Larger Than Memory includes works made by Indigenous artists from North America in the first two decades of this century, contending that while the recognition of Indigenous art is a recent trend, the quality of the work has always been a constant.
Originally slated to open in early May, Larger Than Memory: Contemporary Art from Indigenous North America was temporarily delayed by the ongoing pandemic and now has finally opened. The original opening date seems like a distant past. Through a confluence of events resulting in worldwide protests against systemic racism, the new social landscape has compelled institutions of power to examine their own biases and provide marginalized groups an amplified platform.
The exhibition was planned long before this social reckoning, as the Heard Museum has had an ongoing mission to give voice to the American Indian experience. Showing current artworks made by Indigenous artists that engage the language of contemporary art is important in negating stereotypes and contributing to the continuum of what we call our global culture.
Larger Than Memory, curated by Heard Museum Chief Curator Diana Pardue and Fine Arts Curator Erin Joyce, includes works made by Indigenous artists from North America in the first two decades of this century. It features a diverse range of media and subject matter that touch on elements found within contemporary art today, seen through the lens of the Indigenous perspective.
At the entrance, the visitor immediately encounters jaatłoh4Ye’iitsoh no. 1–6, an installation of giant Indian jewelry created by Eric-Paul Riege that references Claes Oldenburg’s Modern-era soft sculptures. This piece questions the commodification and fetishization of objects made by presumably authentic Native hands. The transformation of everyday materials through craft into more valuable objects is an oft-explored matter in the exhibition.
Even more massive is Ian Kuali’i’s site-specific vinyl installation, Monument/Pillar. Very much rooted in a street-art aesthetic, the artist challenges the prevailing dominant Western narratives by literally upending Captain James Cook, a commonly celebrated symbol of colonization.
The exhibition abounds with similarly bold and powerful statements. From Meryl McMaster’s richly metaphoric photographs of striking figures within natural landscapes to Mike Patten’s deft use of simple forms and color to create iconic interventions. Long-time collaborators of the Heard Museum Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Steven Yazzie have also contributed more traditional paintings that speak to our present-day predicament.
Indigenous artists have been relatively overlooked by the larger art world and only recently are being recognized for their contributions. Nicholas Galanin, Jeffrey Gibson, and Laura Ortman were featured in the latest Whitney Biennial with the latter two included in this very exhibition. Larger Than Memory contends that while the recognition of Indigenous art is a recent trend, the quality of the work has always been a constant.