Self-Determined: A Contemporary Survey of Native and Indigenous Artists at CCA Santa Fe highlights the work of thirteen artists exploring the present and future of Native and Indigenous art.
Self-Determined: A Contemporary Survey of Native and Indigenous Artists
August 18–November 27, 2022
Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe
I step down the wide stairs at Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe to see Self-Determined: A Contemporary Survey of Native and Indigenous Artists. The group exhibition brings together thirteen artists who work in a variety of media—including painting, video installation, weaving, and printmaking.
I pass a seventy-by-seventy-inch acrylic painting by Jordan Ann Craig (Northern Cheyenne). In Sharp Tongue II (2022), thirteen elongated black diamonds stretch across a white canvas. I reread the title and my eyes trace the gradual slope of the diamonds from generous center to fixed point and back again.
I think of how words extend between people in a similar way, how language attempts to connect two points across an empty field.
Around the corner is the first of eight monitors in the installation LISTEN (2020) by Dyani White Hawk (Sičangu Lakota). Each screen juxtaposes a location within the United States with a Native woman of the region speaking her indigenous language.
In one video, Shandiin Hiosik Yazzie (Diné, Akimel O’odham, Yoeme) stands in an open field and addresses the camera in Diné. Onscreen, juniper branches gently sway and she slowly releases a handful of dirt into the wind. Her voiceover continues for the duration of the video—even when her onscreen image stops speaking and closes her eyes to the sun.
I step forward to hear more clearly, then to the left and right of the monitor. Yazzie’s voice is barely audible, although her mouth continues to shape words. Eventually, I realize I can only listen if I stand directly in front of the screen.
My glance shifts to the wall text. The Indigenous Language Institute estimates more than 300 Indigenous languages were once spoken in the United States. Around 175 exist today, and, without significant change, the organization projects only twenty Indigenous languages will be spoken in 2050.
I imagine standing directly in front of this video and hearing nothing.
Throughout the show, my thoughts return again and again to language.
As CCA executive director Danyelle Means (Oglala Lakota) writes, “It has been only fifty years since tribes were given the right to make decisions for themselves, to control their own communities in ways that celebrate their unique voices in the cultural landscape of America. In the land of the free, freedom of expression for Native and Indigenous people is only decades old. We have gathered thirteen artists together to celebrate their unique voices and to give agency to their gifts.”
My eyes linger on a basket pattern in waxed linen by Carly Feddersen (Okanogan, Arrow Lakes, German, English) and a relief print by RYAN! Feddersen (Okanogan, Arrow Lakes, German, English). I lean forward and notice their titles are in different tenses—Coyote and The Monster That Ate Everyone (2022) and Coyote and the Monsters Yet to Slay I (2022).