10 Native Women Artists You Should Know

June 15, 2019

Throughout centuries, indigenous women used arts as an outlet, carrying on their traditional crafts and stories for centuries. Working in diverse artistic disciplines, they have continued this practice until today. In the current exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, native women artists reclaim their space through art.

The first major museum thematic exhibition to explore the artistic achievements of Native American women artists, the exhibition Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists brings together more than 115 works dating from ancient times to the present and made in a variety of media, including sculpture, video and digital arts, photography, textiles, and decorative arts.

Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists, Trailer

Distinct Voices of Native Women Artists at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Representing all regions of Native North America, the new museum exhibition will highlight the intentionality of the individual artists and demonstrate how they have been influenced by the preceding generations. As co-curator Jill Ahlberg Yohe explains, native American women artists "have rarely been recognized as individuals, as innovators, and as artists by the mainstream art world".

Hearts of Our People acts as a corrective to an art history that has overlooked countless Native women artists because these women were and are ‘untrained’ in a canonical sense. Their work has been circumscribed by a misunderstanding that Native ‘craft’ is static with little to no individual artistic latitude or ingenuity.

Organized by Jill Ahlberg Yohe, PhD, associate curator of Native American Art at Mia, and Teri Greeves, an independent curator and member of the Kiowa Nation, the exhibition dedicated to Native American women artist will be on view at the museum until August 18th, 2019, accompanied by robust arts programming, including a series of movies about and by Native women, artist talks and gallery workshops.

We bring you ten amazing Native women artists whose work you will have an opportunity to explore at the museum.

  Editors’ Tip: Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists

Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists explores the artistic achievements of Native women and establishes their rightful place in the art world. This landmark book includes works of art from antiquity to the present, made in a variety of media from textiles and beadwork to video and digital arts. It showcases artists from more than seventy-five Indigenous tribes to reveal the ingenuity and innovation that have always been foundational to the art of Native women. Beautifully illustrated and enriched by the personal reflections, historical research, and artistic insights of leading scholars and artists in the field, Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists pays tribute to the vital role and creative force of Native women artists, now and throughout time.

Featured image: Nellie Two Bear Gates (Maȟpíya Boğá Wíŋ, Gathering of Clouds Woman) (Iháƞktȟuƞwaƞna Dakhóta, Standing Rock Reservation) Valise, 1903. Beads, hide, metal, oilcloth, thread. Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Joan Hill

A Creek/Cherokee Indian from Muskogee, Oklahoma, Joan Hill is the descendant of a family prominent in the history of Indian Territory and Northeastern Oklahoma. She has used legends passed along in her family from generation to generation to influence her art.

Hill is best known for her traditional flat style, but she also worked in contemporary colorism and a transitional manner, which incorporates traditional figures with a more contemporary manner of working with color. She treats her subjects in a highly romantic and decorative manner.

Over the years, Hill has distinguished herself by becoming the most awarded female Indian artist at work in the United States today, with nearly 260 awards.

Featured image: Joan Hill (Muskogee Creek and Cherokee) - Women’s Voices at the Council, 1990. Acrylic on canvas. Gift of the artist on behalf of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, 1990.

Rebecca Belmore

An interdisciplinary Anishinaabekwe artist, Rebecca Belmore is particularly notable for politically conscious and socially aware performance and installation work. Rooted in the political and social realities of Indigenous communities, Belmore’s poetic and beautiful works evoke connections between bodies, land and language.

Some of the themes she tackles are water and land rights, women’s lives and dignity, violence against Indigenous people by the state and police, and the role of the artist in contemporary life. Addressing issues that pertain to her own history and her own community, she is driven to find beauty in difficult places. Over the years, Belmore developed a lexicon of physical and material gestures in her work, honing the art of “speaking without language”.

Featured image: Rebecca Belmore (Anishinaabe) - Fringe, 2007. Transparency in light box (one of an edition of three). Minneapolis Institute of Art. Gift of funds from Donna and Cargill MacMillan Jr. 2010.56. © Rebecca Belmore.

Kay WalkingStick

A Cherokee painter, Kay WalkingStick focuses on the American Landscape and its metaphorical significances not only to Native Americans but also to all of our citizenry. Treating landscape as something which sustains us physically and spiritually, she has a thoughtful, but sophisticated approach to the subject. It remained the thread that weaves together the many painterly directions her art has taken over the last 50 years. “My paintings aren’t exact depictions of a place; they are based on the look and feel of a place,” she once said.

Throughout her career, Kay WalkingStick sought spiritual truth through the acts of painting and metaphysical reflection. Whether they are meditative, pictographic or feminist, her paintings were an overt attempt to come to terms with a history that was forgotten or ignored. The artist embraced the diptych format, for which she is best known for, allowing her to combine a love of landscape traditions with an interest in addressing more complex and abstract ideas.

Featured image: Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee) - Venere Alpina, 1997. Oil on canvas (left), steel mesh over acrylic, saponified wax, and plastic stones (right), Minneapolis Institute of Art, The David and Margaret Christenson Endowment for Art Acquisition L2018.124a,b © 1997 Kay WalkingStick.

Rose B. Simpson

A mixed-media artist, Rose B. Simpson works in ceramic sculpture, metal, fashion, painting, music, performance, installation, and most recently custom cars. Simpson explores complex issues surrounding the past, present, and future of Native America, including contemporary Native identity and cultural survival. She explores the many ways to deconstruct gender and culture-based stereotypes and social ideologies by wandering between ceramic or fashion or drawing or music studios, working on her classic cars and motorcycle in her shop, or pulling weeds and feeding animals on the farm.

Simpson is best known for her clay sculptures which speak to cultural continuation in a post-apocalyptic future. Her aesthetic conveys a sense of raw, unpretentious earthiness.

Featured image: Rose B. Simpson (Santa Clara Pueblo) - Maria, 2014. 1985 Chevy El Camino. Collection of the Artist. © 2014 Rose B. Simpson. Image © Kate Russell.

Ramona Sakiestewa

Growing up in the American Southwest, Ramona Sakiestewa found inspiration in the land and sky. Her art is also informed by historic trails of the Southwest and the ancient cultures that inhabited National Monuments in New Mexico and Arizona.

Sakiestewa is renowned for her tapestries and works on paper – clever compounds of postmodern critical method, highly individuated abstract language, and her culture’s ritual imagery. In her practice, she successfully synthesizes numerous artistic traditions and media.

Featured image: Ramona Sakiestewa (Hopi) - Nebula 22 & 23 (diptych), 2009. Tapestry, wool warp and dyed wool weft. Collection of Carl and Marilynn Thoma, © 2009 Ramona L. Sakiestewa Image: Courtesy of Tai Modern Gallery, Santa Fe, NM.

Jamie Okuma

A Native American visual artist and fashion designer from California, Jamie Okuma is known for beadwork, mixed-media soft sculpture, and fashion design. In her practice, she uses antique Venetian beads, which can as small as the size of a grain of salt.

Initially focusing on dolls, Okuma moved to creating something she describes as contemporary native fashion. Adorned with detailed and complex beadwork, her pieces are characterized by bold aesthetic steeped in Native America culture. Okuma continues to maintain her heritage, providing us with an established collection of exquisite wearable art.

Featured image: Keri Ataumbi (Kiowa/Comanche)/Jamie Okuma (Luiseno/Shoshone-Bannock) - Adornment: Iconic Perceptions, 2014. Antique glass, 24- karat electroplated beads, buckskin, 18-karat yellow gold, sterling silver, wampum shell, freshwater pearls, rose and brilliant-cut diamond beads, diamond briollets, Minneapolis Institute of Art. © Keri Ataumbi and Jamie Okuma.

Lucy Martin Lewis

A Native American self-taught ceramicist from Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, Lucy Martin Lewis is best known for her black-on-white pottery. She spent nearly all her life atop the high mesa of the village, making pottery since the age of 7. Inspired by Anasazi and Mogollon cultures, she revived the eleventh-century Mimbres style pottery characterized by exquisite polychrome and fine-line and lighting designs.

Martin Lewis followed pueblo tradition in every step of pottery production—taking only as much clay as she needed, working the clay only with her hands, forming the vessel from coils of clay, painting the vessel with slips and paints made from clay and vegetal sources and, finally, firing the finished pieces in an outdoor handmade kiln.

Featured image: Lucy Martin Lewis (Acoma Pueblo) - Jar, 1968. Ceramic and pigment. Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Patricia and Peter Frechette Endowment for Art Acquisition and gift of funds from Constance Kunin 2018.5.

Elizabeth Hickox

Considered one of the finest basket-weavers of her time, Elizabeth Hickox is renowned for her own unique use of shape, technique, color scheme and design. A Wiyot master basket weaver from the beginning of the 20th-century, she used a range of materials including grape root twining, white beargrass, dyed Woodwardia fern, black maidenhair fern and dyed porcupine quills.

Hickox mostly used dark materials in contrast with yellow. Drawing on traditional methods and designs, dhr is known for her inventive patterns and for her innovative introduction of a delicate three-dimensionality. She often worked with her daughter, Louise.

Featured image: Elizabeth Hickox (Wiyot) - Container, 1924. Plant fibers and dyed porcupine quills. Denver Art Museum Collection: Purchase from Grace Nicholson, 1946.388, Photograph © Denver Art Museum.

Andrea Carlson

A visual artist living in Chicago, Andrea Carlson cites entangled cultural narratives and institutional authority relating to objects based on the merit of possession and display. Working in painting and drawing, she skillfully blends representational images with abstract form, constructing complex narratives that mine the uneasy subjects of cultural stereotyping by museums or popular cinema.

Carlson's hyper-realistic images are often integrated with passages of indeterminate space or dense graphic patterning to create fantastical landscapes. In her work, she focuses on storytelling and the transmission of knowledge and perception. She cites her Ojibwe ancestry as a foundation for her investigations of cultural consumption, history and identity, and the intrinsic power of storytelling.

Featured image: Andrea Carlson (Ojibwe) - Sunshine on a Cannibal, 2015. Oil, acrylic, ink, colored pencil, and graphite on paper. Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Mr. and Mrs. Bernard M. Granum Fund 2017.29A-X, © 2015 Andrea Carlson.

Christi Belcourt

A Michif visual artist, Christi Belcourt creates work which reflects her deep respect for Mother Earth and the traditions and the knowledge of her people. She works with beads, hides, clay, copper, wool trade cloth and other materials. In addition to being an artist, she is also environmentalist and advocate for the lands, waters and Indigenous peoples.

The majority of Belcourt's work explores and celebrates the beauty of the natural world and traditional Indigenous world-views on spirituality and natural medicines while exploring nature’s symbolic properties. The beaded floral motifs in her work, one of the artistic legacies left to her by her ancestors, serve as metaphors for human existence, reflecting her concerns with the environment, biodiversity, spirituality and Indigenous rights.

Featured image: Christi Belcourt (Métis) - The Wisdom of the Universe, 2014. Acrylic on canvas; Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto; Purchased with funds donated by Greg Latremoille © Christi Belcourt.

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