Dyani White Hawk:
Speaking to Relatives

February 16 to May 22, 2022




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

Informative Text

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

A full-color catalogue accompanies the exhibition.

MCA Denver thanks the citizens of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District for their support of the exhibition.


About the artist

 Portrait of artist Dyani White Hawk in her studio, standing in front of a desk with various containers on it that are filled with brushes and other tools. Dyani is sporting a colorful patterned bomber jacket, jeans, big red earrings, two long braids, and glasses with black frames.

Dyani White Hawk (Sičaŋǧu Lakota, b.1976, Madison, WI) is a multimedia artist and independent curator based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Through painting, beadwork, installation, performance, and curation her practice challenges the lack of representation of Native arts, people, and voices in our national consciousness while highlighting the truth and necessity of intersectionality and relatedness across life. White Hawk has received numerous awards, including an Arts and Letters Award in Art (2021), McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship (2021 and 2014), United States Artists Fellowship in Visual Art (2019), Eiteljorg Fellowship for Contemporary Art (2019), Jerome Hill Artists Fellowship (2019), Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Fellowship (2017 and 2015), and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant (2014). She has participated in residencies in New Orleans, Santa Fe, Australia, Russia and Germany. A major ten-year survey exhibition of her practice, Speaking to Relatives, opened at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in 2021, and travels to the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver in 2022. White Hawk's work will also be included in the 2022 Whitney Biennial.

Her work is in numerous collections including the Akta Lakota Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Denver Art Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Portland Art Museum, Saint Louis Art Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and the Walker Art Center. White Hawk earned her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts. She will begin an appointment as Assistant Professor in the Department of Art for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, beginning fall of 2022. White Hawk is represented by the Bockley Gallery, Minneapolis.

Informative Text


My name is Miranda Lash, I am the Ellen Bruss Senior Curator at MCA Denver. The advantage of having these two exhibitions on view at the same time, Eamon Ore-Giron: Competing with Lightning / Rivalizando con el relámpago and Dyani White Hawk: Speaking to Relatives is that together they put forward a compelling and powerful argument about the history of abstraction in the Americas.

Both are geometric painters, drawing from Indigenous sources and histories of abstraction in architecture and garments and design going back from millennia. Looking at their work together in this building, during the spring, we can come to a deeper understanding of how abstraction has evolved in the Americas and how it is a phenomenon that extends back millennia and not as traditionally described as a phenomenon invented in the 20th century.

Through looking at these paintings, we can examine geometries in a different way, think about how abstraction has evolved, and also think about how we can discuss painting and its discourse differently.

Informative Text


Mi nombre es Miranda Lash. Soy la Curadora Ellen Bruss del Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Denver. La ventaja de tener estas dos exposiciones disponibles al mismo tiempo, Eamon Ore-Giron: Rivalizando con el relámpago y Dyani White Hawk: Hablándole a familiares, es que juntas nos ofrecen una cautivador y poderoso argumento sobre la abstracción en el continente americano.

Son un pintor y una pintora que toman inspiración de fuentes indígenas y de historias de la abstracción en la arquitectura y vestimentas y diseños que datan de milenios atrás. Viendo su trabajo frente a frente en este edificio durante la primavera, podemos llegar a un entendimiento más profundo de cómo la abstracción evolucionò en el continente americano y cómo es un fenómeno que data de milenios atrás.

Y no como es tradicionalmente descrito como un fenómeno inventado en el siglo veinte. Al ver estas pinturas, podemos examinar geometrías de una manera distinta. Pensemos cómo ha evolucionado la abstracción y también cómo podemos discutir la pintura y su discurso de manera distinta.


Art in a Flash with Miranda Lash: Dyani White Hawk: Untitled (All the Colors)