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In April, the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) announced that this year’s Indian Market, the largest and most important Native arts market in the United States, would be postponed until 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. SWAIA has announced that it will partner with the Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists to produce a virtual market this summer.
For this series, we asked curators and members of the Native arts community to spotlight five artists whose work they were looking forward to seeing at the 2020 Indian Market, with the hope that this can play a small part in making up for some of the exposure lost from the postponement of this year’s market. Our goal is to highlight Native artists who have continued to make important work amid these trying times. You can find past spotlights here.
Christina E. Burke has been Curator of Native American and Non-Western Art at Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, OK since August 2006. During that time she has helped acquire three major collections of Native art, curated temporary exhibitions and long-term installations, and written about historical and contemporary Native art. She has juried many competition of Native art and served on several boards, including the Native American Art Studies Association (NAASA) and the Advisory Board for the traveling exhibition, Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists. With interests in Native art, material culture, and language, she has more than 30 years of experience working on a variety of collaborative projects with Native people at such institutions as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, as well as Philbrook.
Wade Patton (Oglala Lakota): Patton works in various media, including drawing on pages of historical ledger paper. Instead of interpreting traditional pictographs, Patton creates unique dream-like scenes of the wide open Plains using nuanced shading of cloud formations that bring to life the expanse of his homelands. He also illustrates close-ups of these clouds on his signature cuff bracelets, detailing their curvilinear nature in bright, faceted beads that capture and redirect light with the slightest turn of the wrist.
Verma Nequatewa (Hopi Pueblo) and Kenneth Williams, Jr. (Northern Arapaho/Seneca): These two artists are well-known in their own rights (jewelry and beadwork, respectively), but for the past few years they have worked together on a series of large, mixed media pieces that amaze and delight. These vividly beaded boxes and bags focus on themes, one of which was the late, great Hopi jeweler, Charles Loloma, Verma’s uncle and long-time mentor. Nequatewa and Williams continue to be inspired by Loloma’s vision, finding beauty all around them, including in the dynamics of their collaboration.
Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dene/Cree): Esquiro pushes all kinds of boundaries in her cutting edge designs, blending traditional and contemporary materials and techniques, like laser-cut rabbit fur with precious metal beads. Her pieces are beautiful and luxurious, but not frivolous. She uses the runway as a signal booster for her unforgettable work, and to raise awareness about such critical issues as the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
George Alexander (Muscogee-Creek): Alexander, who has studied painting in Santa Fe and Florence, Italy, creates compositions that bristle with tension between the realistic figures of humans and animals set in abstracted backgrounds of rich, saturated color. One of his series features a man perhaps Alexander himself, whose identity is obscured by a space helmet. This anonymous Everyman observes the world through a lens that filters out difference and division allowing him to focus on the powerful commonalities among us.
Juan de la Cruz (Santa Clara Pueblo): Like many Pueblo potters, de la Cruz comes from a family of artists, yet his style is uniquely his own. His pieces are exquisitely painted with natural pigments he sources and processes himself. The finely detailed figures illustrate traditional narratives and contemporary stories. The artist knows his materials and media well, as he deftly draws the viewer’s eyes around the three-dimensional canvas of his vessels.