Hood exhibition explores time through Native American Art
Recent graduates and former Hood Museum interns curated “Unbroken: Native American Ceramics, Sculpture, and Design,” on display now after being postponed for the pandemic.
This article is featured in the 2022 Commencement & Reunions special issue.
After several years of delay, Hood Museum of Art exhibition “Unbroken: Native American Ceramics, Sculpture and Design” opened in January of 2022. The display was curated by former Native American art interns Dillen Peace ’19 and Sháńdíín Brown ’20 and displays art from historical through contemporary periods. The exhibition features Native American sculpture, ceramics and design. Brown explained that the exhibition was initially inspired by the concept of time in relation to Native American art.
“We thought a lot about how the past brings us into the present and also the future,” Brown said. “We really wanted to honor traditional art forms while also exploring contemporary ideas and mediums.” This theme drove the exhibition’s design.
“[Brown and Peace] are looking at the continuity of these artistic practices within Indigenous communities,” Jami Powell, curator of Indigenous art at the Hood, said. “They thought a lot about how artists are pushing boundaries and innovating, but still referencing and using traditional or historic practices from their communities.”
The exhibition includes roughly 50 pieces from 16 tribes across North America, though most of the works originate from the Southwest. Some of the pieces are from the early 1900s, while others are more contemporary works. As Native American art interns, Brown and Peace drew from The Hood’s permanent collection and also acquired new works on behalf of the museum. Both Brown and Peace said they were inspired to create the exhibition during their experience on the Native American and Indigenous Studies domestic studies program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M.
“[The domestic studies program] was my first real exposure to some of the contemporary artists that are in the exhibition, so it was really rewarding to return here and make some new acquisitions,” Brown said. “There’s a few pieces that are now in the Hood’s permanent collection from the exhibition made by incredible artists like Jason Garcia, Tammy Garcia and Diego Romero.”
On Wednesday, May 25, Peace and Brown held a discussion — titled Conversations and Connections: “Unbroken” — at the Hood Museum regarding the exhibition, which they curated before graduating, though the display was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Powell served as a mentor for the interns and also participated in the conversation.
Brown identified the themes of “continuity” and “evolution” as integral to both the exhibition and the recent discussion. The title, “Unbroken,” underlines this concept of viewing the wide breadth of Indigenous art as deeply connected, rather than as independent pieces of art.
Peace and Powell highlighted the importance of including a diverse range of Indigenous art in the exhibition, in terms of both time period and medium. Powell emphasized that the recent discussion concentrated on the harmful implications of categorizing Indigenous art into narrow categories, particularly “contemporary” and “traditional.”
“What we consider traditional today was once contemporary,” Powell said. “Within the space of looking at Indigenous art, people come with their own assumptions and expectations. When you use terms like ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary,’ it can be problematic and reify some of these stereotypes.”
Through the exhibition, Peace and Brown aimed to create an open dialogue between older and more recent works of Indigenous art, rather than regarding them as entirely separate. Peace expressed that there is a dynamic relationship between these two types of works.
“We were mostly concerned with looking at historical works in the collection,” Peace said, “but we also tried to pair [historical works] with contemporary works that were pushing the same kind of conversation or extending those underlying ideologies within the art.”
For example, the exhibition includes a ceramic piece called “Pow!” by Tammy Garcia, a pueblo sculptor from Santa Clara, N.M. Brown described “Pow!”as a canteen-shaped ceramic work with a comic book depiction of a woman with long nails and finger guns.
“‘Pow!’ is a traditional coil form,” Brown said. “I think to myself, ‘what does [this work] say about native femininity?’ Especially since Garcia uses a contemporary medium of comic books in this traditional form.”
In addition to contemporary works, older pieces in the collection also allow viewers to reconsider the categories of “traditional” and “contemporary.” Brown mentioned a corn effigy jar from the early 1900s as an example of reframing a dichotomous view, as some viewers of the exhibition may consider the piece to be contemporary, while others may view it as traditional.
“In this exhibition, we look at how we define what is ‘traditional’ and ask: ‘what is your baseline of art, form or design?’,” Brown said.
Peace emphasized the difficulty of curating and executing the exhibition, particularly during COVID-19. Throughout the process, Peace and Brown were sometimes working remotely from Santa Fe, collaborating closely with Powell.
“We all had to work as a team. The show ended up switching galleries, and so there were some design details that had to be reevaluated in the time since I’ve been away,” Peace said. “Despite the gap in between what was planned initially and the exhibition today, it was really rewarding to come back and see it all come together.”
Today, Peace studies art at the University of Kansas, while Brown works as a curatorial fellow at Rhode Island School of Design. Like Peace, Brown also appreciated returning to Dartmouth
both for the exhibition and the recent discussion, explaining that it raised important questions about the nature of “home.”
“After [Peace] and I graduated on our own separate paths, we went back to Santa Fe. Now we’re both in different places,” Brown said. “It’s an interesting story of homecoming. And, what exactly does homecoming mean, especially since we’re both Navajo from the Southwest?”
But while the exhibition and discussion had significance for Brown and Peace as individuals, they both hope it also impacted the Dartmouth community. Peace hopes that the exhibition can help visitors understand that Indigenous art can take many different forms, and that it is not limited to one single medium or time period. In other words, Indigenous art is not just “historic,” but is still being made today.
“Native peoples are still here. We’re still present and we’re still actively shaping what kind of future we want,” Peace said. “We navigate a more globalized society with different influences, different factors and different contexts that we still have to work through. But we’re still here. Hopefully that presence comes through in the collection, especially in the contemporary works.”
Correction appended (June 14, 5:30 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Brown's list of artists whose pieces are now a part of the Hood's permanent collection. The article has been updated.