History PhD student plays leading role in new exhibit on contemporary Native American art at the National Gallery

History PhD student plays leading role in new exhibit on contemporary Native American art at the National Gallery
Loan from the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, Indiana, © Jim Denomie Estate. Photo courtesy of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art

Mason PhD Student Shana Bushyhead Condill works on superb exhibition at National Gallery of Art: “The Land Carries Our Ancestors: Contemporary Art by Native Americans”, on view through January 15, 2024

When Shana Bushyhead Condill (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) began working for the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, she began to seek out works by Native American artists. It turns out there wasn’t much. Because the Museum catalogues art according to birth country and makes no specification for tribal affiliation, Native American artists weren’t easy to find either. She ended up with a count of 24 works, out of more than 141,000 works held by this national Museum.  Tides began to change in 2020 when the Museum acquired “I See Red: Target”, a painting by the artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation. As Condill talked with her colleagues, an idea emerged to have Smith curate an exhibition of contemporary art by Native Americans.  

Condill worked alongside Smith and a team of people from the National Gallery which consisted of curators, educators, designers, and countless others to put together the exhibition.  Now, Condill is a first-year PhD student in Public History at Mason, where she is focusing on public and Native history. She continues to work in museums too: she is now the executive director at the Museum of the Cherokee People, the tribal museum of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  

The exhibition finally came to be this fall, with the opening of “The Land Carries Our Ancestors: Contemporary Art by Native Americans,” on view in the National Gallery’s East Building September 22, 2023 through January 15, 2024.  The exhibition is a stunning gathering of close to fifty Native artists, all living and working in the United States. The artists range in age, from those at the start of their careers to those who have been exhibiting work for decades; they also come from different Indigenous nations and from regions across the US. Their work, however, focuses on a single theme: the notion of landscape. As Condill notes, one of the most important elements of this exhibition is that the works engage with and present viewers with Native ideas of land and landscape– from Teri Greeves’ beaded sneakers that connect the wearer to the ground, to the installation of works designed to evoke the “checkerboarding” of indigenous communities. So too, the text in the exhibition eschews the practice of having the all-knowing museum speak for the artists – here the artists speak for themselves, their own words filling the gallery, representing their art and their world on their own terms. 

For more on Condill and the exhibition, see:  

https://www.nga.gov/stories/dust-on-our-feet.html 

Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), Indian Canyon, 2019, archival pigment print, Courtesy of the artist. © Cara Romero

 

Thumbnail: Demian Demian DinéYazhi' (Diné), No Place Like Hózhó, 2017, six-color lithograph, Crow's Shadow Institute of the Arts, © 2017 Demian DinéYazhi'. Photo by Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts