First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 73

REVIEWS Matika Wilbur (Swinomish-Tulalip), and Missy Whiteman (Nor thern Arapaho-Kickapoo). The last and largest gallery presents part three of the exhibition, the 2000s to today. Relationship to the land and processing continuous collective trauma—which are, of course, fused together—remain strong themes. History is Painted by the Victors by Kent Monkman (Cree) depicts a kind of fête galante with 19th-century soldiers lounging around a crystal-clear lake in the mountains. An artist, wearing hot pink, thigh-high boots, stands in the center painting winter count-style cavalry. Monkman engages the viewer á la Thomas Cole, Charles Willson Peale, Diego Velázquez, and many other artists before. Monkman appropriates not only Albert Bierstadt’s landscape but also Thomas Eakins’s Swimming Hole (1883), with important changes. Eakins painted his nude subjects turned away from the viewer or modestly hiding their genitalia behind bent knees. Monkman’s blonds and gingers are on full display, heightening the scene’s eroticism. Parallels can be made to the approaches of Kehinde Wiley and Titus Kaphar, two painters whose work brilliantly confronts historical redactions. Shanawdithit, the Last of the Beothuk (2001) by Rebecca Belmore (Lac Seul Ojibwe) allies with woven baskets by Shan Goshorn (Eastern Band Cherokee) to mourn and honor losses of land and women’s lives. Belmore suggests a woman’s desperate last moments struggling to escape out a window. Hands rest on a shelf and tired feet drag behind; the mind easily fills in the gap with a body, yet it is also palpably absent. Strands of hair hanging from the wrists symbolize a very personal gift she gave European ethnographers as one means to document her people. The historical Shanawdithit (Beothuk) died in 1829 from tuberculosis. Belmore’s work connects this individual woman’s death to the genocide of the Beothuk and many more Indigenous peoples, including the ongoing atrocity of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Weaving strands of printed paper, Goshorn’s sculptures reveal only snippets of text and broken images. As described by the curators, “Paper has been used above James Lavadour (Walla Walla), Shake, 2014, oil on panel, 63 × 110 in. as a weapon against Indigenous people for centuries, in the form of maps and treaties. Through the process of splicing and weaving the paper as part of a cultural practice, Goshorn destroys the history associated with the maps and re-presents them from an Indigenous point of view.” Work by Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq-Athabascan) relates in many ways to organic, fragile forms of Eva Hesse. Kelliher-Combs’s Orange Curl (2012) consists of 14 arm-like appendages pinned to a wall. Semi-glossy, the sculptures are made of acrylic polymer with human hair, archival ink, and cotton fabric. The forms derive from Kelliher-Combs’ ties to salmon fishing. Their apparent plasticity leads one to consider food toxicity and the effects of oil extraction, which links it directly with ongoing land and water use disputes. Two works made for the 2016 Standing Rock protests placed just beside Orange Curl bolster this theme: remnants from Mirror Shield Project by Cannupa Hanska Luger (Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara- Lakota) and The Water Serpent, a video by Rory Wakemup (Bois Forte Ojibwe). Drawing and Driving is installed outside the exhibition galleries. In 2006 Steven Yazzie (Navajo) constructed a gravity-powered vehicle equipped with a drawing board and digital cameras, in which he documented himself creating drawings of the landscape while coasting down bumpy hills. The results are similar to William Anastasi’s improvisational drawings made as he rode the subway in the eighties—dynamic explosions of fine, somewhat controlled lines. Unfortunately Yazzie’s drawings were not available for exhibition. Concise chronologies of any lineage in art history present the easiest targets for criticism. Every historian, author, professor, curator, or scholar has different justifiable reasons for which artists must be included, what works best exemplify central concepts, or which changed ways of understanding and making should be presented. Anyone who teaches art history survey courses is familiar with ongoing conversations over which text is better or worse and how individual instructors edit and supplement the standard material to craft the best experience for students. It is important to be mindful of this when approaching this retrospective exhibition, which claims to be the first survey of contemporary Indigenous art. Yes, there are omissions; however, the museum and the exhibition’s curators should be commended for choosing this topic over another well-worn but profit-sure subject. Overviews of contemporary Indigenous art must be repeated again and again until visitors no longer wonder aloud, “What do they mean by Indigenous?” The exhibition runs to January 7, 2019, and will travel to the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in New Mexico, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in North Carolina, and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Tennessee. A catalogue is available from University of Arkansas Press. —Andrea L. Ferber, PhD WINTER 2018/19 | 71