Known as a mainstay of “traditional” Native American art since its 1956 founding, the Millicent Rogers Museum is taking a left turn into the contemporary.
“New Mexico A-i-R: IAIA Artist Residents in Visual Dialogue” showcases the works of 10 Native American artists who are veterans of the Institute of American Indian Arts artist-in-residence program or who are current residents.
The exhibition marks the first collaboration of its kind for both IAIA and the Millicent Rogers Museum.
You’ll find no Navajo textiles or pueblo pottery here.
“We’re really excited to be showing photography and fashion,” said Michelle Lanteri, collections curator at the Millicent Rogers Museum. Dawning Pollen Shorty, an IAIA alumna of Taos Pueblo, Diné and Lakota heritage, co-curated the show.
The exhibit also features hand-cut paper, beadwork, porcelain, tile and mixed-media works.
Cara Romero’s 2021 archival “Oil & Gold” print reflects her Chemehuevi heritage. Two women in traditional regalia pose before an El Segundo oil refinery.
The Santa Fe-based artist hails from the Mohave Desert area of California.
Romero’s 17-year-old daughter Cricket stands on the left, her gold-dusted hand raised in a stop gesture. Naomi White Horse stands beside her, hands dipped in oil.
Romero conceived of the piece after interviewing unrecognized tribal people as part of a project funded by the South Dakota-based NDN Collective.
“None of the tribes on the coast of California ever received their full federal recognition,” Romero said. “And when their treaties weren’t ratified, they completely dispersed.”
The Gold Rush fueled the first rejection; the second, in the 1940s, was due to oil, Romero said.
Leah Mata Fragua (Northern Chumash Tribe) stitched the regalia.
“They are representative of southern California tribes in general,” Romero said. “It’s about the coastal tribes that were unrecognized; there are 19. It’s meant to say, ‘Stop and look what you’ve done.'”
Cricket also stars in “Hermosa,” a print about a Chemehuevi mythos rising from the waves.
Los Angeles is “our place of creation,” Romero said. “It is a place where when you reached the San Bernardino Mountains you could see Great Ocean Woman in the mist and the fog.”
“She does a lot of work where she’s tapping into the power of women and this legacy of creative power,” Lanteri said. “It starts with these origin stories.”
Santa Clara Pueblo artist Jason Garcia’s “#DutchBros #WildBerry” tile shows a traditionally dressed Hopi woman sipping an iced Dutch Brothers coffee while she looks at her cell phone in front of her pueblo. Garcia is known for capturing pueblo people in contemporary settings.
“It’s a young Hopi girl, the way her hair is piled up in the butterfly style,” Garcia said in a phone interview from his Santa Clara Pueblo home. “She’s wearing a traditional manta worn for ceremonial occasions. I’m looking at how some weavers are going back to the traditional materials. The contemporary dresses are black, but they’re commercially dyed. But the traditional is to dye it with indigo. I’ve seen comments from Native people saying it’s supposed to be black. It’s just how tradition evolves and interpretations evolve.”
Orlando Dugi’s sparkling beaded dresses combine contemporary styling with meticulous beadwork.
“He’s talking about Mother Earth and Father Sky in his Navajo world view,” Lanteri said.
Athabascan/Iñupiat artist Erica Lord beaded the DNA profile of adrenocortical cancer onto a burden strap. The Santa Fe-based Lord uses a handmade bead loom to depict diseases affecting Native populations. Her “Tattooed Arms Series” consist of diptychs of outstretched arms carved with numerical tattoos. One reveals the tribal blood quantum level determining whether the wearer can be a tribal citizen; the other an identification number certifying the federally required degree of Native or Alaskan heritage.
“She’s calling attention to discrimination and genocide,” Lanteri said.
Lord has been invited to participate in the Smithsonian’s Renwick Invitational show in 2023.
The exhibition also highlights the work of Heidi Brandow (Diné, Kanaka Maoli), Ian Kuali’i (Kanaka Maoli/Native Hawaiian, Shis-Inday/Mescalero Apache) and Margarita Paz-Pedro (Laguna and Santa Clara pueblos, Mexican American).