What is Black and Red and Sepia?

Native Art Bookshelf

Native Photography and Art History Bookshelf in the shop at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Santa Fe.

Notice the fairly uniform color scheme of these books. It is predominantly black, red, and sepia-toned. I took this photograph at the Museum Store at MoCNA, which has a great collection of books about Native American and First Nations art and culture. The photograph has been sitting in my phone for a couple months, but I still find the aesthetics of it symbolically important. These particular shelves are the photography and art history shelves. The bright green book in the upper right is an exception to the color limits. It is Our Land, Our Images, Our Selves, edited by by Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie and Veronica Passalaqua. The cover photograph is sepia-toned, though, so it does not break the preferred symbolic color scheme in that sense. The limited design aesthetics for books of this type is also apparent at book fairs at academic conferences, too. I noticed it at NAISA, but particularly at CAA, where art books can get fairly arty-looking.

Does this very limited palette of design colors for books about Native peoples reinforce stereotypes about Native peoples? Do these aesthetics imply Native peoples are only authentically located in a distant past? Is this design scheme necessary to sell the books?

Could I please have a hot-pink book about Native American art? A serious book.

Dudes Go to Market

Fig. 2 Terrance Houle, Saddle Up, 2009. Pinhole photograph, digitally enlarged.

Terrance Houle (Bood), Adrian Stimson (Siksika), and Jamison Chas Banks (Seneca-Cayuga/Cherokee), are in Santa Fe this weekend to perform a collaborative performance artwork. The performance is called Buffalo Dudes Go to Market and will take place Saturday, August 18th, 2012 at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) at 4:45 pm.

I’ve written about Houle’s work previously on Not Artomatic, so I am reposting those entries. I’m anticipating a very interesting performance work from Buffalo Dudes. The essay below is about a series of photos taken as part of a performance by Houle at Calgary Stampede. I’m interested to see how Houle, Stimson, and Banks play with the particular dynamics of Santa Fe’s Indian Art Market.

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This  entry is about Terrance Houle’s series of photographs in the exhibition “Friend or Foe” at Or Gallery in Vancouver, BC, 2010. The show, curated by Darrin J. Martens, features work by Rebecca Belmore and Terrance Houle. The front of the gallery displays large pinhole photographs by Houle that he took at the Calgary Stampede in 2009. (See Figure 3). The Calgary Stampede is a ten-day rodeo festival that revels in all things cowboy. And how can you have cowboys without Indians? A makeshift Indian display set out on a sidewalk in front of The Metropolitan Centre features split-log fencing and a scaled down tipi. Houle, who is of Blood tribe ancestry, stands in a loincloth and commercial moccasins in front of the tipi. Each black and white photograph in this series was actually taken at the same moment, using simultaneous exposures from a number of pinhole cameras placed on-site.

Fig. 2 Terrance Houle, Urban Indian, 2004

Several Native/First nations artists work with photographic images that involve the disruptive sight of a semi-traditionally dressed Indian in clearly modern circumstances. Other artists who used some version of this approach are Jason Lujan, Merritt Johnson, Greg Hill, Zig Jackson, James Luna, etc. I think what makes this particular series interesting is the use of the pinhole camera in different locations, all depicting the same moment. If you’re not familiar with how a pinhole camera works, it’s a low-tech process that uses a light-proof box with an aperture and a manual cover. Black and white photographic paper or film is placed on the back wall of the box. No lens is necessary. Pinhole cameras need longer exposure times depending on ambient light, ranging from five seconds to several hours. Obviously, pinhole cameras are not useful for action shots. The first time an image from a pinhole camera was affixed onto paper was in 1850. It is one of the earliest photographic devices, and its precursor, the camera obscura is traceable back to ancient Rome. Houle’s photographs in this exhibition have the classic hallmarks of pinhole photography: crisp, in-focus stationary objects and a slight blur to people (or anything that moves), as well as a noticeable curvature at the periphery.

Fig. 2 Terrance Houle, Saddle Up, 2009. Pinhole photograph, digitally enlarged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most intriguing aspect of this series, and what differentiates it from Houle’s previous photographic work (see Figure 2), is the use of multiple pinhole cameras to capture the same (long) moment. The deliciousness of the idea is one part failure of the Western Cartesian system, one part postmodernism, and one part security camera. To unpack that statement, the Cartesian system assumes that there is a single viewpoint from which a neutral observer can determine the truth with absolute certainty. The spatial distortions that result from this least-mediated photographic technique combined with the use of multiple points of view fly in the face of supposed photographic truth and the “truth” authority of a singular viewpoint. Houle’s method here is symbolic of an overall shift in Western consciousness… away from certainty and absolute truth and toward the recognition of the viewpoints of other cultures – the upside of postmodern thought. (The downside of postmodern thought is the tendency for completely incoherent narrative). As for my “one part security camera,” I perhaps have less ground to stand on with that association, but it’s definitely a thought that occurred to me as I viewed the work in the gallery. The blurriness and distortion of the images resemble stills taken from security camera footage. Usually, we only see those images when a crime has been committed and excerpts from the footage, often from more than one vantage point, are shown to the public in hopes of eliciting information about a crime. There really isn’t a crime, per se, in Houle’s photographs at the Calgary Stampede, unless he has captured a crime against good taste, or a crime against authenticity, the indignity of cultural tourism, or a crime against history. But that’s tourism for you: an uncomfortable mingling of opportunism, appropriation, fantasy, enlightenment, and kitsch.

First Priority: Buy Art that Raises Questions and Makes You Think

The Other First Priority: Buy Native American or First Nations Art

Or maybe I got those in the wrong order

The official “market” part takes place on the streets on Saturday and Sunday, but people began gathering in town in the early part of this week. More artists, curators, scholars, writers, filmmakers, educator, non-profit employees, grantors, community organization representatives, art fans, skateboarders, clothing designers, reporters, bloggers, and socializers, arrive each day. Most everyone is a collector, too, even if we don’t always see ourselves that way. For example, I don’t know a single artist who doesn’t own work by other artists. Sometimes the works were acquired by trade, gifted, or purchased with cash. If you’re a collector not sure what to buy and want something that is “quality” art, look at what artists acquire from each other. What do artists tend to buy from each other? Scale is often a factor. Most artists don’t  have a huge amount of space unless they have been wildly successful. Room to display/store artworks, the likelihood of having to make frequent moves, all factor into the choices we make about what to collect. From casual discussions with artists, I hear that we usually buy pieces that are smaller in scale for exactly those reasons. Anyone who can “go big,” should, of course. Over the past year, I’ve steered a number of casual conversations with artists in the direction of what they themselves have collected from other artists.

SWAIA would prefer we spend all our art dollars inside the confines of the official Indian Market booths, for a number of reasons. From remarks at a series of public talks held at Collected Works Bookstore over the past few weeks, it is clear that there are still a large number of touristy shops (about 60!) in the vicinity of the plaza that claim to be selling “Native American” work but aren’t. Their prices are terribly low and it’s because the jewelry, pots, tchotchkes, etc., are made overseas, usually mass-produced. Some dealers from outside the region also set up trunk-show-type events. In these cases, the money spent on the art doesn’t benefit Native artists, and usually leaves the region or the country entirely. First priority: Buy Native American or First Nations. The Other First Priority, Buy Something that Raises Questions and Makes You Think, is a good piece of advice for art collecting in general. I heard Dorothy and Herbert Vogel speak about their collection of minimalist and conceptualist art years ago. Their story is very interesting; a librarian and a postal service employee in New York city managed to acquire an amazing collection of art over the years and they did it on a budget, buying directly from artists, sometimes in installments. They had a general guideline that the work had to fit into a taxi. The couple donated their collection of over 4000 works of art to the National Gallery of Art in 1992. In 2008, they started a program which donated 50 works to a museum in each of the fifty states. I attended a public talk by the Vogels at the Portland Art Museum in 1997. When they were asked what advice they would give aspiring collectors, Herbert Vogel said people should buy what they like. The couple with the enormously valuable collection advised people not to buy an artwork as an investment, but because they like the art and want to live with it. Their advice made sense to me. If it doesn’t go up in value, at least you can enjoy looking at the artwork and thinking about it for years to come.

Well over a thousand artists are in Santa Fe this week. There is an amazing diversity of kinds of art available. Some of the art is about experience and cannot be purchased at all: performances of music and dance, live paint events, temporary public art, performance art and performance poetry, and free film screenings. We can live with the memories. Other art is work you can take home much more literally, as jewelry, pottery, sculpture, clothing, basketry, textiles, paintings, drawings, photographs. You can take home work that speaks about the past and the future, happiness and sadness, anger and acceptance, wealth and poverty, silliness and seriousness, facts and fictions, boredom and fear, love and hope.

“Zombie Skins: Salon a Vie Morte” opening on Wednesday, August 15, 2012

So Many Artists in One Place

The artists with booths at Indian Market are required to remain in their booths while their booths are open. That makes for a long, tiring day, with no opportunity to visit with other artists during the actual event. Group shows with openings at other venues in the days leading up to market are one way that artists have been making sure they have chances to get together and see each other’s work. Two notable examples of this are the Zombie Skins: salon de la vie mort exhibition and Low Rez: Native American Lowbrow Art. The zombie-themed exhibition is located in the studio of artist America Meredith, who kindly made space available for work by more than twenty artists. Zombie Skins is on exhibition through August 19th, 2012 and is open from 2pm-6pm each day. It is operating something like an artists’ collective, with artists sharing in gallery-sitting duties at 2889 Trades West #E (just off of Siler near Cerillos. It’s an industrial space at the back of the row.) The Low Rez exhibition is at Eggman and Walrus at 131 W. San Francisco. The opening is Friday, Aug 17 from 5:30-9pm. The work will be on exhibit through September 1st. Some of the artists in these two shows also have booths at Market. Here is a handy graphic:

 

Artists in Low Rez: Jamison Chas Banks, Nani Chacon, Brent Greenwood, Amber Gunn Gauthier, April Holder, Topaz Jones, Randy Kemp, Linda Lomahaftewa, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Daniel McCoy, Jr., America Meredith, Chris Pappan, Keith Secola, Jeremy Singer, Monty Singer, Ryan Singer, Hoka Skenandore, Micah Wesley, Debra Yepa-Pappan.

Artists in Zombie Skins: Bryon Archuleta, Roy Boney, Lara Evans, Robert Garcia, Sam Atakra Haozous, Topaz Jones, Daniel McCoy, Melissa Melero, Mary Beth Nelson, Ji Hae Pappan, Colin L. singer, Monty Singer, Julius Badoni, Jamison Chas Banks, Tom Farris, Jeremy Gimmey, Frank Buffalo Hyde, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Marlon Melero, America Meredith, Chris Pappan, Joseph Sanchez, Jerrel Singer, Ryan Singer, Natasha Wagner.

Approaching Quality

America Meredith (Cherokee), “Bringing Harmony into the World,” 2009. Gouache on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

SWAIA is hosting a series of panel discussions this summer on the subject of quality in current Native American art. How is quality discussed in relationship to art in general? What additional aspects of “quality” come to light when the conversation is about quality in art created by Native American artists? How can we talk about quality sensitively, collaboratively, and productively? This is the third blog post on the subject.

The initial blog entry on quality in Native American art defined two broad philosophical categories useful for discussing the first thing that usually comes up: authenticity. (Please see The ‘A’ Word)[1]

Like the public panel discussions, this segment of the blog project begins with the unpacking of assumptions around authenticity. A useful philosophically-based analysis of authenticity of art come from Denis Dutton. He identifies two broad categories of sense: nominative authenticity and expressive authenticity. Nominative authenticity deals with the identification of the artist, the object’s provenance, etc. Basically, anything you need to answer the question, “Is it a fake or not?” For objects being considered as “Native American” or “American Indian” artworks, there is an added layer – is the artist Native American? Because of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) of 1990, legal definitions often determine who is a Native American artist.[2] Dutton’s term expressive authenticity refers to an object’s character as an expression of an individual’s or a society’s values and beliefs. The artists who participated in SWAIA’s first panel on the subject of quality (July 12, 2012) primarily discussed authenticity in terms of the second concept, expressive authenticity, although each artist made clear their “nominative authenticity” by introducing themselves with their tribal affiliations and additional cultural backgrounds.[3] An interesting distinction about nominative authenticity in regard to Native American art is that there is a component that judges the artist’s nominative authenticity, rather than the object’s authenticity. Is it possible that discussing the authenticity of an art object (in this particular case) objectifies the artist rather than acknowledging their agency and subjectivity as human beings?

This first public panel discussion on the subject of quality in Native American art (July 12, 2012) was moderated by Bruce Bernstein, director of SWAIA. The panelists were artists Alex J. Peña (Comanche), America Meredith (Cherokee), Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara/Lakota), and Dr. Matthew Martinez (Ohkay Owingeh), Director of Northern Pueblos Institute and Assistant Professor of Pueblo Indian Studies at Northern New Mexico College.

Dr. Matthew Martinez said the following upon being asked for his thoughts about the idea of quality:

“One of the notions that first came to mind was this idea of the English word of quality. You really can’t translate it from a Tewa perspective into an English sensibility of what quality and value and aesthetics might mean from a tribal perspective. One thing that pueblos often think and practice is this idea of inclusion, and incorporating aspects. There is always this notion of thinking about new ways of understanding through trade, through travel .We can point to our use of coral, shells, the macaw parrot feathers we use in song and ceremony; there have always been these items of travel, trade, and influence. They have become, in a sense, pueblo-ized, or Tewa-ized, if that’s a word. You think about what makes those specifics when it comes to pueblo sensibilities and pueblo religion? They can come from the outside world, so to speak, but they become ours. We don’t own them, but they are ours in the sense, when it comes to using them, to using songs and prayer. When I think about these notions, and working with students, we always point to these examples of trade, travel, and influence. Indian Market is one way to think about this traffic and culture in northern New Mexico and […] our approaches to the art world. I’m not sure I have a quick answer to what quality is, specifically, but it is this notion of how we adapt to new ways of understanding and how we approach art and beauty from a tribal perspective. It’s an ongoing conversation.”[4]

Alex J. Peña , “Too Many Ways to Say Nothing,” Photo Intaglio, Pochoir, Screenprint, and Chine Colle, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Each of the speakers on the July 12th, 2012 panel spoke about their upbringing and the mix of influences they experienced growing up, Native and non-Native. They also spoke about challenges they encountered in their art training in college and graduate school, including the pressures to have their work look identifiably “Indian.” Each of these artists work with content specific to their cultures, experiences, and history, using materials and styles chosen to best communicate their ideas. Their remarks during preparation for the panel, and during the panel itself, responded to particular pressures on Native artists that are embedded in any discussion of “quality,” at least so far: firstly, authenticity of a racial “Indian” identity; secondly, authenticity of materials and style. The perception of authentic materials is commonly expressed as a combination of factors; “old” materials, rare materials, materials that are labor-intensive to obtain, labor-intensive to work with, and “natural” in origin, as in pottery, basketry, or weaving, in particular. Peña, Meredith, and Luger all use materials that, while they may be costly or laborious to work with, are all commercially available and not perceived as particularly “natural.” Artist Alex J. Peña used a brief story from graduate school to transform the conventional discussion of the relationship between quality and authenticity:

“I had an interesting professor in graduate school. After all kinds of critiques, group critiques, with a whole bunch of different students, at the end of all of this, she goes, ‘it only matters to you, if you like it or not.’ So I think that it’s important when talking […] about an idea of honesty, especially when it comes to quality. Is it honest to the artist’s self? Were you trying to make something that looks quality? To make something to make somebody happy, or whatever it is? I really appreciated that one professor’s advice to me. It’s that you’re the one who can look at it and you’re the one who’s going to ultimately assess its quality, or its worth, or whatever it is. All the professors in the world can say all they want to, but it’s you in the end. And so I think that’s important for my work: I need to be honest about who I am and for that to come across in my work, and not force myself into any type of imagery or any type of symbolism or anything that doesn’t feel right to me, or that doesn’t feel honest. So that’s how I assess my own quality of my work. When I feel myself going away from that and I feel myself being coerced by another outside force, then that’s when I start to question my own quality of my work.[5] 

Alex Peña, Mid Summer (Early), 2012, Monotype/Mixed-Media. Courtesy of the Artist

Peña’s recounting of this graduate school exchange uses a small piece of rather normal art school advice to work through an issue he encounters regularly because of the fact that he is Comanche and non-Native. He also reframed the discussion, moving from Denis Dutton’s nominative authenticity to expressive authenticity, which Peña describes as “honesty.” Pena examines his own work’s quality for the artworks honest expression of his influences, experiences, and complicated cultural history.  Prior to the panel, Peña said, “This is my first year at Indian Market, so I’m really interested to see the response to my work. It’s not Native-looking at all. I’m a printmaker mainly. I do a lot of painting and drawing, and I make my own paper.” Another panelist asked if making his own paper, from natural materials, is specifically indigenous.  Peña replied, “I feel like it’s inherent. It’s not something that I consciously have to tell myself every time I make a piece, ‘Alex, you’re Native; you need to do it this way.’ It’s just part of who I am and I how I look at things.” [6]  

Cannupahanska, “Up keep,” 2012, ceramic, wood, EVA sheet, courtesy of the artist.

Cannupa Hanska Luger also responded positively to Peña’s transition to talking about the artist as the starting point for quality. “My work is a subjective byproduct; it’s what’s left over after I have developed the most qualitative aspect, which is like the creation process. I enjoy that part. One once that’s completed, I may end up with something beautiful, or I may not. As far as quality goes, first and foremost, I am the first person to determine whether its quality. Beyond that, it is just a level of acceptance for anybody else, from any viewer.[7] 

Discussing quality in Native art involves pulling in a number of different components. I will return to a quote I used from Dr. Matthew Martinez. He said he did not have a quick answer to what quality is, “but it is this notion of how we adapt to new ways of understanding and how we approach art and beauty…” He spoke about quality as part of a process, not necessarily an end result. The way that Alex Peña and Cannupa Hanska Luger spoke about quality as starting from their own experiences of the process of making artworks may also imply that quality is something one approaches, rather than achieves. From a market-ended perspective, the basic assumption seems to be that quality is an end-result, a tangible object, with a (negotiable) monetary value. As subjective as quality is at the creation-stage even the consumer stage involves highly subjective elements. The terms often used to discuss these subjective elements are aesthetics, authenticity, taste, and style. Most commonly, published discourse on these subjects is from a non-Native point of view. A small number of scholars have worked on devising means of discussing aesthetics from indigenous viewpoints. (For a brief annotated bibliography, see the previous post “Another ‘A’ Word: Aesthetics.”)

America Meredith brought the scholarly work of Heather Ahtone (Choctaw/Chickasaw) to the audience’s attention during the July 12th panel discussion as an example of a useful framework for analyzing some of the differences and similarities in systems of aesthetics. Ahtone’s essay, “Designed to Last: Striving toward an Indigenous American Aesthetic,”[8]analyzes ideas from Steven Leuthold’s book, Indigenous Aesthetics (which focuses on aesthetics in relationship to video and film). Ahtone’s essay works on adapting Leuthold’s consideration of indigenous aesthetics to other art forms.   Ahtone identifies and describes four concepts that may be useful for defining Indigenous Aesthetics: materials, metaphors, cultural reciprocity, and symbolism. Could Ahtone’s components of Indigenous Aesthetics help us talk about “quality” in Native American art in a way that moves beyond discussing the artist’s authenticity or the authenticity of their materials? Ahtone starts with materials, but she does not end there. Her analysis of “cultural reciprocity” could be expanded to consider inter-cultural reciprocity, both as part of the process of artmaking artists are engaging in, but also as part of the cultural exchanges that happen as a result of the art market. The second panel discussion (from July 18th) focused almost exclusively on materials and material processes, defining “authentic” and “inauthentic.” Are materials the only subject possible to discuss when there is a gap in, as Ahtone puts it, cultural reciprocity?

I will close this essay with a quote from artist America Meredith: “What do you aspire to with the art? I think for us it is the harmony ethic. Western art, in grad school, all that people were looking for is something more and more extreme. ‘Take this further!’ That was always the dialogue. And for us I think it is, ‘Make it more balanced. Make it more centered and balanced.’ I think that’s a big difference in conceptualizing quality.”[9]

SWAIA’s next panel on Quality in Native American Art takes place Thursday, August 2nd at 6pm at Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe. Panelists are: Andrea Fisher, Jeff Lewis, John Dressman, Travis Suazo (Laguna, Acoma, Taos), Elizabeth Pettus.

 

RELATEDPOSTS (in Order)

July 12, 2012 The “A” Word

July 18, 2012 Another “A” Word: Asthetics

August 16, 2012 First Priority

 


[1] All links open in a separate window.

[2] A good source for more information on the history, intent, and impact of the IACA of 1990 is by William T. Hapiuk, Jr. “Of Kitsch and Kachinas: A Critial Analysis of the ‘Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990,’”  published in Stanford Law review, Vol. 53, No. 4 (April 2001), pp. 1009-1075.

[4] Matthew Martinez, panel discussion, July 12, 2012 at Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe, NM.

[5] Alex J. Peña, panel discussion, July 12, 2012 at Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe, NM.

[6] Alex J. Peña, personal communication, July 12, 2012.

[7] Cannupa Hanska Luger, panel discussion, July 12, 2012 at Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe, NM.

[8] Heather Ahtone, “Designed to Last: Striving toward an Indigenous American Aesthetic,” in The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Vol. 4, No. 2 (2009) pp. 373-385.

[9] America Meredith, personal communication, July 12, 2012.

“Tonto’s Revenge Dance Party” by Tom Huff

detail view of Tom Huff’s “Tonto’s Revenge Dance Party,” 2011.

“Tonto’s Revenge Dance Party” by Tom Huff

A number of exhibitions at Santa Fe’s Museum of Contemporary Native Arts are about to close on July 31st. I’ve seen images of Tom Huff’s piece elsewhere on the web, but took a short video showing the work from all sides while the turntable is in motion. Perhaps this documentation would be useful to a scholar or student interested in the work who did not get to visit the museum in person.

Tom Huff, who is Seneca, created this artwork for the exhibition  Under the Influence – Iroquois Artists at IAIA (1962-2012). IAIA is the acronym for a college in Santa Fe:  Institute for American Indian Art. IAIA began as a two-year college in 1962 and celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. It has changed a great deal over the years, including growing from a two-year to a four-year college and expanding its campus, acquiring and renovating an historic building into a museum, and building new, state-of-the-art collection storage facilities for its museum, MoCNA.[1]

The exhibition Under the Influence is part of museum programming this year that brings to light some of IAIAs history through the use of artworks in their collection and artworks solicited from former students. Once the current exhibitions come down, 50/50: Fifty Artists, Fifty Years goes up just in time for the 2012 Indian Art Market, on August 17th.

There is a strong sense of very positive regionalism associated with IAIA and its museum. Santa Fe’s art market in general has a strong sense of regionalism. Strong artistic and artisanal practices from the state’s pueblos help maintain that sense of regional identity. The exhibition Under the Influence – Iroquois Artists at IAIA (1962-2012) foregrounds the college’s role as an educational center responsible for bringing together Native American (and First Nations) students from a wide variety tribes and cultural traditions into a shared location. Tom Huff’s turn-table based artwork, titled Tonto’s Revenge Dance Party, has stuck in my mind since seeing the exhibition, not just because it has a central location at the entrance to the exhibition space, but because it has a strong narrative component in addition its moving parts.  The fictional sidekick “Tonto” is currently at the center of debates around the representation of Native peoples through television and movies.[2] As in television and film, the Lone Ranger is the center of the universe. While other parts are in motion and have context, Huff’s Lone Ranger stands immobile – no “ranging” involved. Tonto is represented by a plastic toy Indian  riding a skateboard around the perimeter of the record player’s turntable. The title makes Tonto the center of the action, claiming both revenge (very serious) and dance party. The dance party may actually be equally serious. Reading the text written over the case for the record player reveals a seriousness to the party – putting the “party” into context with the history of IAIA and the history of Native American art. Huff learned stone carving while at IAIA and continues to work with stone as well as mixed media. The text reads in part,

“IT WAS THE YEAR I GOT STONED WITH ALLAN HOUSER AND DOUG HYDE. I SPENT THE SPRING SEMESTER WATCHING MR HOUSER AND DOUG CREATE SCULPTURE. I ADMIRED THE ZEN NATURE OF HOUSER AND THE ROCK AND ROLL WORK ETHIC OF HYDE. ALLAN SUGGESTED THAT I SHOULD CARVE STONE. DOUG ALWAYS HAD COLD BEER. I’M STILL CARVING BECAUSE OF THEM, AND SOMETHINGS GOTTA WASH THE STONEDUST DOWN…  I WAS DISCOVERING THE DIVERSITY OF INDIAN NATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS AND HOW WE ARE DISTINCT AND SIMILAR. LIVING IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY AND CREATING ART THAT CONNECTS US TO OUR CREATION. ENLIGHTENMENT. LIGHT DARK REZ CITY NORTH SOUTH EAST WEST – WE ALL GOT ALONG EXCEPT WHEN THE ZUNIS WERE LOOKING FOR THE NAVAJOS ON FRIDAY NIGHTS AT THE CANTEEN TO GIVE THEM COWBOY BOOTS.”

Another section includes a photograph of Allan Houser with the caption “THE GODFATHER OF CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN SCULPTURE.”

Tom Huff attended IAIA in 1979 and then earned a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 1984. He’s been involved with Atlatl, exhibited his stonework internationally, and curated the exhibition Haudenosaunee Elements at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, NY. Huff was Artist-In-Residence at SUNY Empire State College in 2011.

Tom Huff was only at IAIA for one year, but that year clearly had a lasting impact. If you have the chance to visit MoCNA before Under the Influence closes on July 31st, I highly recommend it. If you can visit the museum again during SWAIA’s 91st Indian Art Market in August, even better! Tom Huff’s Tonto’s Revenge Dance Party is definitely a work worth hunting for, as are many others in the exhibition.


[1] A major resource for the history of IAIA is Joy L. Gritton’s book, The Institute of American Indian Arts: Modernism and U.S. Indian Policy, published in 2000 by University of New Mexico Press. The notes and bibliography are extensive and useful, although the book only covers the inception of the school through 1968. An accounting of the college’s history and analysis of its role in art and education deserves greater attention and scholarship than it has yet received.

[2] The blog Native Appropriations has a number of postings on the subject of Tonto. http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2012/03/why-tonto-matters.html from March 2012 contains links to a number of other articles/blogs related to the subject.

Another “A” Word: Aesthetics

The panelists from SWAIA’s July 12th discussion of “Quality” in Native American Art.

Panel Discussion at Collected Works Bookstore – Thursday, July 19, 2012 – 6pm

Quality in Native American Art

This Thursday brings a continuation of SWAIA’s public panel discussions about the subject of quality in Native American art. Last week’s panel discussion started the task of pulling apart what “quality” might mean when the subject is Native American art. One of the first considerations is authenticity. Last week’s panel complicated what it might mean to make authentic work, from an artist’s perspective and a community perspective. Any discussion of quality in art will eventually bring in another “A” word: AESTHETICS. I put together a brief list of sources that specifically address the concept of “Indigenous Aesthetics” in case the topic interests other readers. This list is a work in progress. Again, this list is limited specifically to “Indigenous Aesthetics.” Aesthetics (in general) is an enormous subject with thousands of possible sources.

Do you have a favorite source not listed here? Add it in the comments section or send me an e-mail.

Ahtone, Heather. “Designed to Last: Striving toward an Indigenous American Aesthetics.” The International Journal of the Arts in Society 4, no. 2 (2009): 373-385.

Heather Ahtone (Choctaw/Chickasaw Nations) is a curator and scholar. She earned a Master’s degree from University of Oklahoma. This journal article analyzes ideas from Steven Leuthold’s book, Indigenous Aesthetics, which focuses on aesthetics in relationship to video and film, and works on adapting his consideration of indigenous aesthetics to address other art forms.  Ahtone’s essay identifies and describes four concepts that may be useful for defining Indigenous Aesthetics: materials, metaphors, cultural reciprocity, and symbolism. Artist America Meredith wrote a post on her blog about Ahtone’s scholarship: Heather Ahtone Reads Beneath the Surface.

McMaster, Gerald and Bruce Bernstein. “The Aesthetic in American Indian Art.” In First American Art: the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of American Indian Art, edited by Bruce Bernstein and Gerald McMaster, pp. 37-56. Seattle: University of Washington Press and NMAI Smithsonian Institution, 2004.

Gerald McMaster is an artist, curator, and author. He is Plains Cree and Blackfoot and currently lives in Toronto, Canada. He earned a Master’s degree in Anthropology and Sociology from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. Bruce Bernstein earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from University of New Mexico. Both authors have worked extensively within museums that exhibit Native American and First Nations art. This chapter, “The Aesthetic in American Indian Art,” was written by Bernstein and McMaster, particularly centered around works collected by Charles and Valerie Diker over a thirty-year period. Their collection intermingled historic-period American Indian works with American and European painting and sculpture. The collectors appreciated their American Indian collection based on their aesthetics, as art objects, rather than ethnographic artifacts. Bernstein and McMaster set out to define a framework for thinking about objects in this collection in terms of indigenous aesthetics. In consultation with a number of other scholars and artists,[1] they defined seven principles of an indigenous aesthetic: idea, emotion, intimacy, movement, integrity, vocabulary, and composition.[2] Other chapters in this book are also useful for considering indigenous aesthetics.

Leuthold, Steven. Indigenous Aesthetics: Native Art, Media, and Identity. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.

This book examines documentary film and video by by Native filmmakers, including Victor Masayesva, Jr. and George Burdeau. The book jacket description says: “What happens when a Native or indigenous person turns a video camera on his or her own culture? Are the resulting images different from what a Westernized filmmaker would create, and, if so, in what ways? How does the use of a non-Native art-making medium, specifically video or film, affect the aesthetics of the Native culture?”

Haberland, Wolfgang. “Aesthetics in Native American Art. In The Arts of the North American Indian: Native Traditions in Evolution, edited by Edwin L. Wade, pp. 107-131. New York: Hudson Hills Press and Philbrook Art Center, 1986.

Wolfgang Haberland wrote this book chapter during his time as curator for the Museum für Völkerkunde in Hamburg, Germany. It focuses on historic-period objects, 1400s-1940s. It provides some research, history, and analysis of particular southwest and northwest coast works (mostly textiles), but the author’s approach to the subject of “aesthetics” assumes the art objects were produced by a primitive and non-literate population.  It is useful as an example of a particular stage in the development of non-Native scholars’ attempts to merge anthropological/ethnographic approaches with art criticism, including brief references to Warburg, Panofsky, and Gombrich.


[1] Bruce Bernstein and Gerald McMaster, “The Aesthetic in American Indian Art,” in Bruce Bernstein and Gerald McMaster, eds., First American Art: the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of American Indian Art, (Seattle: University of Washington Press and NMAI Smithsonian Institution, 2004) 39. Participants in discussions leading to the seven principles of an indigenous aesthetic included the following: Arthur Amiotte (Lakota), Janet Berlo, J.J. Brody, Robert Davidson (Haida), Frank Ettawageshik (Odawa), Harry Fonseca (Maidu), Emil Her many Horses (Lakota), Tom Hill (Seneca), Mary Jane Lenz, Truman Lowe (Ho-Chunk),Peter Macnair, and Ann McMullen.

[2] Bernstein and McMaster, 40.

The “A” Word

Anna Tsouhlarakis, “Aesthetically Speaking I”, 2011. Inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist.

“Whenever the term ‘ authentic’ is used in aesthetics, a good first question to ask is, Authentic as opposed to what?” –Denis Dutton[1]

SWAIA is hosting a series of panel discussions this summer on the subject of quality in current Native American art. How is quality discussed in relationship to art in general? What additional aspects of “quality” come to light when the conversation is about quality in art created by Native American artists? How can we talk about quality sensitively, collaboratively, and productively?

In a fundamental manner, talking about quality involves talking about how we make critical judgments – assessments of value, of the degree of excellence of an art object. The description of the first session, which takes place tonight (Thursday, July 12, 2012) at Collected Works bookstore in Santa Fe, sets up “authenticity” as one of the first determinants of “quality.”

A discussion of “authenticity” could go in numerous directions. I will use a passage from philosopher Denis Dutton to identify some distinctions in the use of the term authenticity: “Despite the widely different contexts in which the authentic/inauthentic is applied in aesthetics, the distinction nevertheless tends to form around two broad categories of sense. First, works of art can possess what we may call nominal authenticity, defined simply as the correct identification of the origins, authorship, or provenance of an object, ensuring, as the term implies, that an object of aesthetic experience is properly named. However, the concept of authenticity often connotes something else, having to do with an object’s character as a true expression of an individual’s or a society’s values and beliefs. This second sense of authenticity can be called expressive authenticity.”[2]

Nominal authenticity therefore involves verifying the identity of the artist, and in the case of Native American art, the tribal affiliations of the artist. Expressive authenticity includes consideration of cultural authenticity, though interest in this this type of authenticity has potentially negative ramifications when analysis of cultural authenticity is influenced by racism, nationalist narratives, and/or cross-cultural misunderstandings.

From the point of view of artists, we might consider the assertion that artistic value is dependent upon whether or not an artwork expresses the authentic values of its maker, especially when those values are also shared by the artist’s immediate community.[3] How “immediate community” gets defined is absolutely crucial for Native artists.

I started this essay with the artwork Aesthetically Speaking I by Anna Tsouhlarakis[4] because it very graphically communicates the experience of carrying on a dialogue about art. The complex visual patterns in the speech balloons convey both more and less to us as viewers than conventional text-filled speech balloons. The body language of the figures indicate one person is speaking earnestly and the other is listening, perhaps with some confusion or skepticism. The contents of their speech balloons appear to be somewhat in opposition, implied by the strong diagonal lines and the hierarchical placement of the two speech balloons. The differences between the contents of the balloons may initially leap out at a viewer, but the two patterns share some features in common. Both are organized in bands of parallel lines and contain repeated geometric patterns. The patterns take up the totality of the field for speech. Each elliptical form shows that the women are discussing a symbol arranged into a pattern, a specific context, not just a symbol in isolation. I am using this artwork to tease out relationships between discourse, interdependent complexity, formal relationships, and categorical distinctions we attempt to make around indigenous art.

Nancy Blomberg, curator for Denver Art Museum wrote in her introduction for the book [Re]inventing the Wheel, “If we accept American Indian art as a valid category for scholarly study, then it must no longer be studied solely in isolation––for it was never created in isolation. American Indian art did not develop in a vacuum. There were many, many influences among different tribes––and from non-Indians. We have all been complicit in a false narrative of purity, immutable tradition, and isolation. We must acknowledge and celebrate the complexities of cross-cultural exchange, because the Taos School, the Hudson River School, and the Santa Fe Studio School of artists did not develop in isolation. Our segregation of American Indian art has not raised awareness; instead we have unwittingly fragmented a common narrative to the detriment of the narrative.”[5]

On that note, SWAIA is bringing together panels of speakers to address “quality” in art. The first panel includes the following: Deborah Jojola (Isleta), Matthew Martinez (Ohkay Owingeh), America Meredith (Cherokee),  Alex Pena (Comanche) and Cannupa Hanska (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, Austrian, Norwegian).

 ——

Event Announcement from SWAIA:

Authenticity in Native Arts, Lecture Series: What does “quality” mean?

July 12, 2012 6:00 pm, Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse 202 Galisteo St. Santa Fe

Free Admission. From its state flag and license plates to the romanticized ideology of the southwest, New Mexico is immersed in Native cultural influences; indeed, Native art is its central identity. With such a broad platform and visibility, the ubiquity and sale of Native art has the potential to be highly lucrative. SWAIA is producing a series of lectures that address these issues directly. As the producer of the Santa Fe Indian Market, SWAIA is the authority on authenticity issues in the Native art world. With panelists including artists, art dealers and experts, the lectures provide a broad and up to date view of the dialogue surrounding these controversial topics.


[1] Denis Dutton, “Authenticity in Art,” in The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, ed. Jerrold Levinson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). Also available online at www.denisdutton.com/authenticity.htm

[4] More works from Tsouhlarakis’s Aesthetics series on can be seen in the catalogue We Are Here: The Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship, 2011, pp. 84-89. Additionally, an installation work, titled “Edges of the Ephemeral,” is on exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe until September 15th, 2012.

[5] Nancy J. Blomberg, “Advancing the Dialogue,” in [Re]inventing the Wheel: Advancing the Dialogue on Contemporary American Indian Art, ed. Nancy J. Blomberg (Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2005) pp. 19-24.