Category Archives: American Indian Art

Cree Artist Kent Monkman Redraws History for 2020

“Coonskin caps for Christmas! I was a kid in mid-20th-century America. The biggest cultural event I can remember from early childhood was Walt Disney’s gigantically popular “Davy Crockett: Indian Fighter” on TV. The first installment of a serial, which debuted on Dec. 15, 1954, it was basically about the exploits of a Tennessee backwoods gun-for-hire, and promoted nostalgia for the days when the Wild West was ‘won’ from indigenous peoples”. H. Cotter, The New York Times

Mr. Monkman’s “Resurgence of the People,” from 2019, references art history, from “Washington Crossing the Delaware”

Excerpt: A Cree Artist Redraws History, By Holland Cotter, The New York Times

“A verse of the theme song, which was everywhere on the radio, went:

Andy Jackson is our gen’ral’s name

His reg’lar soldiers we’ll put to shame

Them redskin varmints us Volunteers’ll tame

‘Cause we got the guns with the surefire aim

Davy, Davy Crockett, the champion of us all!

Andy Jackson was, of course, Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, whose 1830 signing of the Indian Removal Act led to the Trail of Tears, and whose portrait now hangs, at the request of the 45th and sitting president [Trump], in the Oval Office of the White House.

Emanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” from 1851, is one of many art references Mr. Monkman updates. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

All this came back to mind when I saw “The Great Hall Commission: Kent Monkman, mistikosiwak (Wooden Boat People)” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The second in a continuing series of contemporary works sponsored by the Met, it consists of two monumental new paintings by the Canadian artist Kent Monkman, installed on either side of the museum’s main entrance in the soaring Great Hall.

The paintings are pretty stupendous. Each measuring almost 11 feet by 22 feet, they are multi-figured narratives, inspired by a Euro-American tradition of history painting but entirely present-tense in theme and tone. And both are unmistakably polemical, suggesting that with this and other commissions — an earlier one, sculptures by the Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu, is still in place on the museum’s Fifth Avenue facade — certain winds of change could be blowing through the Met’s art-temple precincts.

Mr. Monkman, 54, is one of Canada’s best-known contemporary artists, and one who has stirred controversy on his home ground. Of mixed Cree and Irish heritage, he has made the violence done under European occupation, to North America’s first peoples, a central subject of his work.

But he has also, crucially, flipped a conventional, disempowering idea of Native victimhood on its head.

Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, in heels, provides a rescuing hand in Welcoming the Newcomers. His sources include Courbet and Titian.Credit Kent Monkman

His paintings, done in a crisply realistic, highly detailed, somewhat cut-and-paste illustrational style, are far from grim… the image of the artist himself in the guise of his alter ego, a buff, cross-dressing, gender-fluid tribal leader named Miss Chief Eagle Testickle…Miss Chief is an avatar of a global future that will see humankind moving beyond the wars of identity — racial, sexual, political — in which it is now perilously immersed.

The most radical aspect of his work in the context of the Met — an ‘encyclopedic’ museum thoroughly Western in attitude — is that it presents a view of art history through the eyes of the Other, in this case Native Americans and people of Canada’s First Nations. The shift in cultural positioning begins with the exhibition title.

Mistikosiwak, or Wooden Boat People, was a Cree name for European settlers arriving in what is now North America. One of the two paintings, Welcoming the Newcomers, depicts such an arrival, with Native people greeting strangers at the Atlantic shore.

But the scene is less a reception than a rescue. A capsized boat is visible in the distance… Several of the painting’s Indigenous figures are based on examples of 19th-century art in the Met’s collection. Among them are sculptures like ‘Mexican Girl Dying’ by Thomas Crawford (1846), on view in the museum’s American Wing, and paintings like Eugène Delacroix’s ‘The Natchez,’ in the 19th- and early 20th-Century

European galleries. Each of the originals perpetuates the myth of the Native Americans as a vanishing people, doomed to disappear, a fiction that usefully underpinned and fueled another myth, that of Western ‘Manifest Destiny.’

On the left: A detail from Eugène Delacroix’s “The Natchez,” 1823-24 and 1835. The scene was inspired by a romantic novel in which the infant born to a Native couple is doomed to die.Credit The Metropolitan Museum of Art

On the right:A detail from Kent Monkman’s “Resurgence of the People” updates Delacroix’s pessimistic image by depicting a healthy baby in the arms of a same-sex Indigenous couple. CreditKent Monkman

In Mr. Monkman’s paintings, Indigenous people are, for the most part, proactive figures, shaping the world around them, which doesn’t mean he ignores the catastrophes that followed the European occupation… when he depicts the figure of a child apparently sick and dying in his mother’s arms, he lifts the figure from a painting of “The Massacre of the Innocents” by the European artist Francois Joseph Navez.

Mr. Monkman’s image of the child — a reference to the damage done by the forced placement of Indigenous children in white-run boarding schools — appears in the second Met-commissioned painting, ‘Resurgence of the People.’ Here we are in an imagined future. Centuries have passed since “Welcoming the Newcomers.” Terrible things have happened to the planet. The only remaining bit of solid earth is an island guarded by armed white nationalists and soon to be submerged by a churning oil-slicked sea.

Indigenous people now command an open boat, of a kind familiar from contemporary news photos of refugees. People rescued in the first painting are now rescuers themselves, pulling in and tending to whoever swims toward them, including a white businessman wearing a chunky gold watch and Hermès tie. All of the boat’s rowers are Indigenous; more than half are women dressed in contemporary traditional styles…And once again Miss Chief presides over all, leads the way forward.

She’s modeled on the title figure in Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” one of the Met’s most popular American art attractions… Even in the Met’s two-story-high Great Hall, the two pictures read clearly, vividly, particularly “Resurgence of the People” with its more organic composition, toothsome colors, and skillfully managed use of painted light…If the museum intends to sustain this engagement, as seems likely under its current director, Max Hollein, commissioned projects like this one (and Ms. Mutu’s) are one way to go, leaving trophy displays of celebrity collectibles to art fairs.”

The Great Hall Commission: Kent Monkman, mistikosiwak (Wooden Boat People)

Through April 9 2020 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan; 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org.

Agate House at night-by Melany Sarafis

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Museum of Natural History Corrects Flawed Painting…Finally

“On the first floor of the American Museum of Natural History, a diorama depicts an imagined 17th-century meeting between Dutch settlers and the Lenape, an Indigenous tribe inhabiting New Amsterdam, now New York City. It was intended to show a diplomatic negotiation between the two groups, but the portrayal tells a different story.” A. Fota, The New York Times

This diorama at the American Museum of Natural History was amended in a way that allows museum goers to see the historical inaccuracies it perpetuates. Credit- A. Mohin, NYT

Excerpt: What’s Wrong With This Diorama? You Can Read All About It, Ana Fota, The New York Times

“The scene takes place in what is now known as the Battery, with ships on the horizon. The tribesmen wear loincloths, and their heads are adorned with feathers. A few Lenape women can be seen in the background, undressed to the waist, in skirts that brush the ground.

They keep their heads down, dutiful. In front of a windmill are two fully clothed Dutchmen, one of them resting a rifle on his shoulder. The other, Peter Stuyvesant, colonial governor of New Netherland, is graciously extending his hand, waiting to receive offerings brought by the Lenape.

Critics have said the diorama depicts cultural hierarchy, not a cultural exchange. Museum officials said they had been aware of these implications for a while, and now they have addressed them.

The narrative, created in 1939, is filled with historical inaccuracies and clichés of Native representation, said Bradley Pecore, a visual historian of Menominee and Stockbridge Munsee descent. ‘These stereotypes are problematic, and they’re still very powerful. They shape the American public’s understanding of Indigenous people.’

About a year ago, the museum asked Mr. Pecore to help solve the diorama problem…The solution offers a lesson in the changing nature of history itself. And it’s written on the glass. While the scene remains intact, 10 large labels now adorn the glass, summarizing various issues. They were carefully chosen after a research process that took most of 2018.

The largest one, visible from a distance, invites visitors to reconsider this scene.’

The labels say, for instance, that if the scene had been historically accurate, the Lenape would have been dressed for the occasion in fur robes and adornments that signified leadership positions.

The women did not wear impractical skirts that dragged behind them. Further, some are likely to have been part of the negotiations, as women in Lenape societies (past and present) typically hold leadership roles.

While only Stuyvesant was originally identified, the new labels also take note of Oratamin, a respected leader of the Hackensack, a Munsee branch of the Lenape. The list goes on, but it is not complete; there’s only so much room on the glass.”

~Our Thoughts and Prayers Go Out To The Muslim Community and To The People of New Zealand~ Talking Feather

The Center for Native American Youth is Accepting Art Submissions

“The Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) is launching their first Creative Native Call for Art for Native youth 5 to 24-years-old. In addition, Native youth artists between 15 and 24-years-old can submit for an opportunity to be the cover artist for CNAY’s 2018 State of Native Youth Report.” V. Schilling, ICMN

CNAY : Gen-I

Excerpt: The Creative Native call for artwork By Vincent Schilling, ICTMN

“The Creative Native call for artwork is an initiative that supports young Indigenous artists ages 5 to 24-years-old and provides the opportunity to receive national recognition, funding for art supplies, and a $200 prize.

In addition to the overall submissions, there is an additional opportunity for Native youth artists between 15 and 24-years-old to be the cover artist for CNAY’s 2018 State of Native Youth Report. The cover artist will be flown to Washington, D.C. to participate in the reports release event in November.”

Art Submission and Eligibility Requirements

Art submissions must answer the question: What does Generation Indigenous mean to me? Submission photos and images will only be accepted electronically through the online Creative Native Entry Form. Submissions will be reviewed by an independent review committee, which will select one awardee from each age category: 5-9-year-olds; 10-14; 15-19; and 20-24.

Examples of submissions can include, but are not limited to paintings, drawings, photography, sculptures, and traditional works such as beadwork, carvings, and baskets. Artists can submit a maximum of three entries. Artists will need to submit separate forms for every entry.

Deadline and details

Artists may submit up to three (3) images of each artwork, displaying alternate angles and perspectives. Submissions are due at 11:59 pm Eastern Time on May 9th, 2018.

If you have any questions, you may contact del.curfman@aspeninstiute.org.

 

New Pop Art Brings Native Cultures Together

“Native Pop energizes Indian country’s art scene with bold color and iconic images, offers platform for activism. The organizers behind Native Pop hunted for “hardcore, cutting-edge” indigenous artists to form their collective. The idea was to educate the public that Native people do more than traditional arts and crafts; they also make progressive art that’s intelligent and provocative.” K. Butler, ICTMN

Excerpt:   World Goes Wild for ‘Raw, In-Your-Face’ Native Pop Art, Kristin Butler, ICTMN

“The unified voices also strengthen the dialogue that Native people are still here. ‘We’re still relevant,’ says Brent Learned, Cheyenne/Arapaho, the award-winning artist and leading organizer of Native Pop. ‘We want our voices to be heard.’

More than two years ago, Learned tapped multi-media artist Joe Hopkins to help him bring Native Pop to life. The pair compared lists of the best pop artists in Native circles, starting with the most prominent names in the pop art world in Indian country, like Bunky Echo-Hawk, Steven Paul Judd,  George Curtis Levi,  Joshua Garrett, J. NiCole Hatfield  and Oneka M. Jones. Each artist brings a unique style to the table. They’re very sought-after artists, and not only that, their craft is well defined.

Beyond tribal affiliations, the common thread between the various Native Pop artists is pop art. Learned and Hopkins are quick to point out the distinction between pop and contemporary art. The two genres can get “cluttered,” Hopkins said. “It’s a fine line.” Pop art employs popular or iconic imagery, whereas contemporary art is less well-defined and generally ascribed to works by artists living today, art related to modern-day themes, or art created through new mediums.

In March, four Native Pop artists will represent the Native pop art movement at the National Reservation Economic Summit in Las Vegas. In October, the exhibit will head to the Bishop Gallery in Brooklyn.”

War and Death Story in Drawings

“June 25 was the 140th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn otherwise known as the Great Sioux War… The United States today is engaged in two deadly counterinsurgency wars in Afghanistan and the Islamic State…Examining the stunning drawings made in 1881 by Red Horse, a Mnicoujou warrior who fought at the Little Bighorn, provides timeless lessons about war.” S. Sagen, The New York Times

Drawing by Red Horse, “Untitled from the Red Horse Pictographic Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn” (1881), graphite, colored pencil, and ink.

Drawing by Red Horse, “Untitled from the Red Horse Pictographic Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn” (1881), graphite, colored pencil, and ink.

Excerpt: A Real War Story, in Drawings, BY Scott D. Sagen, The New York Times

“Red Horse, who surrendered the year after the battle, was living on the Cheyenne River Agency, a reservation in South Dakota, when he made the drawings. He spoke no English, and his initial account of the battle to American officials was delivered through Plains Indian sign language — coded hand signals that Native Americans on the Great Plains used to communicate across tribal lines. He later made the drawings with colored pencil and pen to help researchers check the accuracy of the interpretation of his sign-language testimony. But I think that the drawings are the real Red Horse testimony — more direct, eloquent and moving than the translation.

Drawings by Red Horse. Credit National Smithsonian Institution

Drawings by Red Horse. Credit National Smithsonian Institution

These drawings, housed at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, are the Little Bighorn through Lakota eyes. In one, of Last Stand Hill, where Lt. Col. George Custer and many of his Seventh Cavalry troopers were overwhelmed by Lakota and Cheyenne warriors, Red Horse displays his pride in the Native Americans who shot bullets and arrows into fleeing cavalrymen, pulled soldiers off horses or stabbed them with spears.

The cavalry horses appear in columns of two, mostly bluish-gray in the front row and sorrel in the back. This color coordination was not a figment of Red Horse’s imagination. Custer had issued a coloring of the horses order, forcing cavalrymen to trade horses with one another so that each troop company rode mounts of a uniform color.

Drawings by Red Horse. Credit National Archives:Smithsonian Institution

Drawings by Red Horse. Credit National Archives:Smithsonian Institution

Red Horse’s drawings are brutally honest and honest about brutality. His depiction of the scalped and mutilated bodies is an uncensored portrayal of the consequences of revenge and hatred.

In an era in which the Islamic State beheads its enemies, it is worth remembering that mistreatment of prisoners, mutilation and taking of body parts was once common in warfare. The Third Colorado Cavalry Militia killed more than 200 Cheyenne men, women and children in the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, taking body parts and scalps and waving them for the crowds in their victory parade in Denver.

During the 2011 trial of the ‘Kill Team’ — American infantrymen stationed near Kandahar, Afghanistan, who murdered civilians for sport — it was revealed that one soldier carried home fingers of the victims as trophies. We should feel gratified that four of those soldiers were found guilty in the killings. Red Horse portrays the face of battle without the rules of war.”

“…stay the hand of vengeance in war, both to defeat the beast in our enemies and to control the beast within ourselves.” ~ Robert H. Jackson~ United States Solicitor General (1938–1940)

The Native Art of Birch Bark Biting

“I see the design through my eye teeth… I keep my eyes closed when I work because I see the design in the darkness said Denise Lajimodiere, (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe) of her work in birch bark biting or ‘mazinibakajige’ which means marks upon the bark.” M. A. Pember, ICTMN

Angelique Merasty working on a birch bark biting. Photo- Frank Fieber, Northroots magazine

Angelique Merasty working on a birch bark biting. Photo- Frank Fieber, Northroots magazine

Excerpt: Healing Through the Art of Birch Bark Biting, by Mary A. Pember, ICTMN

“Birch bark biting was a pre-contact method of creating designs for beading or quillwork according to Lajimodiere. Mazinibakajige died out in my tribe until I began doing it about eight years ago, she said.

Denise Lajimodiere, (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe)

Denise Lajimodiere, (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe)

She carefully separated the layers of bark, almost holding her breath as she peeled the delicate onion-skin-like layers so they don’t tear. She folded a layer of bark into a triangle and began to bite a design with her eyeteeth. Biting quickly, sounding [like]  a chipmunk chewing through wood, she creates elaborate flowers, dragonflies and turtles. She held the finished work up to a lamp so the design could shine through.

You tube: Dale Kakkak talks with Denise Lajimodiere who was teaching Birch Bark Biting at the 3rd Nagaajiwanaang (Fond du Lac) Language Camp. Denise demonstrates how to prepare the bark and how create the design you want.

Lajimodiere, an assistant professor at North Dakota State University School of Education as well as a poet, sells her designs as earrings, wall hangings and other forms.

Example of how birch bark biting was used as pattern for quillwork. Photo- Mary Annette Pember

Example of how birch bark biting was used as pattern for quillwork. Photo- Mary Annette Pember

Lajimodiere was recently selected for a six-month Minnesota Historical Society Native Artist-in-Residence. With the award funds she plans on visiting the National Museum of the American Indian NMAI’s Archive Center in Suitland, Maryland to see the ancient mazinibakajige held there.

Birch Bark Biting poem by Denise Lajimodiere from her book of poems “Dragonfly Dance.

Birch Bark Biting poem by Denise Lajimodiere from her book of poems “Dragonfly Dance.

She hopes to travel to Maine to meet other “biters” and hopefully inspire a conference or symposium that will begin a resurgence of the art.”

“It’s very healing and requires a great deal of patience. The bark is harvested in the spring and does no harm to the tree. The tree heals itself right back up.”~ Denise Lajimodiere~