Native American photography at Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum will present Native America: In Translation, a group exhibition comprised of artworks by ten contemporary Indigenous artists, including the late artist Kimowan Metchewais (Cree, Cold Lake First Nations) and Madison-based photographer Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk), that considers the complex histories of colonialism, identity, and heritage through a contemporary lens. The Native American photography exhibition will be on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum from February 24 through June 23, 2023.  

Native America: In Translation is curated by Wendy Red Star (Apsáalooke), a Portland, Oregon-based artist who engages archival research and her Native American cultural heritage in her practice.

“I was thinking about young Native artists, and what would be inspirational and important for them as a road map,” Red Star said about selecting artists for inclusion. “The people included here have all played an important part in forging pathways, in opening up space in the art world for new ways of seeing and thinking.”

The Native American photography exhibition, which extends Red Star’s work as guest editor of the Fall 2020 issue of Aperture magazine, features pieces by Rebecca Belmore (Lac Seul First Nation), Nalikutaar Jacqueline Cleveland (Yup’ik), Martine Gutierrez (American), Koyoltzintli (Ecuadorian-American), Duane Linklater (Omaskêko Ininiwak from Moose Cree First Nation), Guadalupe Maravilla (American, b. El Salvador), Kimowan Metchewais (Cree, Cold Lake First Nations), Alan Michelson (Mohawk, Six Nations of the Grand River), and Marianne Nicolson (Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nations); the inclusion of works by Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk) is unique to the Milwaukee Art Museum’s presentation.

“Historically, the relationship between Native people and photography is complicated, and these artists are reclaiming the medium, using the camera to tell contemporary narratives about community, identity, and heritage, and the legacy of colonialism on the American continents,” Ariel Pate, Assistant Curator of Photography, at the Milwaukee Art Museum, said.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s presentation of this touring exhibition will include three beaded portraits by Tom Jones, one of which will receive its museum premiere. Jones’s photographs combine portraits of contemporary Ho-Chunk people with intricate beadwork inspired by his cultural heritage. Two of these works were acquired by the Museum recently and will be on view for the first time since entering the collection. 

Also premiering in the Milwaukee presentation will be two works by the influential and recently rediscovered artist Kimowan Metchewais, marking the first time these works will be exhibited since Metchewais’s archive entered the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian after his premature death in 2011. The exhibition will also feature a suite of works by Martine Gutierrez from her Indigenous Woman project, which, as Gutierrez writes, is “an independent art publication dedicated to the celebration of Mayan Indian heritage, the navigation of contemporary indigeneity, and the ever-evolving self-image.”

“We are thrilled to welcome Tom Jones’ works into the Museum’s collection and have them available for visitors to enjoy and consider in the exhibition Native America: In Translation,” Marcelle Polednik, Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, said. “The exhibition’s powerful portraits not only reflect important stories and histories shared by our local communities, but they will also spark new conversations within the Museum’s walls that will inspire visitors for years to come.”

Native America: In Translation will be accompanied by a robust schedule of programming guided by the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Native Initiatives Advisory Group. This group was convened in 2020 and works closely with Museum staff to reconsider how the institution presents art by and about Indigenous communities. The group of community members includes people from tribal nations from across Wisconsin.

For Native America: In Translation, the group advised the Museum on interpretation and programming, including Family Sundays: Celebrating Native Art and Artists, which will be held on March 12, 2023, in Windhover Hall. Family Sundays is a signature Museum event that offers experiential and family-friendly programming designed to bring art to life for every generation.

Related publications, including the “Native America” issue and recent Aperture monographs on Red Star and Metchewais, will be on display in the exhibition and available for purchase at mam.org

This Native American photography exhibition is organized by Aperture and is made possible, in part, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Exhibitions in the Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts are sponsored by the Herzfeld Foundation. The Milwaukee Art Museum extends its sincere thanks to the 2023 Visionaries.

About Wendy Red Star

Wendy Red Star (born 1981, Billings, Montana) is a Portland, Oregon–based artist raised on the Apsáalooke reservation. Her work is informed both by her Native American cultural heritage and by her engagement with many forms of creative expression, including photography, sculpture, video, fiber arts, and performance.

An avid researcher of archives and historical narratives, Red Star seeks to recast her research, offering new and unexpected perspectives that are inquisitive, witty, and unsettling. Red Star holds a BFA from Montana State University, Bozeman, and an MFA in sculpture from the University of California, Los Angeles.

About the Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum welcomes people from throughout the community and the world to find themselves and lose themselves in art, creativity, and culture. At any one time, visitors can experience over 2,500 works on view within the Museum’s collection galleries and three ever-changing exhibition spaces; participate in engaging programming; and explore the one-of-a-kind spaces across the 24-acre lakefront campus. The iconic architecture brings together structures designed by Eero Saarinen, David Kahler, and Santiago Calatrava. Famous for its moving Burke Brise Soleil, the Museum serves as a symbol of Milwaukee pride and connects the shores of Lake Michigan to the city’s bustling downtown.

About Aperture

Aperture, a not-for-profit foundation, connects the photo community and its audiences with the most inspiring work, the sharpest ideas, and with each other—in print, in person, and online. Created in 1952 by photographers and writers as “common ground for the advancement of photography,” Aperture today is a multiplatform publisher and center for the photo community.

From its base in New York, Aperture produces, publishes, and presents a variety of photography projects and programs—locally, across the United States, and around the world. For more information, visit aperture.org.

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