At the opening of the 40th Anniversary show Professor Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie delivered an emotive embodied address speaking about the show she and Museum manager Veronica Passalacqua put together. The collection of South-West Native American paintings featured in this anniversary show speak to three important considerations:
The historical contexts the painting arise from; the collective voice of the American Indian artists and their subsequent influence on contemporary Indigenous artists; and how works of art themselves become container sites for passing on story, ceremony, culture and values
The paintings featured in this exhibition span from 1919 through to the sixties. They represent the South-West narrative pictoral style of the Southern Plains (Passalacqua, 2013). Many of the painters represented in the exhibition attended the Santa Fe Indian School where artistic education was a focus (Passalacqua, 2013).
One of the paintings featured in the exhibition by Keats Begay shows the four directions and the sacred six dimensions: north, east, south, west, above and below. In Begay’s painting you can see the seasons for planting, the companion planting and the spiritual guides for each of the direction.
One of the painters represented in the exhibition is Hulleah’s father. Hulleah said that the feeling she has when in the room with her fathers painting and the paintings of her father’s contemporaries many of those Hulleah grew up knowing or knowing their works, was ‘keh’. She explained that ‘keh’, a Navajo concept, means that one becomes one with everything. Hulleah continued to show us how each of these paintings spoke through multi-layered meaning about ceremonial knowledge, about cultural knowledge, about memories and about relationship to horses and land.
Hulleah spoke of how the process of painting would set the world into balance for those young men. They would paint what they missed from home. Being placed at the boarding school away from family. Hulleah interpreted her father’s paintings that featured women prominently as he missed his mother and his sister, ‘we could paint, we could remember, we felt good’
One of the most prescient concepts that Hulleah brings to the contemporary Indigenous arts is the idea of visual sovereignty:
…to confront the spectator with the often absurd assumptions that circulate around visual representations of Native Americans, while also flagging their involvement and, to some degree, complicity in these often disempowering structures of cinematic dominance and stereotype. (Raheja, 2007: 1160)
This idea of visual sovereignty relates closely with the work I am pursuing in the area of Indigenous leadership through artistic practice. Indigenous artists do this identity work – repairing, forming, maintaining, expressing identity – and through their identity work expressed in their artistic creations I believe they are doing work that can be framed as leadership. It is embodied, it inspires, it is influential, it creates a vision of the future. was inspired by the work of Tsinhnahjinnie and Passalacqua and thank them for their contribution to Indigenous art. I