Frist Art Museum Presents Groundbreaking Exhibition Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists

Christi Belcourt (Métis). The Wisdom of the Universe, 2014. Acrylic on canvas. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Purchased with funds donated by Greg Latremoile, 2014, 2014/6. © Christi Belcourt

Published August 6, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Frist Art Museum presents Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists, the first major museum exhibition exclusively devoted to Native women artists from all over the United States and Canada, ranging across time and media. Organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) and developed in close cooperation with leading Native artists and historians, the groundbreaking exhibition offers multiple perspectives to enhance understanding of Native art practices. Hearts of Our People will be on display in the Ingram Gallery from September 27, 2019, through January 12, 2020.

Women have long been the creative force behind Native art; however, their cultural contributions have been overlooked historically. Hearts of Our People not only helps visitors understand the traditional role of Native women artists in serving the cultural, economic, diplomatic, and domestic needs of their communities, but also goes beyond the longstanding convention of treating these artworks as unattributed representations of entire cultures. The contemporary works on view, in particular, highlight the intentionality of the individual artist and demonstrate how artists have been influenced by the preceding generations.

Approximately 115 objects made from ancient times to the present day are featured, including traditional textiles, baskets, beadwork, and pottery, as well as painting, photography, sculpture, video, and installation art. The works are drawn from Mia’s permanent collection and loans from more than 30 institutions and private collections.

The exhibition is organized by Jill Ahlberg Yohe, PhD, associate curator of Native American Art at Mia, and Teri Greeves, an independent curator and artist and member of the Kiowa Nation. During each step of the curatorial process, the curators worked closely with an all-women Exhibition Advisory Board, which they established to provide knowledge and insights from a wide range of nations. The panel comprises 21 Native and non-Native scholars from across North America, as well as Native artists, some of whose work is included in the exhibition and accompanying catalogue. The panel worked collaboratively to develop the major themes of the exhibition and advise on the objects selected, as well as to determine the structure and content of the catalogue, programming, and community engagement activities.

The exhibition planning process began with a question: Why do Native women make art? The curatorial team responded by organizing the exhibition into three core themes: Legacy, Relationships, and Power. In Legacy, visitors will see ways in which Native women artists acknowledge their lineage while simultaneously addressing the present moment and speaking to the future. For example, Rose Simpson (b. 1983) customized her 1985 El Camino to evoke the blackware style of Pueblo pottery made famous decades ago by Maria Martinez (1887–1980), paying homage to a traditional design, while also transforming the vehicle into an empowering and modern identity statement.

Rose B. Simpson (Santa Clara Pueblo). Maria, 2014. 1985 Chevy El Camino. Courtesy of the artist.
© 2014 Rose B. Simpson. Image © Kate Russell

The second section, Relationships, presents examples of how bonds exist within the human community and beyond to include animals, the weather, the earth, and other entities the Western world does not typically recognize as having volition and agency. Métis artist Christi Belcourt (b. 1966) hopes that paintings like Wisdom of the Universe will remind viewers of the interconnected nature of existence on this planet. The highly detailed depictions of an array of vegetation inhabited by small insects and birds (all of which are on Canadian endangered lists) evoke First Nations beadwork art. Belcourt encourages us to abandon unsustainable paths in favor of an abiding relationship with the earth.
The exhibition planning process began with a question: Why do Native women make art? The curatorial team responded by organizing the exhibition into three core themes: Legacy, Relationships, and Power. In Legacy, visitors will see ways in which Native women artists acknowledge their lineage while simultaneously addressing the present moment and speaking to the future. For example, Rose Simpson (b. 1983) customized her 1985 El Camino to evoke the blackware style of Pueblo pottery made famous decades ago by Maria Martinez (1887–1980), paying homage to a traditional design, while also transforming the vehicle into an empowering and modern identity statement.

Freda Diesing (Haida). Mask, Old Woman with Labret, 1974. Alderwood, paint, hair, cedar bark, abalone, glass beads, moose
hide, and bone or plastic. Royal British Columbia Museum,
Victoria, RBCM15057. © Canadian Westcoast Art.
Photo: Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

The third section of the exhibition, Power, includes works created for diplomatic purposes and to express the power of older women within a community. The mask made by Haida artist Freda Diesing suggests the woman’s status through the abalone shell adornment and her lip piercing, or labret. The hand-carved work also reveals the power of women as artists. While anthropologists and art historians have historically identified Haida carving as a male activity, Diesing defied these assumptions and brought a greater awareness to the fact that women have long created carvings in the Northwest.

“Throughout the exhibition, visitors will see similarities across cultures and communities, but they will also notice many differences,” says Frist Art Museum Curator Katie Delmez. “Native Americans are not a monolithic group, and each tribe, nation, or community has its own unique culture, history, and present. Perhaps most important, each Native artist, like artists the world over, brings her own life experience, skill, and individual style to her art.”

The Hearts of Our People Exhibition Advisory Board members include:

heather ahtone, Choctaw/Chickasaw, senior curator, American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, Oklahoma City; D. Y. Begay, Navajo artist, Santa Fe; Janet Berlo, professor of art history and visual and cultural studies, University of Rochester; Susan Billy, Pomo artist, Ukiah, California; Katie Bunn-Marcuse, director and managing editor, Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art, Burke Museum, Seattle; Christina Burke, curator, Native American and non-Western art, Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa; Kelly Church, Anishinaabe artist and educator, Michigan; Heid Erdrich, Ojibwe writer and curator, Minneapolis; Anita Fields, Osage artist, Tulsa; Adriana Greci Green, curator, Indigenous arts of the Americas, The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville; Carla Hemlock, Mohawk artist, Kahnewake; Graci Horne, Dakhóta, independent curator, Minneapolis; Nadia Jackinsky, Alutiiq art historian, Anchorage; America Meredith, Cherokee, publishing editor of First American Art Magazine, Oklahoma City; Nora Naranjo Morse, Santa Clara artist, Española; Cherish Parrish, Anishinaabe artist and educator, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Ruth Phillips, Canada Research Professor and professor of art history, Carleton University; Jolene K. Rickard, Tuscarora, artist and associate professor of the history of art and visual studies, Cornell University, Ithaca; Lisa Telford, Haida artist, Seattle; and Dyani White Hawk, Lakȟóta artist and curator, Minneapolis.

Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists, a compilation of essays, personal reflections, and poems by 20 members of the Exhibition Advisory Board and other leading scholars and artists in the field. Published by Mia and distributed by the University of Washington Press, it will be available for purchase in the Frist Art Museum’s gift shop.

Exhibition Credit

Organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Public Programs


Friday, September 27                                                                    Hearts and Hands:

6:30 p.m.                                                                        New Perspectives on Native Women’s Art

Frist Art Museum Auditorium

Free; first come, first seated

Hearts of Our People co-curators Jill Ahlberg Yohe and Teri Greeves (Kiowa) are joined by two members of the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Native Exhibition Advisory Board, heather ahtone (Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw) and America Meredith (Cherokee Nation), for this panel discussion of the exhibition. See FristArtMuseum.org for more about the panelists.

Panelists: Jill Ahlberg Yohe, associate curator of Native American art, Minneapolis Institute of Art; heather ahtone, senior curator, The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum; Teri Greeves, curator, Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists; and America Meredith, artist and editor, First American Art Magazine.

Saturday, October 12                                                Studio Workshop: Beaded Medallions 

1:00–5:00 p.m.                                                           presented by Chelsea Kaiah, artist and teaching

Frist Art Museum Studio B                                           assistant 

$50 members; $60 not-yet-members

(all supplies, gallery admission, and parking validation included).
18+ only. Space is limited. All skill levels welcome.
Register at FristArtMuseum.org/studio by October 4.

 

Learn more about Native American beadwork featured in the exhibition Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists in this hands-on workshop. After a tour of the exhibition, artist and Frist Art Museum teaching assistant Chelsea Kaiah (Ute, Apache) will teach introductory beading techniques used by artist Jamie Okuma (Luiseño, Shoshone-Bannock). Participants will make their own beaded medallions, inspired by Adaptation II, Okuma’s embellished Christian Louboutin heels.

Thursday, October 24                                               Curator’s Tour

Noon                                                                            Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists 

Meet at the exhibition entrance                                   presented by Katie Delmez, curator

Free to members; admission required
for not-yet-members

 

Members-Only Curator’s Tour will be held on Friday, October 25, at noon.

 

Join curator Katie Delmez on this one-hour tour to explore the themes of legacy, power, and relationships that connect the works in the exhibition Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists.

Sunday, October 27                                                   Family Festival Day: Hearts of Our People 

1:00–5:30 p.m.

For all ages

Free. First come, first served, while supplies last

Celebrate the legacy, relationships, and power of women artists as we explore artwork from Native North America, spanning prehistory to the present. Visitors of all ages are invited to enjoy a FREE day of performances, gallery programs, and studio activities inspired by the exhibition Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists. Details will be posted at FristArtMuseum.org/familyday.

Thursday, November 14                                           Artist’s Perspective: Rose B. Simpson
6:30 p.m.
Auditorium
Free; first come, first seated

Rose B. Simpson is a mixed-media artist from Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Her work engages ceramic sculpture, metals, fashion, performance, music, installation, writing, and custom cars. Simpson’s stunning restored 1985 Chevrolet El Camino, inspired by traditional Tewa black on black pottery and named after the artist Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo, opens the exhibition Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists. Hear more about her artistic process and her work during this lecture.

Rose B. Simpson received an MFA in ceramics from Rhode Island School of Design in 2011, and an MFA in creative non-fiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2018. Her work is collected in museums across the continent and has been exhibited internationally.

 

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