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Indigenous students showcase resiliency, creativity in Haskell art show

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Art from more than 100 Indigenous students was showcased Friday during the first in-person art show Haskell Indian Nations University has held since 2019.

David Titterington teaches art at Haskell. In his classes, he introduces students to Native American artists and situates their work within the context of their time.

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For their final projects, students create artwork inspired by, or informed by, the artists who came before them, and use art to make a statement.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times David Titterington

A unifying theme in modern Native American art is the expression of messages the artists find important. The art is intended to teach a lesson or share a message.

Common themes in Friday’s art show ranged from MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women), refuting stereotypes, environmental issues, depression and personal identity.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Mona Cliff, a local Indigenous artist, views Haskell student paintings while wearing a hoodie from the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Remixing and reclaiming

There is a tradition of Indigenous artists “remixing” the work of Edward Curtis, whose infamous photography — intended to document the “vanishing Indian” — left a stereotypical and limiting legacy that Indian Country is still dealing with today.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “The Little Injun That Could” by Rasheed Shorty

Rasheed Shorty, Navajo, made a digital collage that invokes satire to show the absurdity of the stereotypes still applied to Native Americans today.

The work features the engine (a play on the slur “Injun”) of a Jeep Cherokee, overlayed on an Edward Curtis photo. The engine is wearing a stock photo image of a Plains-style headdress. This piece uses humor to transmit a message and was inspired by Cannupa Hanska.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “A Rebel in the Badlands” by Morgan Noisey

Morgan Noisey, Cherokee Nation, was inspired by Steven Paul Judd’s work where he added pop culture icons to old photos. In this image, Noisey added elements of Star Wars to an Edward Curtis photo.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “The Truth Is Out There” by Lawrence Aguilar

Lawrence Aguilar, San Ildefonso Pueblo, added an interactive element to an Edward Curtis photo, encouraging the audience to engage with the environmental horrors afflicted upon the people of San Ildefonso Pueblo by the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“To this day no justice is being served for the Pueblo people suffering from the Lab’s detrimental actions against their ancestral land and its people,” Aguilar wrote in the artist’s statement.

There are hidden truths painted with UV-reactive paint to be revealed with flashlights which are available to anyone who chooses to look. The piece was inspired by Steven Paul Judd and T. Cannon.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “American ‘Democracy'” by Bradley Billy

Bradley Billy, Choctaw/Muscogee Creek, remixed Jeff Widener’s infamous Tiananmen Square photo by situating the faceoff in the context of Manifest Destiny. In the artist’s statement, Billy states that he hopes his “ancestors are proud of the fact that I will not let their sacrifice be forgotten. They will be remembered for their fight against American ‘democracy’.”

Ledger art

Ledger art is a distinctly Native American genre of art. It originated in boarding schools during the assimilation era of Federal Indian Policy. Indigenous children were prohibited from making art while detained in the forceful assimilation work camps, but that didn’t stop them. The resourceful children made art in ledger books because that’s what was available to them. 

Many Haskell students continue this tradition, as shown in some works displayed Friday.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Untitled ledger art by Taneille Lewis, Hunkpapa Lakota of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “Indigenous America” by Megan McCain, Diné
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “Bdewanantuwan” by Esmarie Cariaga-Whiteman, Isanti Dakota
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Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit people is an issue that some students expressed in their art.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “Conformity” by Megan McCain

Megan McCain, Diné, paid homage to Cara Romero’s “symbolically rich photographs of strong Indigenous women” with this piece on domestic violence.

McCain wrote that many people “feel trapped in their situation, like a ghost, and they try to process all the emotions and invalidate their feelings. … Under that ghostly shell of conformity is a strong Indigenous person waiting to be freed.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “The Things They Carried” by Tanay McKinney, Citizen Potawatomi, is a time capsule of the items they carry in their pockets. It is a way for them to connect with MMIW.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

Personal meanings

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “Indigenous Sovereignty” by Taneille Lewis

Taneille Lewis, Hunkpapa Lakota of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, was impacted by the Dakota Access Pipeline and the ensuing assault on Water Protectors and Indigenous sovereignty.

With this piece, she wanted to focus on the river that her people would “spend endless summer days and nights in.” About the river, she said, “if we did not protest, those memories would be swimming oil, genocide, and the dehumanization of our Native relatives, forever tainted for future generations.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Detail of “Indigenous Sovereignty” by Taneille Lewis
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “Littler Girl Jr.” by Isabelle “Jojo” Blackwood

Isabelle “Jojo” Blackwood, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, and Cherokee, displayed an interactive piece. Her art is “just a little compact, and that’s okay.”

The travel-sized version of Stan Herd’s “Little Girl in the Wind” is a portrait of Blackwood. Herd takes lifesize images and makes them larger than life, and in this piece, Blackwood reversed that process by making a Herd piece “smaller and cheaper” to express how she feels compared to her mother — the “little girl” in Herd’s earthwork piece, Carole Cadue-Blackwood.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times A visitor to the gallery views “I will never forget my ancestors” by Tea Murray.

Tea Murray, Diné, was inspired by Damian DineYazhi. Murray grew up in the middle of the Navajo Nation reservation and would drive hours with their mother to get essentials. While driving through boarder towns they’d see American flags on the homes of non-Natives. Despite being citizens of the United States, Murray knows they live under white supremacy. 

“Living in a colonized country, Indigenous peoples are forced to relive atrocities that are being perpetuated even today,” Murray wrote.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “It Landed Here!” by Payton Littlecook, Navajo. Littlecook made this helmet in the Gundam style. The helmet is “graffitied by Natives, because it landed on the Rez.”
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “For My Grandpa” by Hannah Jacquemart, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. Jacquemart explained that her grandpa used a stone head war club while dancing at powwows and she wanted to make one of her own in remembrance of him. The materials used for this piece represent aspects of the artist.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “Appreciation” by Ulysses LaMotte, Yankton Sioux Tribe. LaMotte was inspired by Edgar Heap of Birds’ text-based art and explains that the haiku “is a warning to appreciate the little things we take for granted, like a nice, sunny day.”
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times “Me vs Myself,” a “double-sided” piece by Heather Lynn Brown, Cheyenne and Arapaho, addresses depression.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Heather Lynn Brown
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Mia Cadue, Kickapoo
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Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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