Emerging from a time when Native American artwork was labeled “crafts” and tight boxes were constructed to contain ideas of what Indians “should” create, Lloyd Henri “Kiva” New worked to tear down barriers and inspire youthful artists to explore their cultures and traditions, while translating them to a personal and contemporary expression of their world.
Santa Fe will celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth this year with exhibitions and activities at three museums, including the one associated with the school he helped found: the Institute of American Indian Arts’ Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.
That means it’s not only a new year – it’s New’s year, declared Ryan Flahive, IAIA archivist.
“He really pushed students to look back at their own heritage,” he said. “What was most influential was his viewpoint on how to look at Indian art. It didn’t have to fit any pre-conceived notion … .
“I think Lloyd’s influence was macro: to not stay in the box.”
Besides his work at IAIA, New (1916-2002) is known for his work as a charter member of the Arizona Craftsmen cooperative in Scottsdale, Ariz., and his own Lloyd Kiva Studio, for which he created handbags, clothing and textiles that broke into the realms of high fashion for 1950s America.
“People knew his name,” said Tatiana Lomahaftewa-Singer, curator of collections for IAIA’s museum. (But don’t be confused if you see several variations, as he used different versions of his name for his different roles, with “Kiva” adopted as his fashion brand.)
“Having a Kiva bag was a status symbol,” added Eric Davis, IAIA marketing and communications director.
The MoCNA exhibition will be three-fold. Some 25-30 pieces of New’s oils on canvas and watercolors will be shown, only two of which had been displayed previously, covering a period from 1938 to 1995, Flahive said.
Another portion will represent his fashion design studio, re-creating how it might have looked, and drawing some comparisons between his paintings and his textiles, which used many modernized western and Native motifs.
Finally, Lomahaftewa-Singer is drawing together student-produced textiles from the ’60s and ’70s, a time that demonstrated New’s influence in helping bring Indian art into a contemporary setting, she said. The IAIA collections include some 200 textiles, she said, adding that it’s difficult to tell who produced many of them that are not signed. In some cases, she said, one artist may have produced the screen for the pattern, but another student may have used the screen to produce the actual textiles.
And, inspired by a display at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City, Flahive said a touch-screen computer will be in place on which visitors can choose a fabric, colors, background design and motif to design their own textiles, which will be projected onto a 15-foot-wide view. When no one is actively using the touch screen, images of previously created designs will be shown as a slide show on the wall. “It will bring visitors’ creations to the show,” he said.
IAIA started as a high school when it was founded in 1962, then converted to a two-year college in 1975 and a four-year college in 1986. New’s influence established a departure from art as taught by Dorothy Dunn at the Santa Fe Indian School, where she held students to a traditional idea of what they should create, Flahive said.
While Dunn instructed students to stick to their own tribe’s motifs and materials, New encouraged students to learn from each other through an Indian aesthetics class that exposed them to all tribal styles and ended with a giant potluck where all contributed traditional dishes from their home community, he said.
“There are alumni who say they learned more from other students than the faculty,” Flahive added.
In describing New’s approach, he said, “Why make a beaded saddle for a horse when you no longer have a horse? He always knew a culture evolves and adapts.”
“We know we have to live in a modern society,” added Lomahaftewa-Singer.
The exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art, opening in May, will examine how New’s ideas and legacies were reflected in the artworks produced by past and former faculty and alumni from IAIA. “It will be placing their work within a greater context of contemporary art,” said curator Carmen Vendelin.
The school was founded at a time when post-modernism, feminism and cultural identity were important ideas in the art world, she said. While feminists were pursuing the idea that the political was personal, Native Americans were pushing for self-determination. “It was the perfect era for IAIA,” she said.
“Fritz Scholder’s work was embraced by some of the people in AIM (the American Indian Movement), although he didn’t see himself as radically political,” Vendelin said. T.C. Cannon produced a painting that showed tribal leaders receiving medals reflecting their sovereignty at the same time treaties were being broken, she noted.
Other artists likely to be included in her show are Neil Parsons, Melanie Yazzie, Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie and Will Wilson.
The Museum of Art show will demonstrate how works coming out of IAIA fit with styles of the time, such as pop art or art with a political message, she said. “A lot of artists’ goals in art is to communicate something to the viewers, to tell really topical stories,” Vendelin said, admitting, “I probably gravitate toward art that has a message in it.”
“Lloyd ‘Kiva’ New wanted art to be a larger dialogue, relevant to Native Americans and to people who are not Native American,” she said. “He wanted more pure art than something designed for the market.” While he wanted students to be successful, he wasn’t looking for that success to occur through selling “tourist art,” she added, but to be recognized as a vital part of a larger art world.
New’s own story will be told in the exhibition opening Feb. 13 at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. In telling the story of his life and his art, the show will be divided into five sections: New Lands, Ancient Stories; Student and Teacher; An Artist at War; The New Enterprise/Clothes Make the Man; and the New Legacy.
With examples of his art, fashion designs, photos, sketches and documents, it will show how a man of mixed Cherokee and Scot/Irish heritage, growing up on a family farm in Oklahoma, became a vital influence, both as a teacher and entrepreneur, in the fashion world.
“It will highlight how the actions and innovations of New provided the foundation for today’s Native art in its new forms and media, to remain as Indian as the Indian, while visible and relevant on a global scale,” according to a written exhibition summary.