Indigenous Artists in Grounded by Our Roots Exhibit at AMNH

By 4/03/2024 01:49:00 PM , ,

The exhibition "Grounded by Our Roots" opens April 3 in the Northwest Coast Hall’s at the American Museum of Natural History, and will showcase Indigenous artists who draw inspiration from their cultural traditions.

Indigenous Artists Grounded by Our Roots American Museum of Natural History photo credit: Alvaro Keding/© AMNH

Note: I was invited as media to this event. However any personal views expressed are always 100% my own.

During a first look media preview, I meet with some of the Indigenous artists to learn about the stories behind their artwork and their individual creative Indigenous communities.

Each artist explained the materials, technique and cultural history behind their creative styles and how it applies to their specific artwork.

While each artist comes from a different Indigenous culture, they all want to honor their community, while bringing their artwork into a modern experience.

Eliot White-Hill Kwulasultun Interview

Eliot White-Hill Kwulasultu Indigenous Artists Grounded by Our Roots American Museum of Natural History

I spoke with Eliot White-Hill Kwulasultun about how he was able to blend ancient technique while using modern "supplies" for his artwork like Ancestors' Hands (2022): a cardboard sculpture made of a pizza box.

Eliot White-Hill Kwulasultun: I'm a pretty new artist. I only learned in the last few years since when I began practicing. And for me, when I first started learning about Salish design, I tried to go back to the oldest cases, which are often in museum collections like here.

So I studied the forms of it, the shapes, the visual language and it really opened my eyes to how there's a continuity from thousands of years ago to today.

Eliot White-Hill Kwulasultun: And then from there, As I started to immerse myself in it more, I found my own voice. I realized that it became a way to tell my own stories and to use my own voice.

Eliot White-Hill Kwulasultu Indigenous Artists Grounded by Our Roots American Museum of Natural Historyphoto credit: Alvaro Keding/© AMNH

Eliot White-Hill Kwulasultun: And so I'm inspired by my ancestors, but I'm also inspired by modern art. I'm inspired by episode of Japanese anime. And, I do a lot of graphic design as well.

It's always trying to think about how I can apply the visual language in a new way. We aren't constrained by what people think indigenous art should be.

Eliot White-Hill Kwulasultun: If people think we should be carving or we should be weaving, while we can absolutely do that, but we can do other things as well.

And I think it's really powerful and special for future generations to be seeing all the different ways that our art can be. So that's really one of the main motivates motivations for me.

Eliot White-Hill Kwulasultun (Snuneymuxw First Nation), an interdisciplinary artist who aims to “share our art and our teachings, and ensure that future generations will have that knowledge accessible to them”

  • Ancestors' Hands (2022): a cardboard sculpture made of a pizza box that is part of a series centered around an archaeological dig that took place in Snuneymuxw First Nation (Vancouver Island) in the 1980s
  • We Fell From the Sky / Together and Apart (2022): mixed media on birch panel that tells one of the creation stories of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, whose ancestors fell from the sky onto Te’tuxwtun
  • Through the Spindle / Other Whorlds (2021): a serigraph that explores the concept of the sulsultun (spindle whorl), a sacred source of knowledge within the Coast Salish world

Grounded by Our Roots Exhibit

The exhibition is produced with guest curator Aliya Boubard, the curator of the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver, who is Anishinaabe and a member of Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba.

The artists and works featured in the gallery include:

Nash’mene’ta’naht Atheana Picha Indigenous Artists Grounded by Our Roots American Museum of Natural Historybottom photo credit: Alvaro Keding/© AMNH

Nash’mene’ta’naht Atheana Picha (Kwantlen First Nation), whose work is “focused on learning traditional Coast Salish design language and studying Northwest Coast artwork with the introduction of different material practices”

  • Split Serpent (2023): a serigraph on Stonehenge paper inspired by the artist’s effort to overcome a fear of snakes.
  • Thunderbirds and Serpents (2022), a serigraph on Stonehenge paper whose design is a study in Coast Salish forms.
  • Navigators (2022), a serigraph on Stonehenge paper, which the artist made after research into Nuu-chah-nulth and Coast Salish printmakers.
  • Thunderbird’s Visit (2023), a cedar carving that is a reflection of Coast Salish spindle whorls, which are recognized as the “teachers” of contemporary Coast Salish visual design.

Hawilkwalał Rebecca Baker-Grenier Indigenous Artists Grounded by Our Roots American Museum of Natural History

Hawilkwalał Rebecca Baker-Grenier (Kwakiuł, Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh), a fashion designer who debuted her first collection at New York Fashion Week in 2022 and sees “fashion as a living practice that is rooted in our art form, laws, and worldview”

  • Held by Generations (2023/2024): a vest and skirt made from dentalium shells, ermine, glass beads, leather, and cotton that merge ancestral materials and designs with contemporary style as an outward representation of the artist’s identity

SGidGang.Xaal Shoshannah Greene Indigenous Artists Grounded by Our Roots American Museum of Natural History

SGidGang.Xaal Shoshannah Greene (Haida), who studied hand-drawn animation before switching to classical and contemporary Haida formline and “love(s) to explore and play between the worlds of classical formline and contemporary mediums”

  • Shines Like Gold (2022): an archival pigment print on cotton rag that is inspired by Haida argillite plates. This piece refers to the story of Nang Kilslaas (also known as Raven), after he has successfully stolen the light that was concealed.
  • Nang Kilslaas and The First Xaaydas (2023): an illustration on cotton archival watercolor paper that is one of several pieces from the project Our Guiding Ways of Being, a series of traditional and contemporary stories focused on Haida beliefs and values

Alison Bremner Naxhshagheit Indigenous Artists Grounded by Our Roots American Museum of Natural Historyphoto credit: Alvaro Keding/© AMNH

Alison Bremner Naxhshagheit (Tlingit), who works in woodcarving, painting, digital collage, among other media, “exploring the present-day Tlingit experience, each concept ultimately dictating the medium”

  • Midnight at the Fireworks Stand (2022): an acrylic painting made on vintage and found wallpaper focused on Indigenous communities that are heavily affected by generational trauma inflicted from Western contact
  • Church and State (2024): an acrylic painting on canvas born of frustration with the Supreme Court’s authority to govern Indigenous matters

Northwest Coast Hall Renovation

The Museum’s Northwest Coast Hall reopened in 2022 following a transformative renovation and reinterpretation in consultation with Indigenous communities from the Pacific Northwest Coast. As part of the revitalization, a rotating art gallery was created to showcase the continuity and transformation of Indigenous creative traditions.

Featuring exhibits that showcase the creativity, scholarship, and history of the living cultures of the Pacific Northwest, the Northwest Coast Hall focuses on the material culture of 10 Native Nations and language communities of the Pacific Northwest and presents more than 1,000 restored cultural items, enlivened with new interpretation developed with Consulting Curators from the Coast Salish, Gitxsan, Haida, Haíłzaqv, Kwakwaka'wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, Nuxalk, Tlingit, and Tsimshian communities.

The curator of the Northwest Coast Hall is Peter Whiteley, curator of North American Ethnology at the Museum, and the co-curator is Ḥaa’yuups, Nuu-chah-nulth scholar and cultural historian.

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