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Curator Heather Ahtone Picks Five Artists to Watch From Indian Market

In this ongoing series, curators and members of the Native arts community share five artists they were looking forward to seeing at the 2020 Indian Market, which has been postponed to 2021.

Michael Elizondo Jr., “UNIVERSAL II” (2016), acrylic on board, 33 x 40 inches (courtesy the artist)

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.

As Senior Curator at First Americans Museum (FAM) in Oklahoma City, heather ahtone examines the intersection between Indigenous cultural knowledge and contemporary art. Working in the Native arts community since 1993, she has curated numerous exhibits, publishes regularly, and continues to seek opportunities to broaden discourse on global contemporary Indigenous arts. She is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and descended from the Choctaw Nation.

heather ahtone (photo by Jennifer Scanlan)

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Ungelbah Davila, “Her Hair, Herstory: Resistance, Rebellion & Resilience” (courtesy the artist)

Ungelbah Davila (Navajo): Indian Market is an excellent opportunity to learn about artists whose works may not fit the customary expectation for Indigenous art. Ungelbah’s photography uses light as a weapon, moving across the surfaces, whether faces or architecture, skimming the edges and cutting to the emotion hidden in the shadows. A 2019 SFIM Discovery Fellow, her portraits of other artists in the market exposes their humanity, an aspect sometimes lost in the flurry of market celebrity.

Michael Elizondo, Jr. “Freaky Tails” (2020), prismacolor pencil on bristol paper, 9 x 12 inches (courtesy the artist)

Michael Elizondo, Jr. (Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes/ Kaw Nation/Chumash): Deft painting skills allow Michael to move between formal abstractions inspired by his Southern Cheyenne geometry and figurative works that lend collectively to a contemporary narrative. Michael’s surfaces are rich, despite the variations between materials. The joy he brings to his work, celebrating his cultures and the related experiences and relationships is evident on each surface.

Billy Hensley, “In Defense of History” (2017), acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches (courtesy the artist)

Billy Hensley (Chickasaw): With Oklahoma’s artist community regaining attention in the last decade, the measure for excellence has been lifting for craftmanship and technique. Billy has been pushing himself to paint a bridge between history and the representation of ancestors and a contemporary idealization of Chickasaw experience. His repeated use of vertical lines challenges the density of the veil that separates us across time.

Crystal Tohee, “Stardust” (2019), sterling silver & natural Kingman Spiderweb turquoise (48cts), 20 1/2 x 1/2 x 1 inches (courtesy the artist)

Crystal Tohee (Otoe-Missouria/Ioway/Navajo): Taking care for well-made construction, Crystal’s exploration of playful and feminine designs dance in the space created by her cultural heritage. There is an edge to her work that speaks to her vision and determination to do work that is unique within a highly competitive field.

Jodi Webster, gold appliqué bracelet (courtesy the artist)

Jodi Webster (Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin/Prairie Band Potawatomi): Woodland cultural designs have been a staple of the market for decades. Jodi innovates this tradition by exploring new techniques, such as laser etching, and honoring the materials associated with her cultures, like bone beads. She continues to explore how these floral linear design constructions can be applied to fashionable jewelry and other adornments.

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