CMA Stories

6 Fun Facts About Contemporary Native Artists

This Sunday, November 20, we will be celebrating the artistic traditions of native peoples from around America with the Redhawk Native American Arts Council. Did you know, there are 566 recognized tribes, bands, nations, pueblos rancherias, communities and Native villages in the United States according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs? Each tribe has their own unique artistic heritage and we look forward to introducing you to some of these cultures this weekend. We will be creating jewelry inspired by the Plains Natives, learning about the history of oral storytelling in the Sound Booth, creating baskets inspired by Ojibwe, Dene, and Inuits peoples, and more!

In this blog post, we highlight 6 contemporary artists of the indigenous peoples of America whose work you may not be familiar with yet. While many of these artists are inspired by the traditional artistic techniques of their ancestors, their work focuses on the contemporary narrative of the modern-day indigenous person.

1. Bill Reid was a sculptor, painter, and jewelry maker, who was often inspired by figures, animals and scenes from Haida folklore. One of his most famous artworks was Raven and The First Men, a depiction of a Haida creation myth carved on a giant block of yellow cedar. The carving took two years to complete, and was pictured on the Canadian $20 bill from 2004 – 2012.

2. Brian Jungen focuses on installation art and sculpture taking found objects, such as sporting equipment, chairs, and food trays, and modifies them to resemble First Nations artworks and wood carvings. In his sculpture Shapeshifter, Jungen investigates the intersections between Aboriginal and Western cultures, creating the skeleton of a whale entirely out of plastic chairs, mimicking those you might find displayed in a natural history museum.

3. Marie Watt draws upon the Iroquois’ practice of giving away blankets to honor important life events by creating sculptures and installations from soft materials. Some of her larger works are made in community sewing circles where the process of coming together to make the work is a performance in and of itself.

4. Thosh Collins is a photographer who aims to capture positive images of Indigenous people, cultures, and communities, bringing to light the intelligence and beauty of people he encounters on his travels through Native territory. He captures everything from portraits, to urban and rural landscapes, to fashion, and still life.

5. Fritz Scholder was a painter whose colorful style was heavily influenced by abstract expressionism. He arrived at his most well known subject matter— the Native American—after accepting a teaching position at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe in 1964. His “Indian Series” paintings focused on portraying Native Americans in a contemporary style that captured their lives in modern society.

6. Maria Hupfield is a performance artist based in Brooklyn whose artwork focuses on the experiences of the body in relation to objects and space. Hupfield hand sews garments, such as moccasins and gloves, using industrial felt and reflective materials which she activates in her arrangements and performances. One of her performances, “4 Lines in 4 Directions” will be showcased in BRIC’s 2016 Biennale which you can see for yourself on December 17th at BRIC House!

"Raven and The First Men," by Bill Reid, UBC Museum of Anthropology

This program is supported, in part, by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts with support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. 

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