'Making New Traditions'
Paulette Wipf, left, and her husband, Lindy, of Vermillion look at the“Making New Traditions” exhibit at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City. The exhibit features works by eight emerging Native American artists with tribal ties to the Northern Plains. Aaron Rosenblatt Journal staff

The eight Native American artists selected for the “Making New Traditions” exhibit at the Dahl Arts Center express themselves in vastly different ways, but the collective effect of their artwork is the same.

The exhibit of emerging artists from Northern Plains tribes challenges assumptions about Native art, according to Mary Maxon, curator of exhibits at the arts center.

“They’re really taking Native art to a new place,” Maxon said. “With Native art, a lot of times people come up with this stereotypical imagery.”

Since the exhibit opened April 8, the artists’ varying visions and multiple media have coexisted in the gallery. The artwork includes porcelain sculptures, mixed-media paper prints and acrylic paintings.

Artist April Holder’s part of the exhibit is based on childhood memories of running through bed sheets hung from a clothesline.

She created images on sheets of a family posed for a formal photo, a Ku Klux Klan rally and others. The sheets are hung by clothespins from lengths of clothesline.

“The idea of the bed sheets was very important to her,” Maxon said.

With eight artists, the exhibit is anything but a homogenous collection of works. 

“They’re including their heritage, but it isn’t primary; it’s a part of it,” she said. “Native art certainly evolves like any artistic genre.”

Keith Brave Heart, 28, has two-dimensional acrylic paintings and mixed media wall hangings in the exhibit.

He strives for a balance between contemporary and traditional themes, often including old stories and images so they will not be lost or forgotten.

“A lot of times, it just kind of happens by itself; an image or an idea will pop up like it’s meant to be there. Most of my works, that’s how they kind of finish themselves,” he said.

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The exhibit’s connection to the Northern Plains emphasizes a part of the Native art world that is often overlooked. The work of Northern Plains Native artists tends to be overshadowed by Southwestern Native art.

“We looked for artwork that is relevant in contemporary art and that is often lost in the influence of Southwestern art,” Maxon said.

Brave Heart, who went to college in the Southwest to study art, says it’s the best place for Native artists to get a start.

“I do think that Northern Plains art has been kind of left out for a long time,” he said. “I think that’s mostly because there’s a lot more opportunity and venues and people trying to make people aware of Native American art down there.”

“Making New Traditions,” organized in cooperation with The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School, will run through Sept. 3. A series of events related to the exhibit, including film screenings for young indigenous filmmakers, will start in June. 

“These artists are at the very beginning of their careers,” Maxon said. “There’s a vibrancy and a willingness to do different things.”

Contact Eric Lochridge at 394-8321 or eric.lochridge@rapidcityjournal.com.

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