Hood exhibit explores time through Native American art

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Recent graduates and former Hood Museum interns curated “Unbroken: Native American Ceramics, Sculpture, and Design,” on display now after being postponed for the pandemic.

by Alexandra Surprising | 06/12/22 01:05

Hood Gallery Installation Photographer in Hanover, NH on Monday, May 9, 2022. Copyright 2022 Rob Strong

Source: Courtesy of Rob Strong

This article is featured in the special issue Commencement & Reunions 2022.

After several years of delay, the Hood Museum of Art’s exhibit “Unbroken: Native American Ceramics, Sculpture and Design” opened in January 2022. The exhibit was curated by former Native American art intern Dillen Peace’ 19 and Sháńdíín Brown ’20 and features artwork from historic to contemporary periods. The exhibit showcases Native American sculpture, ceramics, and design. Brown explained that the exhibit was initially inspired by the concept of time in relation to Native American art.

“We thought a lot about how the past brings us into the present and also into the future,” Brown said. “We really wanted to honor traditional art forms while exploring contemporary ideas and mediums.” This theme guided the design of the exhibition.

“[Brown and Peace] investigate the continuity of these artistic practices within Indigenous communities,” said Jami Powell, Indigenous Art Curator at The Hood. “They thought a lot about how artists push boundaries and innovate, while referencing and using traditional or historical practices from their communities.”

The exhibit includes approximately 50 pieces from 16 North American tribes, although most of the works are from the Southwest. Some pieces date from the early 1900s, while others are more contemporary works. As Native American art interns, Brown and Peace drew from The Hood’s permanent collection and also acquired new works on behalf of the museum. Both Brown and Peace said they were inspired to create the exhibit during their experience in the Native American and Native Studies Home Studies program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM. .

“[The domestic studies program] was my first real exposure to some of the contemporary artists that are in the show, so it was really rewarding to come back here and make some new acquisitions,” Brown said. “There are a few pieces that are now part of the Hood’s permanent collection from the exhibit made by amazing artists like Jason Garcia, Tammy Garcia and Kevin Romero.”

On Wednesday, May 25, Peace and Brown held a discussion – titled Conversations and Connections: “Unbroken” – at the Hood Museum regarding the exhibit, which they curated before graduating, although the exhibit was delayed. due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Powell served as a mentor for the trainees and also participated in the conversation.

Brown identified the themes of “continuity” and “evolution” as integral to both the exhibit and the recent discussion. The title, “Unbroken,” underscores this concept of viewing the wide range of Indigenous art as deeply connected, rather than independent works of art.

Peace and Powell emphasized the importance of including a diverse range of Indigenous art in the exhibit, in terms of time period and medium. Powell pointed out that recent discussion has focused on the harmful implications of categorizing Indigenous art into narrow categories, particularly “contemporary” and “traditional.”

“What we consider traditional today was once contemporary,” Powell said. “In examining Indigenous art, people come with their own assumptions and expectations. When you use terms like “traditional” and “contemporary,” it can be problematic and reify some of those stereotypes. »

Through the exhibition, Peace and Brown aimed to create an open dialogue between older and newer Indigenous artworks, rather than viewing them as entirely separate. Peace expressed that there is a dynamic relationship between these two types of works.

“We were primarily concerned with reviewing historical works in the collection,” Peace said, “but we also tried to pair [historical works] with contemporary works that pushed the same kind of conversation or extended those underlying ideologies within the art.

For example, the exhibit includes a ceramic piece titled “Pow! by Tammy Garcia, a Pueblo sculptor from Santa Clara, NM Brown described “Pow!” as a ceramic work in the shape of a canteen with a cartoon representation of a woman with long fingernails and pistols.

“‘Pow!’ is a traditional coil shape,” Brown said. “I’m like, ‘what the [this work] say about indigenous femininity? Especially since Garcia uses a contemporary medium of comics in this traditional form.

In addition to contemporary works, the older pieces in the collection also allow viewers to reconsider the categories of ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’. Brown cited a corn effigy pot from the early 1900s as an example of reframing a dichotomous view, as some viewers of the exhibit may view the piece as contemporary, while others may view it as traditional.

“In this exhibit, we look at how we define ‘traditional’ and ask, ‘what is your basis of art, form or design?'” Brown said.

Peace highlighted the difficulty of curating and running the exhibit, especially during COVID-19. Throughout the process, Peace and Brown sometimes worked remotely from Santa Fe, collaborating closely with Powell.

“We all had to work as a team. The show ended up changing galleries, and so there were design details that had to be re-evaluated since I was gone,” Peace said. “Despite the gap between what was originally planned and today’s exhibit, it was really rewarding to come back and see it all come together.”

Today, Peace studies art at the University of Kansas, while Brown works as a curator at the Rhode Island School of Design. Like Peace, Brown also enjoyed his return to Dartmouth

both for the exhibition and the recent discussion, explaining that it has raised important questions about the nature of ‘home’.

“After [Peace] and I graduated on our own, we moved back to Santa Fe. Now we’re both in different places,” Brown said. “It’s an interesting homecoming story. And what exactly does coming home mean, especially since we’re both Navajo from the Southwest? »

But while the exhibit and discussion had significance for Brown and Peace as individuals, they both hope it had an impact on the Dartmouth community as well. Peace hopes the exhibit can help visitors understand that Indigenous art can take many different forms and is not limited to a single medium or period. In other words, Native art is not only “historic”, but is still being created today.

“Indigenous people are still there. We are still here and we are still actively shaping the kind of future we want,” Peace said. “We are navigating in a more globalized society with different influences, different factors and different contexts that we still have to overcome. But we are still here. Hopefully this presence shines through in the collection, especially in the contemporary works.

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