(Written by Keyonna Brannam) The Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia has organized the exhibition “Collective Impressions: Modern Native American Printmakers,” on view October 16, 2021, to January 30, 2022, to examine the individuals, communities and institutions central to elevating printmaking as a practice among Indigenous artists. First embraced by Native American artists in the mid-20th century, printmaking offered them a means of modernist experimentation, communal engagement and social commentary.
The exhibition provides a chronological overview of Native American printmaking, grouping objects around concepts of ritual, gender, humor, memory, power, dispossession and exile. Choctaw/Chickasaw art historian heather ahtone notes that Native printmakers took up paper — the material that Western legal culture used to strip tribes of rights, lands and languages — to sustain Native stories and renounce narratives of domination or tragedy. Printmaking is often a collaborative and communal endeavor between artists and (often) a master printer. The collective spirit of the process resonates with Native principles of reciprocity, crosscultural exchange and the intergenerational passing of artistic knowledge.
“Collective Impressions” highlights a large number of Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek) and Yuchi artists, including Yatika Starr Fields, Bobby C. Martin, America Meredith, Kay WalkingStick and Richard Ray Whitman, whose works address history, memory and belonging. Given that the University of Georgia stands on the ancestral homelands of these tribes, exhibitions like this one serve as crucial opportunities to place Indigenous artists, writers, and scholars firmly within the museum’s mission to preserve, exhibit, interpret and collect the history of art.
As part of the exhibition, the University of Georgia’s creative writing program, within the department of English, invited six graduate students, all poets and writers, to record poems from the landmark Norton anthology of Native literature “When the Light of the World Was Subdued Our Songs Came Through.” Published in 2020, the volume was edited by U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (Muscogee), University of Georgia Eidson Chair of American Literature LeAnne Howe (Choctaw) and writer and scholar Jennifer Foerster (Muscogee). The goal of the collaboration is to use poetry to enhance viewers’ experience of visual art and foreground Native authors. Visitors can access the recordings in the gallery through their phones. The six student participants are: Chelsea L. Cobb, Nathan Dixon, Nathan Gehoski, Aviva Kasowski, Mike McClelland and Hannah V. Warren.