Posted October 21, 2015 by Cooper Point Journal in Arts & Entertainment

Not Vanishing:

Contemporary Expressions in Indigenous Art 1977-2015 at the Museum of Northwest Art

By Katherine Bussey

At the opening for “Not Vanishing: Contemporary Expressions in Indigenous Art 1977-2015”, spectators shared heat and energy, engaging between objects of art and music while celebrating decades of dynamic creativity.

A new generation of artists are also being celebrated as they break ground by confronting obsolete social models while embodying the cultural integrity that defined the Contemporary Native American Art movement in the 60’s.

Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA)’s gallery space welcomed the viewer to a unique passage through the rich variety of art forms beginning at a curved staircase towards the entrance of the gallery forming a cradle for the piece: “Winter Loon Dance” (1977) by North American Aleut artist John Hoover. At nine feet tall and ten feet in diameter, the cedar panels make a complete circle while the carved figures recede and swell with the subtle colors of applied oil paint.

Gail Tremblay, co-curator with Miles R. Miller and faculty at Evergreen opened the reception with a brief introduction to the Pacific Northwest’s contribution to the Contemporary Native American Art movement from its inception through various historical markers such as colonization and modernization. The term “Contemporary” is applied to Native American Art as a defining moment of colonization when it began to break from “traditional” functional art forms into a more “modern” approach. These “modernist” techniques of  Euro-American aesthetics were first introduced into Indigenous Art at Santa-Fe Institute of American Indian Arts in 1962. The blending of the newly appropriated contemporary methods with the Native American experience of forced assimilation created new forms that reasserted Native American communities attempts at political sovereignty.

The subject’s complexity otherwise necessitated by in-depth study, had the advantage of  material testimony to engage with the audience and narrate its story ultimately  leading to the upper level of MoNa with artists from  the last decade. “It’s important that the next generation be represented,” said Gail Tremblay. “They’re visions of what it means to be a contemporary artist and maintain your culture.”

These fleeting visions of newer artists captured the social and political irony of this generation. The Almost Faithful, the featured band, played on and complimented the atmosphere with pensive vocals and transitory guitar riffs . When I asked John Feodorov, guitarist and Navajo Artist what it was like, this process of creation, he explained more resolutely “It’s something I do so I don’t have to talk about it. It forces people to shut up and to think and respond. ”

He is right, in that moment, words could not interpret the experience; the Sara Siestreem paper paintings with their thick impasto brush strokes, washed pastel color, entwined lines sweeping through frame as the delicate vocals of Kyung floated in space to fuse with the soft yellow glow of a Neon “Trade” sign of Tanis Maria S’eiltin’s “Territorial Trappings” (2012); it’s Lynx “Bacon” of waxy strips strung with bloody chains swaying to the melodic waves. The obscene parallel reality of it all, our present experience, it’s hard to define with words.

“Not Vanishing: Contemporary Expressions in Indigenous Art 1977-2015” will be exhibiting until January 3 at the MoNA in La Conner, WA and is open Sun and Monday, noon until 5 p.m., Tues-Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m.