Exhibitions, such as Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists , mounted by the Smithsonian Institution in its Renwick Galleries, acts as one of the conduits by which Native American art reaches the broader public. The exhibition is “multilingual with descriptive text presented in both the artist’s Native American or First Nations languages, as well as English, aiming to present the works in the context of each artist’s own culture and voice.”

When COVID necessitated closing down the gallery, the exhibit moved online where it presents a rich, textured and interactive experience. There are videos, discussions, blog posts, images, and links to the artists.

One of the posts, “five native American artists in their own words,” provides a snapshot of the exhibition, and weaves together the many threads of experience, tradition, contemporary issues and materials that exemplify the work of native women artists.

Ramona Sakiestewa (Hopi), Nebula 22 & 23 (diptych), 2009, tapestry, wool warp and dyed wool weft.

Ramona Sakiestewa (Hopi) melds the native American tradition of weaving, looking to the sky, and cultural/self expression. She drew inspiration for this tapestry, “Nebula 22 & 23” from images transmitted by the Hubble Space Telescope.

National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution© J Growing Thunder.

Three generations of artists, Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty, Junita Growing Thunder Fogarty, and Jessa Rae Growing Thunder of the Dakhóta/Nakoda Nation created this dress, “Give Away Horses,” from deer hide, glass beads, canvas, thread, leather, moose hide, German silver, porcupine quills, feathers, elk hide, brass bells, ribbon, silk ribbons, and brass thimbles. Members of this family are known for their bead and quill work. Listen to these women discuss their family legacy of  beadwork.

© Kelly Church

Kelly Church (Ottawa/Pottawatomi), wove this basket. “Sustaining Traditions – Digital Memories” from black ash, sweet grass. Church says the flash drive she placed inside the basket, contains “all the teachings of the past, all of the things happening today, and all of the things we need to do in the future to sustain this tradition [basket weaving].”

She also seeks to convey a sense of urgency about the destruction caused by the emerald ash borer. This invasive insect is decimating ash trees the traditional source of basket material for her people

© Cherish Parrish/ Photo by Richard Church, Odawa-Pottawatomi.

Cherish Parrish, like Kelly Church, utilizes traditional weaving materials (black ash and sweet grass), to create basketry that speaks to the past, present and future of her people – the Odawa & Pottawatomi – Gun Lake Band.

To Parrish, this life-sized representation of a pregnant woman (The Next Generation – Carriers of Culture) is “a generational gift that needs to be passed on . . . [b]eing a carrier of culture, that’s what you are as a Native woman.” Listen to Parrish talk about how she shaped her piece.

Nellie Two Bear Gates/ Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Art

This exhibition represents the art/work of “Native women from past, present, and future.” Nellie Two Bear Gates (Iháƞktȟuƞwaƞna Dakhóta, Standing Rock Reservation) created this valise from 1880 to 1910. She, like so many Native children, suffered the trauma of being forcibly separated from her family (in the southwest)to attend boarding school (in Missouri). When she returned to her people, she “deeply reembraced her Dakhóta culture,” using traditional skills to create a piece that bridges Native and European cultures.

image: Belcourt, “Wisdom of the Universe” from the exhibit.