Standing on Shoshone and Paiute land, the Lilley Museum of Art in the University Arts building is currently exhibiting the collection “See Her”, by Dyani White Hawk, a contemporary artist from the Sičangu Lakota tribe. The exhibition will run from April 4 through May 23. White Hawk’s art pieces blend modern painting techniques with Native American porcupine quillwork and beadwork. “See Her” reclaims the sophisticated beauty and soul-penetrating power of indigenous art forms, which have been intentionally overlooked/ignored for centuries or shamelessly appropriated by western artists.
Dyani White Hawk wanted to incorporate her love of tribal artwork with her passion for painting during her time in graduate school. To this day, Native American art is unexplored in depth in mainstream academia, and many scholars do not deem it worthy of rigorous aesthetic contemplation. She realized she would have to constantly justify the importance of creating solely Native American artwork to her professors and colleagues. White Hawk also discovered that academic semesters were not long enough for her to finish a piece done entirely out of porcupine quills.
White Hawk was not going to limit her artistic expression because of institutionalized Eurocentric worldviews. She decided instead to undergo the extraordinary task of mimicking the patterns found in porcupine quillwork using fine paint strokes, and redirected the focus of beading by creating work that forces the audience to recognize the intricacies and meticulous designs of beadwork over canvas painting. For centuries, women in Native American tribes have been creating exquisite art pieces that showcase innovative use of materials found in nature or used in trade. Native American women have ingrained part of their unwavering strength in every work of art. White Hawk has continued this tradition in her pieces like “Untitled (Quiet Strength III)” and “She Gives (Quiet Strength IV).”
The laborious and strenuous work soon evolved into a meditative practice which allowed her to continue her life-long journey of navigating simultaneously through different cultural spaces. As the daughter of a Sičangu Lakota woman and a European American man, White Hawk understood how art lies at an intersection where two opposite worldviews influence one another. Western male artists in the past have been influenced by Native American women artists but have never given them credit. This individualistic attitude contrasts the collective and noble efforts of indigenous women working together to make incredible masterpieces. Like her ancestors, White Hawk works alongside her studio assistant, Jennie Kappenman, who has helped the artist breathe life into her vision.
“See Her” encourages people to think differently about the extent to which Native Americans have contributed to Western fine art. The beauty in White Hawk’s artwork transforms the gallery into a welcoming and inclusive space, especially for women. The name of the exhibition was purposefully given to honor all the Native American women artist who were never recognized by the artists they influenced. As one admires each piece, the artwork unfolds and reveals its spirit and greatness. The longer a person gazes at the canvas, the more intimate the relationship becomes between the viewer and the piece. It is as though each art piece weaves in and out of the gazer’s body, breathing and shedding light through layers of repressed wounds and fears. The artwork’s healing qualities offers an opportunity for the women on campus to find inner peace and hope for a more egalitarian society.
Students still have plenty of time to stop by the museum before “See Her” leaves ancestral tribal grounds until May 23. Visitors should allow the artwork to inspire a sense of collective strength and belonging that can only be felt in the presence of beautiful pieces, that stress the importance of equality, respect, and honor. The time has come to give credit where credit has long been overdue, especially to the women who have threaded the beads of our human existence.
To learn more about the artist, visit: http://www.dyaniwhitehawk.com/. And, to stay up-to-date the latest exhibits, follow The Lilley Museum of Art on Instagram @thelilleymuseum.