While many Euro-Americans are familiar with ancient Indigenous art (cave paintings,
for example), there are tremendous gaps in Euro-American historical art texts and
institutional collections of Indigenous communities’ continued creations post European
contact. Indigenous people preserve their culture throughout the ages by passing
down knowledge to their descendants through story and, notably, by using their
hands to create evocative, beautiful examples of traditional material culture.
As noted, traditional Native languages often did not have a specific word for “art,”
even though Indigenous people have always created what colonial language labels
as such. Generally speaking, Indigenous perspectives on art are that it is integrative,
inclusive, practical, and constantly evolving. It seems there is no past or present
terminology that can thoroughly define Indigenous art with respect to the diversity
of the hundreds of Native Nations and their traditions.
Traditional Indigenous handmade creations vary among individual tribal cultures,
from beadwork and clothing to metalwork, pottery, basketmaking, feather weaving,
carving, gourd painting, and quillwork. Today, many Indigenous artists continue
these material traditions, expanding their individual and cultural expression using
both traditional and contemporary media, from quilting to sculpting, cornhusk doll
making to filmmaking, writing, dance, theater, comedy, painting, drawing, digital
work, and more. Today, take time to explore the diversity of Indigenous creativity
portrayed in the works of this exhibit’s featured artists.
Scholars point out that although women are responsible for most Native work in national
collections, Native women artists have been largely unacknowledged outside of their
communities. As a response to this historic inequity, Indigenous Appalachia exhibit
will center and celebrate women’s perspectives. Traditional Indigenous perspectives
situate gender roles as complementary and balanced rather than hierarchical. In
recent decades, American institutionalized exhibits have tokenized female artists.
This bias is reflected in the way Indigenous women’s cultural expressions have
been categorized and discussed in Native North American museums since collecting
practices expanded in the 19th century.