A groundbreaking exhibition finally tells the stories of Native women artists

A groundbreaking exhibition finally tells the stories of Native women artists


JUDY WOODRUFF: And now a look at an art show
that is both making history and teaching it. Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists
is the country’s first ever exhibition devoted solely to the works of Native American women. Jeffrey Brown traveled to Minnesota and New
Mexico to meet with some of the team behind the retrospective. It’s part of our ongoing arts and culture
series, Canvas. JEFFREY BROWN: How many artists have a master’s
in fine arts and studied auto mechanics? Meet Rose Simpson, whose day of making art
includes hours coiling clay in her studio, soldering metal pieces for sculptures in her
garage, and spending time under the hood of a 64 Buick Riviera she’s fixing up. Simpson lives and works on the Santa Clara
Pueblo just outside Espanola, New Mexico. Her mother, Roxanne Swentzell, is a ceramicist,
as was her mother, a tradition through time. ROSE SIMPSON, Artist: I come from a long,
long line of artists and creative people. And long line, I mean, like, as far as you
can go back. JEFFREY BROWN: You’re not talking about 10
or 20 years. You’re talking about hundreds. ROSE SIMPSON: Yes, I’m talking about hundreds,
possibly thousands. JEFFREY BROWN: Continuity and seeing art as
part of daily life. Simpson’s work is a contemporary take on the
traditions of her Santa Clara Tewa ancestors. And now she’s part of a groundbreaking exhibition,
the first of its kind dedicated to more than 1,000 years of artistic achievements by Native
American women. Put together by the Minneapolis Institute
of Arts, where we saw it, the exhibition is called Hearts of Our People. JILL AHLBERG YOHE, Co-Curator, Hearts of Our
People: Seeing these works of art together. JEFFREY BROWN: Co-curator Jill Ahlberg Yohe: JILL AHLBERG YOHE: This exhibition was really
necessary in a non-Native context, because it had never been explored before. And that was stunning, because something that
is so clear in Native communities wasn’t at all addressed in the art world. JEFFREY BROWN: On display, some 117 works
of art from more than 50 Native American communities across the U.S. and Canada. There are traditional pieces, like this Anishinaabe
jingle dress created in 1900 and worn for dancing at powwows, and a Hohokam bowl dating
back to 1,000 A.D. There’s also contemporary photography, video
and installation pieces, like Fringe, a 2007 piece by Rebecca Belmore tackling the issue
of violence against Native people, particularly women. Whenever possible, the creators of these works
are named. Rather than generic craftspeople, the exhibition
wants us to see creative individuals making art. JILL AHLBERG YOHE: I think that the way — that
the development of collecting Native American art and the stories that had previously been
told are ones that position Native women as non-artists. JEFFREY BROWN: Contemporary artists are shown
alongside those of their ancestors, highlighting the way Native women’s art has adapted, while
remaining connected to generations past. One example? This towering stack of blankets by Seneca
artist Marie Watt entitled Blanket Stories, displayed next to a traditional Navajo chief’s
blanket from the 1880s. And then there’s Rose Simpson’s piece, a restored
1985 Chevrolet El Camino she named Maria. Sitting at the show’s entrance, it’s paired
with a large vase by the car’s namesake, Maria Martinez, the celebrated pioneer of the black-on-black
Pueblo pottery style emulated in the car’s paint job. But a car as art? Rose Simpson made Maria herself, to use, to
drive. Plus, she realized it holds things, just like
some of her other creations. ROSE SIMPSON: It hit me like, pew, it’s a
pot. It is a super contemporary vessel. This is why there is no disconnect between
life and art. JEFFREY BROWN: No disconnect? ROSE SIMPSON: No. And this is — what does art have to do with
cars? I’m like, what does art have to do with life? What does life have to do with art? The point is that we have ripped art away
from our lives. And so the more I could apply the creative
process to every part of my life, then the stronger I felt as a person. JEFFREY BROWN: Given the show’s size and scope,
Jill Ahlberg Yohe and co-curator Teri Greeves knew they could not put it together alone. They assembled an advisory board of scholars,
historians and artists, 21 women in total, Native and non-Native. DYANI WHITE HAWK, Artist: The work is indigenous,
truly indigenous art form. JEFFREY BROWN: Among the advisers, Dyani White
Hawk of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, a painter and mixed media artist based in Minneapolis. DYANI WHITE HAWK: This exhibit covers 1,000
years. JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. DYANI WHITE HAWK: Still, it was so hard to
pick the pieces that were going to go in the show, because there’s so many that could be. JEFFREY BROWN: White Hawk’s work mixes modern
techniques with traditional Lakota artforms like bead and quill work. She says the recognition of Native women artists
is long overdue. DYANI WHITE HAWK: The vast majority of Native
arts has been supported by women over generations, but it’s an aside. It’s a side note in the way that we understand
and look at American art history. And it’s not a truthful and honest way to
understand the history and artistic history of this land. JEFFREY BROWN: Rose Simpson also served on
the museum’s advisory board. For her, being in the show is an opportunity
to open doors for other Native American artists. ROSE SIMPSON: It’s absolutely about changing
a mind-set. The first step is to infiltrate and then get
respect, and then pull it back the other way. I was handed this — the baton, right? And I have to go further and really respect
it and be responsible with it. JEFFREY BROWN: And she’s choosing to remain
in her rural home, where she’s passing on an ancient artistic tradition to her own daughter. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jeffrey Brown
on the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico.

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