Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Students Selected for Native American Heritage Month Programs the Congressional Exhibition Project & DIGITAL NATIVES

IAIA President Dr. Robert Martin and Soul of Nations Executive Director Ernest Hill with the DIGITAL NATIVE students. Photo by Jason S. Ordaz. Courtesy of IAIA

Published November 28, 2018

SANTA FE  —  IAIA student Gregory Ballenger (Diné) was selected to participate in the SOUL OF NATIONS Congressional Exhibition Project’s second Native American Art Reception, a celebration in honor of Native American Heritage Month. As part of the program, Ballenger attended the reception and display of his artwork on November 14, 2018, in Washington, DC at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. During the reception, emerging artists Ballinger and Quanshai Abeyta  (Diné) discussed their artistic vision while explaining how their artworks reflect the project’s theme “Native American Dream.”

New Mexico Senator, and long-time IAIA supporter, Tom Udall, was an honorary host for the reception. Senator Udall has been a catalyst for the progression of Native people and is currently theVice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. At the event Congressman Raúl Grijalva, a member of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, and avid advocate for Native American suicide prevention, addressed the attendees.
The goal of the Congressional Exhibition Project is to demonstrate how visual art and policy can work hand-in-hand. This presentation debuted a talented group of Indigenous high school and college artists.
In addition, over 20 artists’ work will be displayed in the United States Russell Senate Building Rotunda in Washington, DC beginning Tuesday, November 27, 2018.
Gregory Ballenger is a Studio Arts major at the Institute of American Indian Arts. His piece, entitled Fill the Void, is a boundary-pushing aesthetic statement for the promotion of unity between Indigenous and politically charged spaces. Ballenger depicts Native plight while examining the ever-present sociological and constitutional incision that has hindered the progression of Indigenous cultural sovereignty since the settler-colonial era. Ballenger: “My dream is to create a life that is completely liberated from colonial violence and oppression. I use art to fill the philosophical void created by western thought and reasoning.”
Quanshai Abeyta is a high school Senior at Alamo Navajo School. Abeyta’s piece, entitled Dream Catcher, is an abstract representation of encapsulated dark thought utilized as a progressive tactic of encouragement for remaining unbowed while facing the ongoing spiritual battle synchronous to Indigenous life. Abeyta: “Natives go through so much pain that we have to come up with our own sense of protection from darkness and danger. That’s when our dream catchers come to us. As Native people, we must fight for our Brothers and Sisters.”
During the reception, Ballenger introduced a special video installation that was created in collaboration between select students (including himself) who attend the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Institute of Sainte-Marie in Brussels, Belgium. This creative collaboration was administered through a program called DIGITAL NATIVES and is facilitated by BOZAR – Center for Fine Arts Brussels and Soul of Nations. DIGITAL NATIVES is an international art-making exchange that connects Native American students and Belgian migrant students for the purpose of examining culture, identity, and displacement. Collaborating Artists in the program this year are: Michael Begay (Navajo/Santo Domingo Pueblo), Melverna Aguilar (Santa Domingo Pueblo),Maddie Lamb (Muscogee Creek), Gregory Ballinger (Diné), Delaney Keshena (Menominee),Jaida Grey Eagle (Oglala Sioux), Ufitinema Birekeraho (Congo: Kinshasa-bangala Tribe; Mongo and Ngombe Clans), and Arlette Birekeraho (Rwanda: Hutu Tribe).

Gregory Ballenger Photo by Eric Davis. Courtesy of IAIA

IAIA President Dr. Robert Martin (Cherokee) commented that “This partnership with Soul of Nations and BOZAR provides opportunities for our talented students to collaborate with other artists from Brussels in showcasing their art and creativity in national and international venues”.

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