Dyani White Hawk:
Speaking to Relatives

February 16 to May 22, 2022

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ABOUT THE EXHIBITION 

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Providing further opportunity to unpack the broader history of abstraction, Dyani White Hawk: Speaking to Relatives, will present a ten-year survey of painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation by the Minneapolis based artist. This major solo exhibition of White Hawk’s unique merging of the abstract visual languages of easel painting and Lakota art forms, will also be on view from February 16 to May 22, 2022. 

“We are honored to showcase White Hawk’s unique and innovative approach to abstraction and the incorporation of Native histories. Her work offers an opportunity for visitors to think critically and deepen their understanding of artistic history of the United States, drawing significant attention to Native visual history, an integral and underrepresented focus in American abstraction,” said Miranda Lash, Ellen Bruss Senior Curator. 

Dyani White Hawk’s (Sičáŋu Lakota, born 1976) artistic practice is distinguished by a hybrid aesthetic highlighting cross cultural experiences. She uses techniques that abstract easel painters began using in the 1950s that foregrounded the expression of mark making and focused on form rather than representational imagery as a way to communicate concepts.

Combined with innovations in abstraction grounded in Indigenous aesthetics, the range of White Hawk’s work and influences speak to themes of identity and visibility, placing her at the forefront of dialogue on Native art as fundamental to American artistic narratives. She works across different cultures, histories, and visual traditions to emphasize the significance of shared histories between Native and non-Native people. Using this approach, White Hawk encourages conversations that challenge the lack of representation of Native people, arts, and voices in art movements and beyond. 

The moccasin series, some of the earliest works in the exhibition, comprises paintings and works on paper created with blocks of color, thick striping, and arched shapes that evoke themes of balance and companionship. White Hawk abstracts elements of Native attire using stripes and dots, which highlight important intersections between abstract works of Plains Indian art and American Modernist painters such as Mark Rothko (Latvian, born 1903). 

In White Hawk's Quiet Strength series, begun in 2016, she uses paint to mimic motifs, materials, and qualities found in Plains style porcupine quillwork and lane stitch beadwork, art forms historically upheld by Native women. In their subtle and soft tones, and transcribed in her unique style, these works embody and honor the legacy of abstraction practiced throughout generations of Native artists on this continent. The Carry works from 2019 and 2020 are beaded vessel sculptures made of colorful dyed feathers, glass beads, brass sequins, and cascading buckskin fringe responding directly to categorizations such as utilitarian, design, and craft that have oversimplified and othered Native arts

In conjunction with this exhibition MCA is proud to commission a new Colorado-inspired chapter of White Hawk’s video work LISTEN (begun in 2020). This multi-channel video installation seeks to combat the lack of knowledge among the American public regarding Native people, history, and our contemporary tribal nations. In each of the monitors footage of the land is layered with footage of a woman Indigenous to the region. Each woman speaks for the duration of the video in her Indigenous language. “The intent is not for you to be able to understand or translate what they are sharing,” according to White Hawk, “but simply to be introduced to and familiarized with the cadence and sounds of a small sampling of the Indigenous languages of this land.” 

Speaking to Relatives will also feature White Hawk’s recent photographic series I Am Your Relative (2020). This series of six photographs is dedicated to Indigenous women and girls. The work highlights, according to White Hawk, “our connections to one another, our complex and varied identities, our power, strength, survival and humanity. The piece is based in and reflects Očeti Šakowin (L/N/Dakota) tribal beliefs and understandings of mitakuye oyasin which translates to ‘all my relations.’” The statements that appear on the shirts of the women humanize and honor Indigenous women while combating fantasies and stereotypes that contribute to disproportionate acts of violence against this population.

On view from
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Organized by the Kemper Museum  of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, by Jade Powers, assistant curator.

A full-color catalogue accompanies the exhibition.