The story of artist, fashion designer, and Institute of American Indian Arts co-founder Lloyd Kiva New is brought to life in a new documentary by Indigenous filmmaker Nathaniel Fuentes.
PHOENIX—Although Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee) had a significant influence on arts and culture in the Southwest during the mid-20th century—his work ranged from fashion design to arts education—his name isn’t widely known in mainstream culture.
Filmmaker Nathaniel Fuentes (Santa Clara Pueblo) and a creative team are working to change that through a documentary Fuentes wrote and directed. NEW: ART is Culture, Culture is ART explores the creative life and legacy of the artist (1916-2002) with archival interviews and photographs as well as reflections by contemporary curators and historians.
“It’s about the life of an individual who had huge influences in art and education on a national and international level,” explains Fuentes, founder and CEO of the Indigenous media entertainment company He Kha Productions in Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Fuentes is also a founding member of the REZilience Organization, or REZARTX, in Albuquerque.
“Lloyd wanted to create an environment for Indigenous culture that had been boxed in and suppressed to be able to stand up and be expressed,” says Fuentes. “I hope the film helps to create a space for conversations about the larger context of his work and its implications for contemporary life.”
NEW: ART is Culture, Culture is ART is scheduled to be screened on December 7, 2023, at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the Oklahoma-born artist spent two decades of his creative career and established an artist studio in the 1940s that drew Native artists to the region. Today, the city markets itself as a hub for Native American and Western art.
Fuentes recalls learning of the artist from family members whose lives had intersected with New through the years and credits their stories with prompting his initial curiosity about the man. “I became really interested in looking more into his work and notoriety, and what I learned really blew me away,” says Fuentes.
New’s accomplishments include co-founding the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which began as a high school in 1962 but now serves as one of over thirty tribal colleges in the country. He served as an adviser during the creation of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and was a key figure in contemporary Indigenous fashion design.
The fashion element has particular resonance for the New Mexico filmmaker, who plans to start his own fashion line during the next two years. “His fashion wasn’t just pretty to look at,” Fuentes says of New’s designs. “There was a cultural aspect that incorporated patterns and artwork that told stories about Indigenous life and honored the ancestors.”
NEW: ART is Culture, Culture is ART opens and closes with vibrant scenes of Indigenous fashions on the runway, and there’s also a fashion component to Fuentes’s plans for moving the film forward. After the December 7 screening, Fuentes will head to the nearby Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West for a fundraiser showcasing pieces by two contemporary Indigenous designers.
“The funding will help to ensure that we can produce the film at the level we need for national and international distribution,” Fuentes explains.
It’s been several years since Fuentes wrote the original screenplay and then made a twenty-three-minute version for a senior project at IAIA in 2019. “It took about two days to write the story, but I’d already spent two years organizing my thoughts,” he says. In 2022 and early 2023, he showed the full-length documentary at several film festivals.
“Making the film has been a long journey with a lot of challenges, but it’s also been very rewarding.”
Looking back, Fuentes says the process has helped him think more deeply about his own creative practice.
“Learning more about Lloyd made me ask what more I can be doing to create something greater than myself. It’s given me a greater sense of patience, and a greater sense of not being afraid to ask people for help.”