Diné artist Monty Little receiving exhibition at Chazen Museum of Art

The Chazen Museum of Art (Chazen) welcomes artist Monty Little (b. 1983) as the 2023 Russell and Paula Panczenko MFA Prize winner. Little is a current MFA candidate in the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s printmaking department. His work will be on view at the Chazen April 17-July 10.  

Premonitions: New Works by Monty Little explores the colonization of Indigenous peoples as well as Indigenous culture and traditions. An artist of Diné heritage, Little seeks to recapture the images and share histories of the continent’s first residents using a range of technologies dating from the 19th century to the present. In the exhibition, Little creates works that address government treaties and the boarding schools that decultured Indigenous children. He also critiques historical photography by cultural tourists, manipulating and adding to the images to reimagine the people documented.

“The work in this exhibition explores the discourse of perception in relation to traditional and contemporary Indigenous identity,” Little said. “I hope viewers are able to gain a deeper appreciation for the complexities of history often presented through a distorted lens.”

Between 1819 and the 1960s, there were boarding schools that were used as a primary tool for erasing native identity and culture, forcibly separating hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children from their families. Little’s installation of a boarding school classroom features a grouping of aged wooden desks. A series of three-dimensional, printed dental models line one wall to represent children who were punished for using their own language, tortured by having lye poured into their mouths.  

A touchstone in the exhibition is a modest stack of 374 hand-cast, letter-sized sheets of paper made of cotton and abaca fiber. The artist leaves the papers blank to represent treaties between the United States government and its numerous Indigenous nations that were likely never intended to be fulfilled. Suspended from the ceiling and laying across the top of the paper stack is a scroll with die-cut text of the name and year of each treaty that was executed.

“As a university museum, the Chazen supports the work of emerging artists to present diverse perspectives throughout the galleries,” sAmy Gilman, director of the Chazen Museum of Art, said. “Little’s work calls attention to the country’s troubling history, using an innovative approach to uncover and reclaim the truth to tell an important story of Indigenous identity.”

The Russell and Paula Panczenko MFA Prize is offered annually by the museum in collaboration with the UW–Madison art department. Selected by an outside juror, the winning artist receives an honorarium and is featured in an exhibition at the Chazen. This year’s juror was Marilu Knode, an independent curatorial consultant and former museum director.

“Monty seeks to amplify Indigenous voices, revealing their growing strength and resilience,” Knode said. “He matches his ideas with a sensitive appropriation of distinct materials and methods in a mixture rich with the past and great meaning for the future.”

The Russell and Paula Panczenko MFA Prize is supported by funds from the Russell and Paula Panczenko Fund for an Outstanding MFA Student.

About the Artist

Monty Little was born in Tuba City, Arizona. After five semesters of studying architecture at Arizona State University, Little enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a rifleman in 2004. He was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in November 2008, after serving four years with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines in Camp Pendleton, California. While in the Marine Corps, Little deployed to Okinawa in 2005 and to Ar Ramadi, Iraq in 2007. 

Following his service, Little graduated in 2015 from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico with a focus in creative writing and studio arts. After, he was awarded the nationally recognized Tulsa Artist Fellowship for three years until December 2018. In the same year, Little was selected as an artist-in-residence at IAIA, and in 2019, he was accepted at the Vermont Studio Center.

His works have been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues such as the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago and the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts in California.

About the Chazen Museum of Art

The Chazen Museum of Art makes its home between two lakes on the beautiful campus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Within walking distance of the state capitol, it sits squarely in the heart of a vibrant college town.

The Chazen’s expansive two-building site holds the second-largest collection of art in Wisconsin and, at 166,000 square feet, is the largest collecting museum in the Big 10. The collection of approximately 24,000 works of art covers diverse historical periods, cultures and geographic locations, from ancient Greece, Western Europe and the Soviet Empire to Moghul India, 18th-century Japan and modern Africa.

For more information: chazen.wisc.edu

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