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Mateo Romero Red Meridian
Mateo Romero (Cochiti) Red Meridian, 2012, 60” x 82.5” Acrylic, India ink, China marker on polystyrene. MoCNA Collection: CO-45

“American Indian Art 101: Pedagogies for Indigenous Thinking”

University of New Mexico Press
The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA)
Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), Santa Fe, New Mexico

Senior Editor Nancy Marie Mithlo, Ph.D.

Contributing authors:
Robert Martin, Ph.D. President, Institute of American Indian Arts
Tatiana Lomahaftewa Singer, B.A. Curator of Collections IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
Ryan Flahive, M.A. IAIA Archivist

Chapter contributors:
David Wade Chambers, Ph.D. IAIA Emeritus Native Eyes Director
Charles Dailey, B.A. IAIA Emeritus Museum Studies faculty
Lara Evans, Ph.D. Professor Art History, Institute of American Indian Arts
Stephen Fadden, M.A. Programming Director, Poeh Cultural Center
Nancy Marie Mithlo, Ph.D. Professor of Gender Studies, UCLA
Suzanne Newman Fricke, Ph.D. Adjunct Professor of Art History, IAIA
Patsy Phillips, M.A. Director, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, IAIA
John Paul Rangel, Ph.D. Creative Director, Asphalt Apache Design
Jessie Ryker-Crawford, Ph.D. IAIA Professor of Museum Studies, IAIA
Dave Warren, Ph.D. IAIA Emeritus Cultural Research and Resource Development Center Director

Alex Jacobs, B.F.A.
Elizabeth Woody, M.P.A.

The group that generously agreed to participate in this project collectively wished to make an educational resource for learning about Native arts that did not alienate American Indian students. We wanted to provide educational material in a form that reflected Indigenous knowledge systems – holistic, embracive and free of jargon. Even small details such as the use of “we” or “us” were examined throughout to ensure that readers would be excited by the information provided, feel welcomed and spoken to, not about. The Indigenous studies approach pursued does not follow strictly chronological or regional premises, but rather seeks out “defining moments of conflict” in the history of Native North American arts.

American Indian Art 101 specifically foregrounds the ideas and works that emerge from the IAIA experience in an effort to highlight the often unknown histories of this central resource for Native arts production, teaching, and research. In planning the manuscript, we referenced our desired approach to guiding readers as creating “embedded conversations.” Conversations here connotes a dialectical give and take. Readers should imagine a guide walking a visitor through familiar territory, taking pains not to alienate or lose the guest while also pointing out amazing vistas.

2012 Senior Editor, “American Indian Curatorial Practice” A dedicated volume of the Wicazo-Sa Review 27(1).

List of Contributors

"Reading Beneath the Surface: Joe Feddersen’s Parking Lot," by heather ahtone, Research Associate, Diversity in Geosciences Project, School of Geology and Geophysics, University of Oklahoma

“American Indian Art: Teaching and Learning,” by Melanie Herzog, Professor of Art History, Edgewood College, Madison, Wisconsin and Sarah Stolte, graduate student, Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Indigenous Curatorial Practices and Methodologies” by Michelle McGeough, Professor of Museum Studies, Institute of American Indian Arts

“This Place Called Home" Curating from an Insiders Perspective” by Miles R. Miller, Independent Curator

“Is There Really No Word for Art in Our Language?” by Nancy Marie Mithlo, Assistant Professor of Art History and American Indian Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Sundays with Harry: An Essay on a Contemporary Native Artist of Our Time” by Patsy Phillips, Director, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

“Moving Beyond the Expected: Representation and Presence in a Contemporary Native Arts Museum” by John Paul Rangel, University of New Mexico

“Unexpected Parallels: Commonalities Between Treatment of Native American and Outsider Arts by Mainstream Arts Institutions” by Dyani Reynolds-White Hawk, University of Wisconsin-Madison

American Indian Curatorial Practice: State of the Field 2008
The Department of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison
September 25-27, 2008

Visiting By Content Visiting Conversations on Curatorial Practice and Native North American Art
Download PDF of AICP symposium content

Project Description

The American Indian Curatorial Practice (AICP) symposium hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Art History explored the tension between the dynamic and emerging field of indigenous arts and the lagging reception of this practice by the American academy. The meeting took the form of a roundtable discussion with UW Madison scholars engaging nationally-known artists and curators in sustained dialogue. Our goal is to define the current status of American Indian curatorial practice. The project was funded under the Ford Foundation’s Indigenous Knowledge & Expressive Culture Portfolio Advancing the Dialogue on Native American Arts in Society.

Three decades ago, museums - including museums of American Indian arts and culture - experienced an ideological shift to a new inclusive museology whereby the traditional subjects of inquiry demanded to author their own representations. This “changing presentation of the American Indian” has been well documented, both in the popular press and in academic publications. Although the new inclusive museology is now largely incorporated as a standard practice, almost no consideration has been given to varying curatorial standards informed by diverse cultural values. The production and consumption of Native arts mean little if critical interpretations of the work are unavailable or even censored by narrowly defined or inappropriate criteria.

Intellectuals, curators and educators who theorize, interpret and disseminate American Indian arts via collections management, publications, exhibits, lectures and teaching are charged with the impossible task of altering centuries-old misperceptions about Native aesthetics. Not only are contemporary Native arts often erroneously viewed as inauthentic, contemporary Indigenous curation methods (such as mentorship and collaboration) have a tendency to be diminished in mainstream professional settings where individualism and authorship are highly valued. Consequently, aspiring Native arts museum professionals have been denied key opportunities to contribute to emerging scholarly debates on critical arts theory .

Great cultural institutions, social movements and universities have often emerged from close discussions between highly committed professional peers, dedicated to causes of social justice and democracy. The next thirty year cycle of Indigenous self-representations depends on the collective identification of existing challenges to American Indian arts curation and the development of a plan to address the divides that marginalize the field. The AICP symposium provides this crucial opportunity.

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The American Indian Curatorial Practice initiative will identify key challenges to self-representation, particularly the lack of professional infrastructure. The scarcity of graduate training programs in art history and museum studies, an absence from representation in national arts organizations, and a virtual rejection from mainstream contemporary arts publications are evidence of an enduring disjuncture in interpretative arts practice. Native arts professionals can effectively strategize new directions towards the inclusion of American Indian arts in established major venues through interventions such as the “State of the Field 2008” symposium. UW Madison is ideally situated to serve as a site for these discussions due to its high number of American Indian arts faculty, central geographic location and demonstrated commitment to the advancement of American Indian intellectualism.

The AICP symposium incorporated the format of “idea clusters”: groups of four to five participants who collectively work on a joint inquiry addressing one of the following topics: 1) exhibits, 2) publications, 3) collections, 4) academic and professional training, and 5) organizational representation. Idea clusters consist of a senior curator, an emerging curator, a professional artist and an administrator or faculty representative, thus modeling the core values of mentorship and exchange characteristic of our field. Each cluster will forward resolutions which: A) Define the existing challenges in their area, and B) Propose specific interventions. Participants were asked to respond to creative and generative examples of practice from the field as discussion-starters. From these applied, case-study example, broader trends were identified.

Ten regional participants (drawn from UW Madison’s American Indian Studies Program, the departments of Art and Art History and the Visual Culture Center jointly with local colleges and universities) engaged with ten national representatives in a two-day meeting. Day one of the symposium was devoted to direct problem-solving within these core discussion groups (“idea clusters”) followed by a joint presentations of findings. Day two identified emergent key themes with senior participants leading a guided discussion geared specifically to the published outcomes of the dialogue.