In many Native American communities, women are considered the cultural-bearers and the backbone of society. Historically, they are also the predominant producers of art. And yet, they are one of the most underrepresented groups on the arts scene. Dyani White Hawk aims to change that with “Sinew: Female Native Artists of the Twin Cities,” an exhibition featuring seven Minnesota-based artists from indigenous backgrounds opening this Friday at Artistry in Bloomington.
“If you’re in and around Native communities, you see the strength of Native women and the roles that they have to keep family and community together, healthy, and strong,” White Hawk says. “The title is about that: the strength that our women carry, not only in the arts and in the field, but in the communities. Sinew is crazy strong.”
Still in use today, though it was particularly commonplace prior to the advent of cotton thread, sinew is made into thread by removing animal tendons from bones and drying them.
Artistry’s Rachel Daly contacted White Hawk about launching an exhibition, since the gallery had not been showing Native artists but was interested in doing so.
“Unfortunately, it’s par for the course in regards to mainstream art venues and institutions,” says White Hawk, who is German-Welsh, Sicangu Lakota, and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. She served for almost four years as the gallery director and curator for All My Relations Gallery before moving into a full-time studio practice in northeast Minneapolis in 2015. “We’re still trying to have our voices heard. We’re not as visible and not as readily seen in those places.”
The Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities takeover seemed like the ideal opportunity for Artistry to bring in White Hawk as a curator, and she saw it as a chance to raise awareness about injustices and lack of representation in the arts.
“I wanted to highlight some of the women I feel are the most accomplished, strongest female voices in the Native arts scene in the Twin Cities,” White Hawk says of the roster, which includes Carolyn Lee Anderson, Julie Buffalohead, Andrea Carlson, Elizabeth Day, Louise Erdrich, Heid Erdrich, and Maggie Thompson.
Anderson, of Navajo descent on her mother’s side, has a faithful local following. Her work incorporates painting and weavings informed by familial traditions and stories. Identity is an oft-occurring theme in her work as she explores her bicultural background.
Enrolled Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma member and MCAD graduate Buffalohead paints beautiful yet unsettling human-animal scenes that explore personal, political, and historical narratives.
Carlson, who has exhibited her bold, geometric oil on paper paintings nationally and internationally, is stepping out of her comfort zone and contributing a video piece, in addition to paintings, to the show.
Thompson is the emerging, and youngest, artist of the group. Of Native, Irish, and German ancestry, she is a member of the Fond du Lac Ojibwe tribe. Thompson works predominantly in textiles, selling her wares online under the name Makwa Studio. As an artist, she focuses on themes of blood quantum, what it means to be an “authentic Indian,” cultural appropriation, and stereotypes. She'll be contributing woven photographs at this exhibition.
Finally, Ojibwe filmmaker Day and the authorial Erdrich sisters collaborate on a theatrical interpretation of Louise’s poetry in which Louise acts, Heid directs, and Day acts as videographer.
A common thread throughout the exhibit is that the artists seem to be pushing their own boundaries and experimenting within—and out—of their usual mediums. “It’s not an exhibition where all the artists are expected to reply to a theme,” White Hawk says. “It’s a show that’s curated to highlight some of the strengths that we have in the art community in the Twin Cities.”
IF YOU GO:
"Sinew: Female Native Artists of the Twin Cities"
There will be an opening reception Friday, February 12 from 6 to 8 p.m., and an artists' talk Tuesday, March 1 at 7 p.m.
Through April 1