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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to ICT

The latest: A show of beaded and fringed art by an award-winning artist opens in Santa Fe, traditional Northwest tribal regalia gets a contemporary update for a New York museum and an award-winning Diné band is back on tour.

ART: ‘The Land is Speaking’

Multimedia-award-winning artist Jeffrey Gibson, a citizen of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and half-Cherokee, has a new exhibit, “The Body Electric," at SITE Santa Fe through Sept. 11.

A survey of Gibson’s decades of work, the show features his bold use of materials, provocative language and text as art, and includes collaborative, community-rooted performances.

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“'The Body Electric' offers a selection of recent works, expressing a deep appreciation of the Earth and kinship with the natural world,” curator Brandee Caoba said in a statement. “Gibson calls attention to ‘outsider-ness’ through a celebration of nonconformity and the power of self-expression.”

This mixed-media artwork, "Pahl Lee," by artist Jeffrey Gibson is among the works showing at Gibson's new exhibition, "The Body Electric," at SITE Santa Fe. The exhibition runs through Sept. 11, 2022. (Photo by John Lusis, courtesy of SITE Santa Fe)

During the four-month exhibition, SITE Santa Fe will also offer public programs and community collaborations, including a film curated by Gibson and a live performance of “She Never Dances Alone” by Sarah Ortegon.

Gibson's works include paintings of beaded words, sculptures of colored fringe, community-engaged performances, video installations, and a newly commissioned mural, “The Land is Speaking Are You Listening?”

“I have been researching Indigenous kinship and relationality philosophies in response to the chaos of the past few years of the pandemic, political divisiveness, ongoing environmental disasters, racially motivated violence and trauma, and the amplifying of voices that are demanding change,” Gibson said in a statement.

“I have sought to find ways to continue to have empathy for different perspectives and these kinship and relationality philosophies have provided me some important ways to move forward,” he said.

Gibson, who lives in upstate New York, has received a number of awards, including being named a Premier Artist in the 2021 Art Basel Conversation Series and the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2019.

FASHION: Inspired by traditional stories

A garment designed by artist/designer Yolonda Skelton, Gitxsan, of Sugiit Lukxs Designs, is now on display at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan as part of the museum’s newly revitalized Northwest Coast Hall.

Developed with Indigenous communities, the exhibit showcases the creativity, scholarship, and history of the Pacific Northwest.

Organized as a series of alcoves focused on the material culture of 10 Pacific Northwest Native Nations, the gallery presents more than 1,000 restored cultural treasures along with new interpretations.

One of those interpretations is Skelton’s Chilkat Wrap. As a textile artist, her fashion designs are inspired and created from traditional oral stories she heard from her late maternal grandmother, Lily Jackson (Na-gwa). The wrap is blue and gold with strong graphic designs found in Northwest designs.

Canadian actress Grace Dove wears a wrap by Yolonda Skelton, who designed the garment from traditional stories told by her grandmother. (Photo courtesy of Yolanda Skelton)

“Not only did I have the honor of representing my Gitxsan people, but I was also able to represent the peoples of Northwest Coast in this monumental exhibition of reconciliation in action,” Skelton said. “This exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History is a journey I have been working towards since I was in grade 6. As a teacher I always nurtured students’ creative hearts and told them to follow their dreams. I said one day I would make their outfit for their award ceremony.”

She taught for many years until her students encouraged her to do her own work.

“I always had this internal struggle between teaching and designing," she said. "For that I am eternally grateful, as they gave me the courage to do so. It has been a long journey for me as a fashion designer, and it is just the beginning. My grandma is looking down on all of this with pride that her culture and stories will be remembered.”

Other exhibits in the Northwest Coast Hall include:

  • The 63-foot Great Canoe, the largest Northwest Coast dugout canoe in existence, newly enhanced with Haida and Haíltzaqv design elements
  • 67 carvings, ranging from 3 to 17 feet tall
  • A rotating gallery of contemporary Northwest Coast Art, opening with “Living with the Sea,” an exhibit that explores what the ocean means to Northwest Coast peoples
  • Multimedia displays, including a new 11-minute video by Tahltan/Gitxsan filmmaker Michael Borquin
  • An exhibit featuring works by present-day Native artists demonstrating how traditional art forms are being interpreted by today's generations
  • A special exhibit, “Our Voices,” highlighting perspectives on the past, present, and future of environmental conservation and racism

MUSIC: After a two-year lockdown hiatus, Sihasin is back on tour

SIHASIN / (See-ha-sin) Diné word- to think with hope and assurance. The process of making critical affirmative action of thinking, planning, learning, becoming experienced and confident to adapt.

The brother and sister band, Jeneda and Clayson Benally formerly of Blackfire from the Navajo (Diné) Nation in Northern Arizona, create their own unique brand of music with electric bass and a mix of traditional and contemporary drums. They grew up protesting environmental destruction and acts of cultural genocide against their traditional way of life. Their music reflects hope for equality, health and respect for community and social and environmental justice.

Coming off winning two Native American Music Awards and a Global Music Award, an international music competition that celebrates independent musicians, they are back on the road this summer.

Sihasin. (Photo courtesy of Rima Krisst)

The tour will be a family affair as they will be bringing their daughters along. They plan some camping along the way. They frequently perform benefit shows for Native rights locally and show up for peaceful protests against such issues as the Arizona Snowbowl that is using reclaimed wastewater to make artificial snow for skiers.

One song they are sure to perform is Shine off their record "Fight Like A Woman," produced by Ed Stasium and Sihasin. They debuted their video for the song on Indian Country Today in 2019.

The video was shot at the scenic red rock landscape of Leupp, Arizona, by director Jake Hoyungowa and features Clayson Benally and Jones Benally, the duos' father, performing a Hoop Dance while sister Jeneda, wearing sparkly rock swag with her turquoise jewelry, sings and wails away on the bass. Clayson plays percussion, drums, and sings.

Jeneda Benally says "Shine" is about inspiring youth with energy and strength, a prevalent message that runs through all of Sihasin’s music.

“We created Shine as a way to empower youth and to come together as Indigenous people. We should nurture our youth as we nurture our adults and elders, they are all possibility,” Jeneda Benally says. “The important thing about this music video is we wanted to show the importance of carrying on our legacies or our culture, the combination of contemporary ideas in a traditional world. We want to keep the importance of a traditional message," said Jeneda.

Their shows are all ages, with “no discrimination of any kind.”

The tour dates are:

June 15 Railyard Park Santa Fe 5 p.m.- 8 p.m.

June 17 Telluride Bluegrass Festival 10:30 a.m.

July 12 Tall Bull Fairgrounds, Denver 

July 15 Show with War Bonnet, Gicchi-oole' Aking Park, Duluth, Minn.

July 16-18 Bad River Wisc.

July 21-24 Grassroots Festival Trumansburg N.Y.

July 27 Eitljorg Museum Indianapolis

July 28-30 St. Louis, Mo.

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06/10: Yolonda Skelton's name has been corrected