The “Hearts of Our People” exhibition is devoted entirely to the art of Native American women past and present. Above, Náhookǫsjí Hai (Winter in the North)/Biboon Giiwedinong (It Is Winter in the North) by D.Y. Begay (Navajo), 2018, wool and natural dyes.
Addison Doty/Minneapolis Institute of Art
One thousand years of Native American women’s art is currently traveling around the country, being featured at major museums.
“The whole idea to wipe us off the face of the Earth didn’t work,” says Anita Fields, an Osage artist in the show. “So we’re still very powerfully here.”
“Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists” is now on view at Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., just across the street from the White House. It’s the third stop on a tour that also includes Minnesota, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone–Bannock), Adaptation II, 2012, shoes designed by Christian Louboutin, leather, glass beads, porcupine quills, sterling silver cones, brass sequins, chicken feathers, cloth, deer rawhide, and buckskin
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Of course, legendary Native women artists — such as Puebla potter Maria Martinez — have been featured in solo exhibitions, including at the Renwick Gallery. And Native women’s work has long been shown in major museums such as the Smithsonian. But that does not mean it was recognized as such.
“It wasn’t being called Native women’s art,” points out Fields. “It was: The war shirt that was worn by the warrior, and so it was named for him.”
Native women’s art was usually anonymized and identified by tribal affiliation when exhibited in museums, says co-curator Jill Ahlberg Yohe. “This was a Nez Perce object, or an Apache dress,” she explains by way of example. The names of the artists have been lost.
Yohe and co-curator Teri Greeves, who’s Kiowa, assembled an advisory board in 2014 of Native women artists, curators and scholars who selected the work represented in “Hearts of Our People,” along with some non-Native scholars. The exhibition’s art ranges from an ancient pot from 1,000 CE — presumably made by a Hohokam woman in the part of the country that’s now Arizona — to the colorful, contemporary tapestries, ruminative and reminiscent of watercolors, created by Hopi artist Ramona Sakiestewa called Nebula 22 & 23.
Ramona Sakiestewa (Hopi), Nebula 22 & 23 (diptych), 2009, tapestry, wool warp and dyed wool weft. Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation
“I’m very interested in deep space,” Sakiestewa explains in an exhibition video. “Like the cosmos, and stars, because that’s a scientific vocabulary that indigenous people in the Americas have had. But I think everyone thinks we’re just out collecting nuts and berries, and that’s it — not that our cultures are based in really deep science.”