The Myth that is True

An exhibition of art by Native American women

Exploration through art of "The Myth That is True" required a search for female artists who identify themselves as Native American. In the course of this search, I was privileged to find a group of women who are creating wonders, who are finding audiences and commercial viability while maintaining fidelity to their personal visions. These women serve as designers, technicians, illustrators and teachers, often while pursuing their own formal education and always while attending to family roles as mothers, daughters or siblings. They are working in an age that professes equality and gender sensitivity, affording women increased opportunity while demanding increased responsibility. These artists answer with the innovation in their work. They address issues of history, gender and multiculturalism. By drawing on the tales and techniques of their heritage, they also continue a traditional female role, acting as keepers of the culture. Women who include tradition in their response to the challenges of the contemporary world exemplify "The Myth That is True."

— Susan Clayton ’84Art History graduate studentexhibition curator

Lisa Fifield

Working primarily in watercolor, Lisa Fifield explores the important historical symbiosis between Native Americans and the natural world. In recent years, Fifield has developed work largely inspired by stories of the Iroquois Spirit World; a world in which Indian women have a special relationship with animals and with the world in which they live. Fifield’s ongoing watercolor series titled "Totem Clanswomen" explores the tradition of Indian women as clan mothers and balancers of life. The women represented in the "Totem Clanswomen" works — strong, stoic and mesmerizing — communicate freely with animals, alternately comforting, teaching and learning from them.

Born in Milwaukee to an Oneida-Iroquois mother and a German-American father, Fifield did an extensive study of native iconography. For example, the painting "Stars in Her Mouth, the Storyteller" offers stunning representations of native dress, traditional bead and quillwork, Indian children’s dolls, and the very adult weapons of war and trade. The piercing eyes of the central female figure convey a proud stoicism as she clutches these boldly rendered icons of Native American history to her breast.

— Rose MackArt History graduate student

Julie Buffalohead

Committed to the belief that "art is rooted first in oneself and second in the culture in which one lives," artist Julie Buffalohead is of Ponca Indian and European American descent. Her somewhat stark representations, which range from large oil paintings to small mixed media works, tend to combine imagery from tribal legends and contemporary popular culture to question, evaluate and dispel outmoded stereotypes about gender and cultural identity. Schooled at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., Buffalohead’s training in the Western academic art tradition serves as a foundation as she seeks inspiration in Native American stories and traditional art practices. This artistic symbiosis is articulated in Buffalohead’s "Coyote" series, which is based on traditional mythical tales about medicine men who have the ability to transform themselves into a variety of animal forms. Working in oil on canvas, Buffalohead appropriates this "shape shifter" persona, depicting a provocative half- woman/half-coyote character who is often engaged in the familiar poses and activities found throughout the history of Western art.

— Rose MackArt History graduate student

Missy Whiteman

Delving into Native American history and her own family history in her artwork, Missy Whiteman seeks to find answers to questions that have plagued her throughout her life — why her people have had to endure tragedies and loss of identity. Whiteman, who is studying film and video at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, explores these issues through photography and mixed media.

Her diptych, "Before and After," addresses the era when the government removed American Indian children from their families and forced them into boarding schools to learn English, a new religion and other American ways. Because of this experience, children grew up knowing little of their past and their own traditions. Her diptych consists of two self-portraits — before and after the boarding school experience. In one picture, dressed in traditional clothing and hairstyle, Whiteman sits before the camera as a young girl about to enter school. In the other picture, she has been transformed into an Anglo-looking young woman, complete with Western style clothing and hairdo. Avoiding eye contact with the viewer, her expressions in both photos are serious and hauntingly sad. By putting herself in the position of the displaced children, she is able to imagine the experience and try to better understand it. Her body language speaks of her pain.

— Laura MillerArt History graduate student

Carly Bordeau

Carly Bordeau invents her own techniques in creating artwork that she says help her to heal her spirit and reclaim what belonged to her and her Anishinabe people. For prints, she begins by rendering an image with pastels or acrylics on paper. The image is then scanned mechanically and printed on canvas, thus creating a smooth surface. The artist then embellishes the image with gold or silver foil. In creating these emotional works, she draws her inspiration from nature, stories told to her by her parents, and childhood memories of spending her summers on the White Earth Indian Reservation.

— Laura MillerArt History graduate student

Cynthia Holmes

Employing the props of little girl role-playing and big girl fashion, Cynthia Holmes comments on the impact of gender roles and cultural identity on modern women. Schooled at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the Parsons School of Design and the Rhode Island School of Design, Holmes is part Ojibwa, and she identifies herself as "a physical example of cultural diversity." She is the director of art at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, a position she has held since the school's inception in 1987.

Combining birch bark, a traditional material for utilitarian crafts, with forms that connote contemporary female beauty, Holmes creates tension regarding the function of women. Her masks, "Feminine" and "Masculine," are equally theatrical. "Take-out Boxes (Is This What You Mean by Cultural Diversity?)" is typical of the humor that is pervasice in the artist's work.

— Susan ClaytonArt History graduate student