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Sidwell Friends School's Student Newspaper Since 1974

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Sidwell Friends School's Student Newspaper Since 1974

Horizon

“The Land Carries Our Ancestors” Exhibit Displays Native American Art

%E2%80%9CThe+Land+Carries+Our+Ancestors%2C%E2%80%9D+which+is+displayed+at+the+National+Gallery+of+Art%2C+features+the+work+of+50+Indigenous+artists+across+the+United+States.+Photo%3A+Flickr.
“The Land Carries Our Ancestors,” which is displayed at the National Gallery of Art, features the work of 50 Indigenous artists across the United States. Photo: Flickr.

On Sept. 22, the National Gallery of Art in Washington opened a new exhibition entitled “The Land Carries Our Ancestors: Contemporary Art by Native Americans.” Curated by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, the show consists of a collection of modern works created by 50 Native American artists across the United States.

Smith, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, has spent the past five decades creating pieces centered around the modern lives of Native Americans.

Smith first debuted her art in the National Gallery in 2020, when her 1992 painting “I See Red: Target” was the first ever piece by a Native American artist to be displayed. The 11-foot-tall work conveyed the exploitation of Native American culture through modern-day media and newspaper clippings.

In the 1970s when I was doing this work, I probably could count on maybe four hands the Native Americans who were actually showing in museums or in galleries

— Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

Three years later, Smith again collaborated with the National Gallery of Art, this time to shine a light on other Native American pieces. Her ultimate goal is to broaden the audience for Native artists.

“In the 1970s when I was doing this work, I probably could count on maybe four hands the Native Americans who were actually showing in museums or in galleries,” Smith said in a New York Times interview.

“We weren’t showing in museums because they weren’t interested in our work…usually, what you see in a museum is antiquities, as though we’re all dead and we are not here anymore,” Smith explained.

Some artists took the route of curating feel-good, colorful and peaceful works. One example is “Ute’s Homelands” by Kay WalkingStick, a member of the Cherokee Nation who used warm colors to foster a positive message. The piece depicts a Southwest mountain overlooking a small river, topped with traditional designs to show the value of the setting held by Cherokee tribe members.

At the same time, the exhibition contains abstract, gloomy perspectives on the environment, including pieces such as “Impact vs. Influence” by John Hitchcock, a descendent of the Comanche and Kiowa tribes. The colorless installation, consisting of black and gray cutouts against two white walls, speaks to invasion and displacement.

“This is about invasiveness: invasion of military elements, invasive in the sense of moving animals to reserves, and moving humans to them, too,” Hitchcock said in a New York Times interview.

By strategically placing 21 cutouts of wildlife and machinery in a checkerboard pattern across the walls, Hitchcock alludes to the Dawes Act of 1887, in which Native Americans were forced out of their land and pushed out west so that Europeans could occupy Indigenous land.

Through the contrasting depictions of American land, the exhibition attempts to broaden the viewpoint on Native American lives. Hitchcock hopes that attendees will leave the show not only remembering the sorrowful history of Native Americans, but also the experiences of modern-day Natives in society.

“The Land Carries Our Ancestors: Contemporary Art by Native Americans” will be on display at the National Gallery of Art through Jan. 15, 2024.

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Caroline Mohamadi '26, Business Manager
Caroline Mohamadi is currently a Business Manager for Horizon. Prior to this, she worked as a Staff Writer for the newspaper.
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