Art show illuminates Native American roots

by Andrew Donohue

On the wall hangs a huge blown-up photograph — a worn portrayal of a Native American family with three kids surrounding their emotionless father.
One simple message is scribbled over the picture in oil paint. It reads: “We lost our language.”
The photograph is part of one of the two exhibits on display at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery in Willey Hall that celebrate contemporary Native American art. The exhibits, “We Are Many, We Are One” and “We Are All Related,” began their visit to the University on Wednesday and will continue through May 22.
“This exhibit is a way for the community to experience Native American art that you wouldn’t expect to see. It is not just paintings of buffalo and deer,” said Jeffrey Chapman, a contributing artist and curator of the local exhibit. Chapman is also a lecturer at the University.
Displaying the work of 36 nationally known Native American artists, “We Are Many, We Are One” is drawing its year-long Midwest tour to a close with the University as its last stop. The exhibit, which began at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in February 1997, traveled to regional universities with the goal of widening the awareness of diverse indigenous art in the United States.
The national exhibit boasts work from representatives of 25 different Native American nations. It was curated by national activist and contemporary Native American artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, whose own work contributes to the exhibit.
“Art — expression of any kind — is an important component to Indian peoples all around the country,” said Justin Huenemann, assistant director of the American Indian Learning Resource Center.
“It has all kinds of roots from the different regions around the country,” Huenemann said. “The art is not just a surface expression, it has to do with spirituality or telling a story or history.”
The second exhibit, “We Are All Related,” was composed of work by Minnesota artists. Curated by Chapman and a local artist, Jim Denomie, the exhibit combines printmaking, photography and sculpture to celebrate their culture and give social commentary.
“It is great that the real world actually seeps into the University,” said Peter Lowe, a photography graduate student who viewed the exhibits. “Often there is a divide between communities outside the University and the University community.”
The work spanning the walls, floors and ceilings of the Nash Gallery represents everything from the ancestral traditions of Native American nations to commentary on indigenous assimilation.
“It’s wonderful because American Indian art and artistic expression are the most viable and lively forms of art, not only among minorities, but also in the mainstream,” said Carol Miller, professor of American Indian studies. “It is giving people a chance to deconstruct the preconceptions of the doomed or vanished Indian.”