Indigenous peoples have been creating a wide variety of breathtaking visual arts around the world since time immemorial. However, too often, it is only these historical examples that non-Indigenous people have the opportunity to see, perpetuating the idea that Indigenous art and Indigenous peoples are only a thing of the past.
That’s why the new trend of Indigenous art exhibits popping up around the world is so important. These spaces give Indigenous communities the opportunity to showcase modern works of art that speak to culture, activism and the future, whether they come from North Carolina or Australia.
“Forty percent of the United States literally doesn’t even know that Native people exist anymore,” said Jared Wheatley, founder of the Indigenous Walls Project in Asheville, North Carolina. “It’s not even an erasure. It’s beyond erasure. It’s complete invisibility for 40% of the United States. It’s huge! So the most important thing for us is: how do we become visible?”
For many indigenous communities, art has been the answer to this lack of visibility.
In North Carolina, the Indigenous Walls Project helps Native graffiti artists across the country find walls in and around Asheville for their murals.
Both an art project and a tool for community building, the group owns twelve mural locations in and around downtown Asheville. all of which are free to view, with several located on and around Coxe and Biltmore Avenues.
Additionally, the organization hosted the first Urban Intertribal Graffiti Jam, which brought Native graffiti artists from across the country to Asheville for live murals, conversations, and an art market.
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For other Indigenous creators, the modern art movement is not just about being seen by people outside their community. It can also be about strengthening ties within the community.
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Also known as daphne, the center for native artists is the first of its kind in Montreal. Founded in 2019 by four acclaimed Anishinaabe and Kanien’kehá:ka artists: Skawennati; Hannah Claus; Nadia Myre; and Caroline Monnet; the center is named after Anishinaabe artist Daphne Odjig.
It serves as a space in Quebec where Indigenous artists, especially those from Francophone communities, can find programming, workshops, residencies and curatorial initiatives specially created with them and their values in mind. The space also helps raise awareness and interest in modern Indigenous art and artists from the wider community.
“We want daphne to be a generative gathering space for our local Indigenous arts community: a social space where we can come together and learn from each other or just be with each other,” explained Lori Beavis, Executive Director of the Daphne Art Center.
Visitors to the center can see exhibits by Michelle Sound, Catherine Boivin and Suzanne Morrissette, among other artists. Starting November 1, the center will also welcome its very first artist-in-residence, Anishinaabe artist Christian Chapman.
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One of the reasons alternative spaces like Daphne are so important is that mainstream art museums often have a complicated relationship with Indigenous communities.
Many museums, past and present, have been called upon to reprimand for displaying Indigenous artwork, artifacts, and even sacred objects, without permission. However, many international museums are now striving to do better by repatriating culturally significant pieces and showcasing modern examples of indigenous art.
For example, the Sydney Modern Project, the latest extension of the Australian Art Gallery of New South Wales which will open in a separate structure opposite the main museum building in December 2022, will showcase contemporary Indigenous artists in its exhibitions. Focusing on current works instead of the nearly 2,000 pieces already in the museum’s collection was an intentional decision, made by Maud Page, deputy director and director of collections at the museum.
“All artwork is always going to tell a story,” said Phil Lockyer, head of Indigenous affairs at Tourism Australia, “but it’s also about culture, disposition, power, all these other more contemporary challenges that minorities and people of color face.”
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By exhibiting modern art in as many spaces as possible around the world, Indigenous artists hope to create spaces where their works can help spark much-needed conversations about issues affecting their communities and how to move forward. a different and fairer direction.
“It’s a thoughtful, considerate conversation that should go on for generations now,” Wheatley says. “Because it lasted generations one way, it must also last generations the other way.”