In addition to its wealth of historical pieces, the Plains Indian Museum has begun showcasing contemporary Native artists’ work in its new gallery space.
Intricate beadwork and stunning painted hides fill the Native American artifact collection of the Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. But in addition to its wealth of historical pieces, the museum has begun showcasing contemporary Native artists’ work in its new gallery space.
On view now is Native Nations Now, the museum’s first contemporary Native artists show. Featuring works by members of the Creative Indigenous Collective, which counters stereotypical and romanticized non-indigenous art portrayals of Native culture with Native artists’ own unique perspectives of their history and of contemporary society, it features seven artists from the Northern Plains: Robert Martinez, John Isaiah Pepion, Holly Young, Lauren Monroe, Louis Still Smoking, Gina Still Smoking, and Ben Pease.
“It’s an honor to show our contemporary art alongside the Plains Indian Museum’s permanent collection of historical artifacts,” says Robert Martinez (Northern Arapaho) of Wind River Indian Reservation, Riverton, Wyoming. “It shows we’re not a dead culture, a deceased civilization.” For the museum’s part, the show and the new gallery demonstrate a commitment to “support contemporary Native artists in telling their own stories from their own perspectives,” says Plains Indian Museum curatorial assistant Hunter Old Elk. To achieve this, the exhibition quotes the artists and featured some of them at the show’s opening.
I wanted to show how our culture is coming back. — John Isaiah Pepion (Blackfeet)
Mixed-media artist Ben Pease (Crow/Northern Cheyenne) of Apsaalooke Indian Reservation, Montana, who was an artist in residence at the museum this August, created several pieces specifically for Native Nations Now. His favorite is Young Warrior Women, Stand Strong. “It’s a representation of my aunt, Dr. Janine Pease, as a young girl,” Pease says. “The piece shows the societal boundaries and limitations that are set upon young women in our contemporary societies. It highlights the resilience of our women. It stands upon our belief that women are the most sacred beings.”
Holly Young (Standing Rock Dakota) of Bismarck, North Dakota, normally features women in her artwork, but she challenged herself to draw a man for this show. Her piece Wioyuspa — to Catch a Woman depicts a man planning his courtship of a woman. For it, Young sketched a young man leaning against a tree, waiting for an opportunity to speak to a woman drawing water on the riverbank. “We are a respectful culture,” Young says, “and it’s very important to court a woman in the right manner, in a respectful way.”
John Isaiah Pepion (Blackfeet) of Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Montana, chose the piece When the Buffalo Came Back — it shows a herd of bison scampering with their tails happily waving across historic ledger records, newspaper advertisements, and handwritten letters — to represent a sort of Native American renaissance. “Right now we’re going through a resurgence of our culture and arts,” Pepion says. “We are reclaiming who we are, because, in the boarding school era and through different time periods, a lot of things were taken from us. The buffalo were almost taken from us, but now they’re also making a comeback and returning to our lands. In Plains culture, the buffalo were the staff of life. They were everything. ... Through this piece, I wanted to show how our culture is coming back.”
Plains Indian Museum curator Rebecca West hopes that the exhibition will do that and more — that bringing contemporary Native art into the fold and giving artists a voice will disabuse visitors of misconceptions. “[Many] people don’t realize what’s going on with Native people today at all,” West says. “It’s wonderful that this show can demonstrate for them that contemporary Native art is part of the force of American art.”
Native Nations Now: An Exhibition of Contemporary Native Art is on view through October 29 at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Artworks are offered for sale.
From the October 2018 issue. PHOTOGRAPHY: Wioyuspa — to Catch a Woman by Holly Young, courtesy the artist; Breaking Expectations by Robert Martinez, courtesy the artist; Young Warrior Women, Stand Strong by Ben Pease, courtesy the artist; Time Traveler by Louis Still Smoking, courtesy the artist.