Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a member today »

Dennis Belindo (U.S., Kiowa/Navajo; 1938-2009), “Kiowa Blackleggins” (1990), serigraph, 14 3/4 x 11 in. (courtesy Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman; & the artist’s estate)

OKLAHOMA CITY — With nearly 100 prints from artists around North America, Enter the Matrix: Indigenous Printmakers at the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones. Jr. Museum of Art (FJJMA) celebrates the medium’s rise in the 20th century. The exhibition opened last month, structured around several communities and institutions that elevated printmaking from a complicated reminder of paper’s role in controlling and relocating indigenous tribes, to a dynamic surface of cultural exchange.

Tommy Wayne “T.C.” Cannon (U.S., Kiowa/Caddo; 1946-1978), “Big Soldier” (1973), linocut, 39 1/2 x 34 1/2 in. 
(courtesy Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman; © Joyce Cannon Yi) (click to enlarge)

Enter the Matrix, organized by Heather Ahtone, FJJMA’s assistant curator of Native American and non-Western art, starts roughly with the Kiowa Five, who joined as a collective in a University of Oklahoma studio space set up by the art department’s director Oscar Jacobson in the 1920s. While printmaking wasn’t central at first, the group’s Kiowa artists, like Stephen Mopope and Jack Hokeah, found the medium amenable to their flat-style painting that was inspired by traditions of 19th-century ledger art. The Kiowa Five weren’t the only indigenous artists getting attention in the early 20th century art world, but their participation in the 1932 Venice Biennale and perhaps more significantly the creation of a 24-print portfolio of their work brought it far beyond the state lines of Oklahoma. Contemporary artists included in the exhibition, such as Dennis Belindo with his “Kiowa Blackleggins” (1990) serigraph, show the enduring influence of Mopope and the rest of the Kiowa Five with the two-dimensional perspective and vivid colors compacting energy on the paper.

Wendy Red Star (U.S., Crow; b. 1981), “Enit” (2010), lithograph, 22 3/8 x 30 in. (Image provided by Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, courtesy of the artist)

“When you think about the impact that paper has had and that indigenous artists have transformed this material into a conduit for expressing culture on terms set by the Native community — the medium becomes an important tool for ‘survivance,’ Gerald Vizenor’s term to express both survival and resistance/continuance,” Ahtone explained to Hyperallergic. “Working on this project over the last two years has shown me how little has been done to consider printmaking by indigenous artists within scholarship.”.

Other included artists such as the Potawatomi Woody Crumbo harnessed printmaking in the 1950s to share his flat-perspective paintings with the masses, such as his blue and wild-maned “Spirit Horse” and “Ghost Horse” facing off in the gallery. As the century progressed, other organizations like the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, Inuit print studios in Canada, and the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque fostered their own communities, offering studios and technical accessibility. In 1992, the Crow’s Shadow Institute started in Blue Mountains foothills in Oregon, established in a former mission schoolhouse on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Back in 2013 the National Museum of the American Indian in New York hosted its own small exhibition on the institute, which continues to share artistic development and its community and economic opportunities. Joe Feddersen’s “Wyit View” (2003) lithograph from the institute contrasts geometric patterns with the outline of a planned housing development that would have encroached on a burial site, and Wendy Red Star’s “enit” lithograph, adapts a scene from a slide discovered in her mom’s basement from the 1970s Crow Reservation and morphs the colors of the blankets draped on a car into a lined sunset. A few more examples from Enter the Matrix are below (no photography is allowed in the exhibition itself), where dialogue on cultural traditions in art finds a crossroads in the adaptable medium of printmaking.

Joe Feddersen (U.S., Colville Confederated Tribes; b. 1953), “Wyit View” (2003), lithograph, 140 x 30 in. (Image provided by Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, courtesy of the artist)

Grey Cohoe (U.S., Navajo; 1944-1991), “Battle of the Night Birds” (1967), etching, 22 3/4 x 19 3/4 in. (courtesy Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman; The James T. Bialac Native American Art Collection)

Rudolf Carl “R.C.” Gorman (U.S., Navajo; 1932-2005), “Spider Woman” (1977), lithograph, 14 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. (Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman; & the artist’s estate)

Benjamin Harjo, Jr., (U.S., Seminole/Shawnee; b. 1945), “Singing for the Rain” (1993), monotype, 23 x 17 in. (courtesy Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman; & the artist)

Melanie Yazzie (U.S., Navajo; b. 1966) & Nick Tupara (New Zealand, Maori; b. 1962), “Caring” (2011), mixed-media monotype, 22 1/2 x 13 1/4 in. (Loan courtesy of Melanie Yazzie, use courtesy of artists)

Enter the Matrix: Indigenous Printmakers continues through January 17, 2016 at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma (555 Elm Avenue, Norman, Oklahoma).

Support Hyperallergic

As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever. 

Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.

Become a Member

Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...