SANTA FE, New Mexico — Outside the Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe’s gallery entrance, a banner announces Self-Determined: A Contemporary Survey of Native and Indigenous Artists and another lists the artists with their tribal affiliations and other heritages, an effective proper first introduction mirroring the intertribal practice of identifying ourselves and naming those to whom we belong. Inside, a curatorial statement promises artist-led subject matter. 

The show reveals an intriguing slice of the breadth of work that Indigenous artists are creating today, presenting rich expressions which also prompt questions about the contexts that we collectively occupy. For example, Dyani White Hawk (Sičangu Lakota) models mindful intertribal responsibility by exposing listeners to “the cadence and sounds” of Native languages through the video installation series Listen (2020), made in collaboration with cinematographer Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné). (Benally’s credit is limited to the art labels, though her contribution merits inclusion in the artist list.)

Installation view, Dyani White Hawk (Sičangu Lakota, born 1976), LISTEN (2020), HD video in collaboration with cinematographer Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakota/Diné) (courtesy the artist and Bockley Gallery, photo by Neebinnauzhik Southall/Hyperallergic)

Two videos placed near the entry ground the exhibition in the Indigenous Southwest via the languages spoken and locations represented: RoseMarie Lujan (Taos Pueblo) speaks Tiwa in front of a corn field, combined with visuals of Taos Pueblo, squash, and sunflowers, and Shandiin Hiosik Yazzie (Diné/Akimel O’odham/Yoeme) speaks Diné on Diné land. In another room, six more videos spotlight Native women speaking their respective Indigenous languages — Ho-Chunk, Ojibwe, Cocopah, Seneca, Quechan, and Dakota — on their Native lands.

Cultural and regional specificity is seen in the film “Salmon Reflection” (2021) by director Anna Hoover (Norwegian/Unangax̂), which packs an impressive amount of emotionality, cultural viewpoints, and appeals for environmental responsibility into four minutes. Gorgeous visuals show salmon swirling in groups of red, alongside other footage and voiceovers connecting the well-being of salmon, humans, and the environment. 

Anna Hoover (Norwegian/Unangax̂), “Salmon Reflection” (2021), film, duration: 4 minutes (photo by Neebinnauzhik Southall/Hyperallergic)

As a mixed person living away from her Tlingit homelands, Ursala Hudson (Tlingit) once felt like she didn’t have a right to weave like her mother. However, her ceremonial regalia ensembles convey strong Northwest Coast weaving skills via wearable pieces that encircle the shoulders and waist. “Tideland Warrior (Chilkat and Ravenstail ceremonial regalia ensemble),” which references both her clan and the pines of Colorado, is a moving demonstration of integration of the self.

Several works interact with form and concept. “Her Favorite Color Is Pink” (2022), a monumental 70” x 70” acrylic on canvas painting by Jordan Ann Craig (Northern Cheyenne), exemplifies precise hard-edged painting with clear references to the abstraction of geometric Plains beadwork designs in two shades of pink, orange-red, orange, cream, navy, and gray. Craig’s approach links to “Transformation No. 1” (2018) by abstract painter Jeff Kahm (Plains Cree, 1968–2021), in which diagonal sections and stripes of lime green, orange-yellow, white, black, and blue acrylic paint extend over an irregularly shaped six-sided canvas.

Jordan Ann Craig (Northern Cheyenne), “Her Favorite Color Is Pink” (2022), acrylic on canvas, 70 x 70 inches (courtesy the artist and Tia Collection, photo by Neebinnauzhik Southall/Hyperallergic)

Erica Lord (Tanana Athabaskan/Inupiaq/Finnish/Swedish/English/Japanese) reinterprets health data “representing diseases that disproportionately infect and devastate Native populations” via loom-beaded burden straps. A mannequin wears gloves, a parka, scarf, beaded headband, and the “Multiple Myeloma Burden Strap” (2022), created with a dynamic array of beads in pink, red, blue, white, and more. Two more beaded straps are displayed on platforms, “Leukemia Burden Strap, DNA Microarray” (2022) and “Adrenalocortisol Cancer Burden Strap, DNA microarray (Diabetes comorbidity complication)” (2021).

Sisters RYAN! and Carly Feddersen (Okanogan/Arrow Lakes/German/English) reinterpret a Plateau story of Coyote killing monsters to save humans, hinting at a broader theme of resistance. RYAN!’s print “Coyote and the Monsters Yet to Slay I” (2022) depicts a giant snake-like figure with a mammalian head, revealing human beings and animals — including a fox, mouse, and cats — inside its undulating digestive tract. Coyote stabs the monster’s heart, emblazoned with a dollar sign. A human emerges from the anus alongside a dark cloud. Carly’s “Coyote and The Monster That Ate Everyone” ( 2022), a 8” x 6” woven waxed linen basket, illustrates a standing animal-human Coyote and other animals and insects between triangles at the top and bottom of the basket, representing the monster’s teeth.

Erica Lord (Tanana Athabascan, Inupiaq, Finnish, Swedish, English and Japanese) “Adrenal Cortisol Cancer (Diabetes)” (2021), beads, wire, string (photo by Neebinnauzhik Southall/Hyperallergic)

Ian Kuali’i (Kanaka Maoli/Shis Inday) covered an entire wall with a mural, “Ma Ka Ho‘ona‘auao Ā Ma Ka Ihe Paha – By Education Or By Spear (Monument/Pillar Series)” (2022), in which a painted orange and red gradient of diagonal spearhead symbols pierce a representation of a horizontally placed statue of President William McKinley, disrupting a colonial symbol of power over Hawaii. On an adjacent wall, shadow boxes feature paper cut portraits of notable Native Hawaiians from Kuali’i’s ‘Ike Maka Series (2020).

Other works intersect with colonial perspectives such as four photographs from the RISE series (2017–2021) by Jeremy Dennis (Shinnecock) which present ominous Native characters, making visible white fears about a future Native uprising. “Native Guide” (2021) plausibly disrupts this perspective with humor — a woman sits on a man’s shoulders on the beach. A red-illuminated room holds space for SHATTER /// (2022), an Indigenous Peoples’ Day performance by Demian DinéYazhí (Diné) and their cousin, sound artist Kevin Holden (Diné/Irish/German/Norwegian). A spray-painted, stenciled poem just beyond the space leaves no room for subtlety, with words dripping in red and black. Displayed on shelves, household ceramic trinkets conveying stereotypical depictions of “Indians” and other items like VHS tapes were smashed in the performance, leaving debris behind. While both works are critical, I question the effectiveness of making racist, colonial notions one’s creative centerpoint, given that Natives are consistently framed through a degrading lens. As exemplified elsewhere in the exhibition, we can do more than critique stereotypes.

Installation view, Demian DinéYazhi’ (Diné, born to the clans Naasht’ézhí Tábąąhá (Zuni Clan Water’s Edge) & Tódích’íí’nii (Bitter Water), “SHATTER///” (2019), installation of found objects, silkscreen on walls and musical equipment, to be engaged in a performance with Kevin Holden (Diné, Irish, German and Norwegian) on October 10, 2022 at CCA (photo by Shayla Blatchford)
Carly Feddersen(Okanogan, Arrow Lakes, German, English), “Coyote and The Monster That Ate Everyone” (2022), waxed linen, 8 x 6 inches (courtesy the artist)
Erica Lord (Tanana Athabascan, Inupiaq, Finnish, Swedish, English and Japanese), “Multiple Myeloma (pink and blue)” (2022), beads, wire, string, 72 x 23 inches (courtesy the artist)

Self-Determined: A Contemporary Survey of Native and Indigenous Artists continues at Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe (1050 Old Pecos Trail Santa Fe, New Mexico) through November 27. The exhibition was curated by Danyelle Means (Oglala Lakota) and Kiersten Fellrath (Scottish/Irish/Scandinavian).

Neebinnauzhik Southall (Chippewas of Rama First Nation) is a graphic designer, artist, freelance art writer, and photographer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they run their small creative business...