Skip to main content

Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now

August 29, 2019 – January 12, 2020
Zacharias Kunuk, Film still from Maliglutit (Searchers), 2016. © Kingulliit Productions Inc. Courtesy of Vtape.

Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now is the first exhibition to chart the development of contemporary Indigenous art in the United States and Canada. For generations, Native North American artists have exhibited work mostly outside of mainstream art institutions. Native Voices begins to remedy that division, presenting approximately 60 works of art in a wide variety of media by Native American artists from many nations and regions. The exhibition examines the practices and perspectives of the most influential Native artists and their important contributions to American art, thus reassessing the place of Indigenous art within the art historical cannon.

“This rich and groundbreaking exhibition presents work by some of the most important Native American artists over the past 70 years,” said Sarah Schroth, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. “We are proud to bring these powerful works to North Carolina for the first time. In keeping with the mission of the Nasher Museum, Native Voices challenges the way the mainstream art world thinks about contemporary American art and society.”

The exhibition traces a richly layered chronological journey that also connects themes across time. It begins in the 1950s and 1960s with the works of George Morrison, Daphne Odjig, Fritz Scholder, and many others who challenged conventional representations of and by Indigenous peoples, marking the emergence of contemporary Native American art. In the 1970s and 1980s, artists such as James Luna, Edgar Heap of Birds, and Jolene Rickard were aligned with Civil Rights activism and made visible in the American Indian Movement (AIM). These artists grappled with negotiating transculturalism—the navigation between all tribes’ histories and traditions—while acknowledging an overarching need to recognize a stereotype-defying pan-Indian identity. Their work introduced culturally-specific institutional critique, forcing a reconsideration of how Indigenous culture and material production is contextualized in museums and in popular culture.

A New Generation

By the 1990s, the decidedly political work of Rebecca Belmore, Zacharias Kunuk and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun and many others directly confronted colonial legacies in video, television, sound, performance and installation. A new generation of Native artists emerged after 2000, some using traditional practices in radically new ways: as a means to represent psychological states, to question the circulation of signifiers of Indigenous identity and to visually represent the reclaiming of Indigenous languages. Andrea Carlson, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Jeffrey Gibson, Brian Jungen, Kent Monkman, Marie Watt are among those who challenge inherent biases and upend dominant art history by reversing the paradigm of an Anglo-European narrative.


Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now was organized by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas.

The exhibition was co-organized by independent curator Candice Hopkins (Tlingit, citizen of Carcross/Tagish First Nation in the Canadian territory, Yukon), Mindy Besaw, curator of American art at Crystal Bridges, and Manuela Well-Off-Man, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM.

Conceived by artist Cannupa Hanska Luger, Mirror Shield Project, 2016. Oceti Sakowin Camp, North Dakota. Drone Image Still by Rory Wakemup.
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter