor the maker and wearer, the beaded belt, the elk tooth dress, and moccasins. Red Star even collages the background and foreground into the pictures to add dimension, color, and interest. Red Star also named her photograph to connect gender and racial equality. She explained, "As a brown person and artist, your work is political."[13] Red Star also supports the community, helping others to expand their knowledge of ancestral and present culture. Red Star helped high school girls make traditional shawls with modern materials as part of the shawls she makes. Each shawl in her display (9.6.11) has different symbols representing aspects of their culture with ribbons resembling fringe.

    two people sitting on a white couch with squiggly wallpaper behind
    Figure \(\PageIndex{10}\): Apsáalooke Feminist #2 (2016, pigment print, 106.6 x 139.7 cm) (CC BY-SA 4.0)
    3 different stands of cloth sewn together
    Figure \(\PageIndex{11}\): Fancy Shawl Project (2009, fabric, ribbon) (CC BY-NC 2.0)
    Interactive Element: Wendy Red Star

    Wendy Red Star: A Scratch on the Earth is a mid-career retrospective of the artist's photography, textiles, and installation work at the Newark Museum (February 23 - June 16, 2019). Her work draws on pop culture, conceptual art, and her native traditions, including her life on the Crow reservation in Montana. Wendy describes how she came to realize that most people know very little about Native American history or life today, and how her work addresses that through, sometimes through humor. Also interviewed are the exhibition's guest curator, Nadiah Rivera Fellah, and the Newark Museum's curator of American Art, Tricia Laughlin Bloom

    Teri Greeves

    Teri Greeves (1970-) (Kiowa) was born on the Wind River Reservation, where her mother had a trading post. Greeves was exposed to multiple tribes' beadwork and methods as she heard her mother talking to customers. She learned beadwork skills from her mother and other masters who sold their work at the trading post. Although Greeves received her degree in American Studies, she continued her mastery of beads and focused on her art. She learned multiple methods to apply the beads, including a lane stitch, like quillwork, with the design built from multiple rows. Greeves uses a loom for bracelets, and if she creates a large image on deer hide, she attaches the hide to a board. Asked about her work, Greeves stated, "I am a beadworker. I've been beading since I was about 8 years old. I am compelled to do it. I have no choice in the matter. I must express myself and my experience as a 21st Century Kiowa, and I do it, like all those unknown artists before me, through beadwork. And though my medium may be considered 'craft' or 'traditional,' my stories are from the same source as the voice running through that first Kiowa beadworker's needles. It is the voice of my grandmothers."[14]

    a pair of red shoes with beaded girls
    Figure \(\PageIndex{12}\): Kiowa Aw-Day (2004, beaded sneakers) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
    a pair of shoes with black beads and designs
    Figure \(\PageIndex{13}\): Great Lakes Girls (2008, glass beads, bugle beads, Swarovski crystals, sterling silver stamped conchae, spiny oyster shell cabochons, canvas high-heeled sneakers, 29.2 x 22.9 x 7.6 cm) (CC BY 3.0)

    When she was only thirteen, Greeves saw a set of beaded tennis shoes one of the Lakota artists brought for her mother to sell at the trading post, and Greeves loved them. When she was in college, her mother asked her to make a pair of beaded tennis shoes; she has created them since that call. Instead of beading moccasins, Greeves uses tennis shoes to tell her Kiowa and cultural stories in a new way. She makes an original drawing before applying the primary lines on the shoes, then stitches on the beads. She uses a lane stitch and two-needle applique to apply the beads. Kiowa Aw-Day (9.6.12) illustrates the children celebrating their day, the beaded young boy in his yellow buckskins. The images of the children contrast against the bright red shoe color. Greeves Great Lakes Girls (9.6.13) are beaded on high-heeled tennis shoes, the images inspired by the floral designs from the Great Lakes tribes. Although the dancers are beaded in traditional clothing, the images appear modern.

    Interactive Element: Teri Greeves

    Teri Greeves (Kiowa/Comanche) discusses her work as a contemporary bead artist for the exhibit Stepping Out: 10000 Years of Walking the West.

    Jaune Quick-to-see Smith

    Jaune Quick-to-see Smith (1940-) (Salish and Kootenai) was from a small town on a reservation in Montana. Her childhood was one of poverty, moving from place to place and working summers as a migrant worker on the farms. Even as a child, Smith knew she wanted to draw, using sticks to create images in the dirt. When she started school, she remembered the first time she had crayons and paints, saying: "I loved the smell of them. It was a real awakening. I made a painting of children dancing around Mount Rainier. My teacher raved about it. Then with Valentine's Day approaching, I painted red hearts all over the sky. …I see it as my first abstract painting."[15] Throughout her education, including her master's in art degree, Smith moved between Native and non-Native cultures, producing art bridging the social and political issues between diverse cultures. Smith has always produced complex paintings and lithographs, highly textured images using mixed media. She also combines the abstract and representational in her work, portraying the myths of ancestors integrated with the issues facing Native Americans in the current world. Smith's work addresses the devastation of the environment and governmental oppression. Smith moved to New Mexico, a place she found deeply personal, like the artist Georgia O'Keeffe. "But while O'Keeffe focused her attention on the timeless uninhabited landscapes of her adopted home, Smith's 'inhabited landscapes' express the human conflicts marked on the land."[16]

    a yellow painting with black and white chalk drawiings of animals and people
    Figure \(\PageIndex{14}\): Sticky Mouth (1993, lithograph) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
    a map of the us with different colors of paint dripping down
    Figure \(\PageIndex{15}\): State Names (2000, oil, collage, mixed media on canvas, 121.9 x 182.9 cm) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    Smith's work was always based on her ancestral background, integrating today's concepts. Sticky Mouth (9.6.14), the translated Blackfeet word for bear, is titled to reflect one of the bear's favorite foods - honey. The bear in Native mythology is sometimes a messenger and sometimes considered an ancestral figure. Smith surrounded the bear with different images of Native people. A coyote is also depicted. Smith identified herself with the coyote who delivers warnings about the danger and bad behavior results, part of her role moving through and representing different cultural activities. The map of the United States is a frequent background Smith used, embedding the cultural and environmental issues she addressed. State Names (9.6.15) define how occupied land was taken by invading Europeans. Smith used paint dripping and collaged layers for the painting, leaving only the names visible based on indigenous sources, highlighting the historical injustices. Many of the names come from Native American words; Wyoming, a Delaware Indian word for "mountains and valleys alternating," or Kansas, a Sioux name for "people of the south wind." In the image of State Names,Smith displays her anger for land division without any regard for tribal lands. She stated, "We are the original owners of this country. Our land was stolen from us by Euro-American invaders…I can't say strongly enough that my maps are about stolen lands, our heritage, our cultures, our worldview, our being…Every map is a political map and tells a story-that we are alive everywhere across this nation…"[17]

    Interactive Element: Jaune Quick-To-See

    Jaune Quick-To-See Smith grew up on the Flathead Reservation in Montana and traveled around the Pacific Northwest and California with her father, who was a horse trader. Smith decided she wanted to be an artist after watching a film on the French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. She painted a goatee on her face with axle grease and borrowed a neighbor's beret so she could be photographed posing as the famous artist. In 1958, Smith enrolled at Olympic College in Bremerton, Washington. She had to take many breaks from college in order to earn money, however, and didn't earn her degree until 1976. She moved to Albuquerque, where she studied at the University of New Mexico and founded the Grey Canyon group of contemporary Native American artists.

    Rose Simpson

    Rose Simpson (1983-) (Santa Clara Pueblo - Tewa) was born and lives in New Mexico. She has a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Simpson grew up on the Santa Clara Pueblo, exposed to clay from a young age. Her mother, grandparents, and other relatives worked with clay. Simpson says generations of the family made clay over hundreds of years. She said, "Clay was the earth that grew our food, was the house we lived in, was the pottery we ate out of and prayed with. So my relationship to clay is ancestral, and I think it has a deep genetic memory. It's like a family member for us."[18] The people traditionally made black or red pottery; however, Simpson focuses on clay androgynous figures with rough, uneven surfaces. She also learned to work with metal and used metal embellishments to her sculptures. To make her figures, Simpson uses traditional methods and what she calls "slap-slab." She throws clay on the floor until it is thin and tears pieces off, adding them to each other. The result resembles papier-mâché. Her figures have seams, pinch marks, and other imperfections incorporated into the finished image.

    Root (9.6.16) is a strikingly tall figure standing in a protection pose. Her neck is formed by an empty space encircled by metal with saw-like teeth. The clay on the figure is dappled and textured and painted with symbols Simpson generally uses on all her sculptures, including an x, plus sign, and circles. Instead of beads hanging as earrings, the statue has long strings hanging or wrapped around the torso and legs. Long pieces of string are overlaying different parts of other decorative elements. Legacy (9.6.17) demonstrates Simpson's slap-slab method of using clay. By throwing slabs of clay on the floor, thin pieces are pulled off and reassembled on the figure. The different parts of clay are visible in the layered or collaged look. The mother and daughter figure each have symbols added to their face and body Simpson uses in her work. The figures represent Simpson's focus on caring for families and thinking intergenerationally.

    2 figures like statues in earth tones
    Figure \(\PageIndex{16}\): Root (2019, ceramic, glaze, linen, jute string, steel, leather, 177.8 x 52.1 x 40.6 cm) (CC BY 2.0)
    2 bust of yellow with plack highlights
    Figure \(\PageIndex{17}\): Legacy (2021, clay, string, beads, paint, 121.9 x 38.1 x 27.9 cm) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
    Interactive Element: Rose B. Simpson

    On a rare snowy day in Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, artist Rose B. Simpson assembles a maquette for a new public sculpture. The three small figures are models for the 12 concrete sculptures that stand nearly 11 feet tall at the Field Farm meadow in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gazing forward with soft expressions and eyes hollowed through the back of their heads, the sculptures embody ancestors watching over the landscape. Simpson’s work stems from these moments of observation and connections to the past, emphasizing the processes of making and becoming in which we discover new ways of being and of healing. Working quickly and intuitively in her studio, the artist shapes her clay sculptures by hand using a technique she developed called “slap-slab.” Each of her clay sculptures is embedded with fingerprints and other evidence of the artist’s hand, leaving traces of the act of making that produced the work. “I’m trying to reveal our deep truth,” says Simpson, “and that deep truth is process.”


    Canada has a vast and varied landscape, stretching from ocean to ocean and into the frozen lands of the north. Most inhabitants are found near the rivers and seas and the southern border. First Nation people lived throughout the regions before the incursions of the Europeans, looking for new trade routes, land, fur, religious conversions, or other riches. Art was created before the European invasions by people and made with local materials based on historical customs. With the large numbers of Europeans and the total disruption of the Indigenous lifestyles, art became a way to make money from the tourist trade and those who thought of themselves as collectors of "native arts and crafts." By early 1900, most First Nations peoples were forced or migrated from historical lands, losing natural histories, cultures, and arts.

    Norval Morrisseau is frequently credited with bringing back the cultural past through art. His vision and determination in the 1960s happened when he brought his unique artwork to a gallery and started changing the concept of Native art. At this time, enforced assimilation was the Canadian practice, and First Nation peoples had just acquired the right to vote. Their artistic expressions were still thought of as artifacts. A few other artists formed the Indian Group of Seven in the 1970s, creating art based on their cultural traditions, portrayed in modern styles, and expanding the platform of opportunities for Indigenous artists. Today, contemporary First Nation, Metis, and Inuit artists have established themselves. They use ancestral connections, continuing social conditions, and colonial histories to inform their artwork created in contemporary practices.

    Daphne Odjig

    Daphne Odjig (1919-2016) (Potawatomi & Odawa) painted before a contemporary Native art movement existed. Odjig is now thought of as the grandmother of Canadian Native art. Born on an Indian Reserve, her father was a descendant of the well-known Potawatomi Chief Black Partridge. Suffering from rheumatic fever when Odjig was a young girl, her grandfather, a stone carver, stayed with her, encouraging her artwork. She started creating art using multiple mediums while working in different jobs to support herself. Because of the racial discrimination Odjig encountered, she anglicized her name and suppressed her Indigenous identity. While attending a dance ceremony, the drum beats made Odjig realize her heritage, and she redirected her work to depict her traditions and history. In 1963, Odjig was recognized as a formal artist based on her pen and ink drawings to portray and preserve the Cree people and their traditional lifestyle. She started her store on the way to her success. In 1973, Odjig, Norval Morrisseau, and Alex Janvier started the Professional Native Indian Artist Association, commonly known as the Indian Group of Seven. Although the group did not last very long, they successfully broke through barriers as a united set of artists. Odjig stated, "If my work as an artist has helped open doors between our people and the non-native community, then I am glad. I am even more deeply pleased if it has helped encourage the young people who have followed our generation to express their pride in our heritage more openly and joyfully than I would have ever dared to think possible."[19]

    Roots (9.6.18) became one of Odjig's most famous paintings. Created in three sections; the first portrays the peaceful life on the reserve where she lived. The middle panel depicts the disorientation felt when leaving the natural home life of the reserve. The headless back of the woman appears to be moving towards the city, two floating heads wondering which world they live in. The third section is a complete woman, the trees in the background; she appears to know herself and is still attached to her roots. The sections are defined with solid lines to form curved contours and overlapping shapes. Odjig used bold, bright colors, ensuring each small section was distinguishable.

    a three panel designof people in multiple colors
    Figure \(\PageIndex{18}\): Roots (1979, acrylic on canvas, triptych, 1.52 x 1.21 m, each panel) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Rebecca Belmore (1960-) (Ojibwe of Obishikokaang) is a multidisciplinary artist who focuses on identity and social issues for First Nation people. As a child, Belmore spent summers with her grandparents, learning about native foods found on the land and how to harvest them. As a teenager, she was sent off to high school and resided with a non-Native family, losing contact with her culture. When Belmore went to Toronto and the Ontario College of Art, she entered an environment of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, encountering racism and influencing her future artwork. To address political and cultural dissonance, Belmore uses multiple media types, including photography, video, sculptures, and performance. Nuit Blanche, or White Night, is celebrated throughout Toronto, running from sunset to sunrise in different city spaces. In her Nuit Blancheperformance (9.6.19), Belmore sat in an art gallery in the middle of a basement floor. She applied clay in a grid format to the floor's marble tiles. The clay is drying in some areas, then reapplied with Belmore's hands. She wore plain black clothing stained with clay. Belmore worked and moved across the clay, only stepping on dry clay, disassociated with the space outside the floor. Her performance art is subtle to the viewer as Belmore worked from sunset to sunrise. She frequently wrote words before covering them; water, land, breathe. Belmore focused on identity, the destruction of Indigenous life, and how they are represented.

    a woman sitting in a room of mud
    Figure \(\PageIndex{19}\): Nuit Blanche performance (2016, Red River Valley clay) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    Belmore generally used local or natural materials to create much of her artwork. Marble Tent (9.6.20) was constructed of marble in Greece near the Acropolis. At the time, the refugee crisis escalated in Greece by people forced to flee their homeland like the Anishinaabe people who were dispossessed of their lands in Canada. The tent has long been a symbol for refugees, a makeshift retreat; it also provides shelter for those who follow the food sources. Belmore stated, "The shape of the tent is, for me, reminiscent of the wigwam dwellings that are part of my history as an Indigenous person."[20] Belmore defined the historical and current issues with Indigenous populations in Canada within the crisis of worldwide events and problems.

    Tarpaulin No. 2 (9.6.21) was created when Belmore responded to the homelessness issues and problems in Vancouver, Canada, after encountering a homeless man. She met the man in a parking lot and gave him food. She said, …he offered me a smoke. I declined. Before I turned to leave, he asked me if I wanted an "Indian blanket." I accepted his humble gift, a small, plaid-patterned fleece blanket like the ones you can buy at Walmart."[21] Tarpaulin No. 2 represents the blanket in the story, suggesting a person lying beneath the blanket as the sculpture sits alone in the middle of the space. People experiencing homelessness suffer the same fate, alone and ignored by passersby. Belmore also captured the disproportionate inequities of the homeless Indigenous population. The patina on the blanket is mottled as Belmore illustrates how blankets containing the smallpox virus were deliberately given to Indigenous Peoples during colonization, spreading the devastating disease. Racial injustice continuing today is represented through a blanket.

    a cement tent outside by a Tree
    Figure \(\PageIndex{20}\): Marble Tent (2017, marble, 140 x 200 x 200 cm) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
    a moving blanket painted and shaped into a schawl
    Figure \(\PageIndex{21}\): Tarpaulin No. 2 (2018, ceramic, 76.2 x 177.8 x 137.2 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0)
    Interactive Element: Rebecca Belmore

    In this video, Rebecca Belmore discusses her artistic practice. Rebecca Belmore is a 2013 Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts winner. The Canada Council for the Arts is a federal, arm's-length Crown corporation created by an Act of Parliament in 1957 (Canada Council for the Arts Act) "to foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts."

    Faye Heavyshield

    Faye Heavyshield (1953-) (Kainai-Blood) grew up on the Blood Reserve, one of twelve siblings. She went to a residential Catholic school when she was young, speaking English while maintaining her Blackfoot language. Heavyshield's grandmother was instrumental in teaching her about the traditions and history of the Blackfoot and Blood people. Her father managed a ranch, and Heavyshield was influenced by the geography of the land, its grasses, the river coulees, the flat plains, and the blowing wind, all references she used in her art. After graduating with her BFA from the University of Calgary, Heavyshield focused her art on sculpture and installations. Heavyshield's heritage became a major inspiration for her work, along with feminism. She became one of Canada's leading feminist artists. Her work was also subjective of memories from the structure of bodies, how the deer was skinned, and the skin on the tepee’s frame. Heavyshield stated, "When I began my formal art training, these influences surfaced in biomorphic images, skeletal armatures with vestiges of flesh, using architectural and figurative language. Monochromatic, after the solitude and simplicity of the prairie. Sometimes building the surface up and then working back from there, peeling the layers."[22]

    Kuto'iis (9.6.22) was inspired by the ancestral flow of history through Heavyshield's consciousness. She knotted hundreds of cloth pieces and attached them to an entire wall. The knots represent a blood clot and are randomly scattered; the installation was painted red ochre. The repetitive knots represent the remembered knowledge of stories, language, and songs from multiple levels of history and ancestry. Heavyshield's sculptures comprise numerous small elements arranged in lines or spirals, frequently an allegory for the human body. Body of Land (9.6.23) is constructed of hundreds of close-up photographs of skin from hundreds of people. Heavyshield takes a photo, prints the photo, and rolls the image into a cone, spreading the cones along the wall in random colors. The soft rolling placement of the cones reminded her of the rippling hills of Alberta. Each cone is a fantastic closeup of skin linking the essential elements of the human experience, a sense of community interconnected. Heavyshield also felt the traditional wisdom of women was passed from mother to daughter, other female relatives, and the female connections with each other. Heavyshield said, "We are a product of Mother Earth; we come from her, we go back to her…As women, we are, in a sense, a smaller version of Mother Earth; we give life, we work, and protect."[23]

    a orange painting with small pieces attached
    Figure \(\PageIndex{22}\): Kuto'iis (2004, cloth, red dye, installation) ( CC BY-NC 2.0)
    orange cones glued to the wall
    Figure \(\PageIndex{23}\): Body of Land (2002-2006, inkjet printer paper, installation) (Copyright; author via source)
    Interactive Element: Faye HeavyShield

    Faye HeavyShield discusses her artwork Body of Land, 2002 -- 2010, featured in the National Gallery of Canada exhibition Builders: Canadian Biennial 2012.

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    This page titled 9.6: Modern Indigenous Art (1970-2000) is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (Open Educational Resource Initiative at Evergreen Valley College) .

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