Museum Minute: Modern Art Pieces Call Attention To Contributions Of Native Artists

Mar 13, 2019

The Plains Indian Museum recently acquired two pieces of artwork from Lakota artist Dyani White Hawk. The two paintings are small 13 inch cubes. Rebecca West, the curator of the museum, said the paintings really evoke White Hawk’s formal artistic training and generational skill of beadwork. West said the pieces are bands of color done in acrylic and beadwork.

“We have a big band of black paint that fades nicely into white and the same thing with the second work and then Dyani also put on top of this very simple abstract composition bands of beadwork that she stitched onto the canvas,” West described. “They are alternating bands of black and white and they are rows of this immaculately done beadwork in tiny little seed beads so it contrasts with the softness of the acrylic underneath.”

For West, the artwork depicts native artists becoming part of what should be mainstream art history. She said her work can be compared to the well-known abstract impressionist Mark Rothko. West said one of Rothko’s missions in creating different band of colors is to get down to the essentials. Rothko did this by minimal use of colors and forms.

“Dyani is doing very much of the same thing but in her own special way by using beads in addition to the abstract bands of color,” said West.

West asked White Hawk why she decided to use beadwork in her artwork.

“These works, by beading over a painted abstract background rearrange the dominant hierarchical narrative of art history. The audience must see and recognize the contributions of bead work and indigenous art at the same time or even a beat before the history of modern abstraction. The works aim to encourage a course correction towards a honest telling of and appreciation of our inter-sectional national art history,” responded White Hawk.