The Art of the People: Contemporary Anishinaabe Artists
GVSU Performing Arts Center Gallery, Allendale Campus
January 11, 2021 - February 26, 2021
The Art of the People: Contemporary Anishinaabe Artists features artworks by nationally recognized and early career Native American artists that combine cultural traditions and imagery with contemporary sensibilities and themes. Organized by the Muskegon Museum of Art and the Grand Valley State University Art Gallery with guest curator Jason Quigno (Anishinaabe), this invitational show appears concurrently at the MMA and GVSU. Incorporating sculpture, painting, ceramics, beadwork, mixed media, and photography, the exhibition explores how these artists express their experiences in both traditional and nontraditional media, techniques, and subject matter. Through representational and abstract imagery and design the artists address issues of craft, history, identity, social justice, and popular culture. By exploring and celebrating their past, these artists define who they are today.
The Anishinaabeg Peoples have inhabited the Great Lakes area of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and sections of Canada for thousands of years. Anishinaabeg, which translates to “People Whence Lowered” or “the Good Humans,” encompasses several tribes that share similar languages and customs, including the Ojibwe, Bodawatami, Odawa, Salteaux, and Chippewa. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Anishinaabeg were a woodland people, living with the land and seasons. They drew all of their food, shelter, and tools and implements from the earth, lakes, and rivers that surrounded them. While most contemporary Anishinaabeg no longer live with the land, they remain a spiritual people tied closely to nature and surrounding cultural beliefs.
Early artmaking arose directly from the need to craft tools from wood and stone and vessels from black ash, birch, and cedar. As these objects, both practical and ceremonial, were fabricated, they were embellished with woodland designs and motifs – flowers, vines, leaves, and animals – often to signify a name or clan. This knowledge of craft and design was passed down to each new generation, which in turn adapted and innovated to their own circumstances and resources. Today, artists continue to work in the traditional media of basketry, stone, and beadwork, while others have moved into painting, photography, filmmaking, and sculpture. Whether through traditional or modern materials, the Anishinaabeg are still telling stories that carry knowledge to future generations.
The exhibiting artists were selected for their ongoing use of traditional techniques, materials, and imagery and for the ways in which their art shares the enduring stories of their culture. Many of the works on display tie directly to inherited methods of crafting and design, though with modern innovations and visual experiments unique to the artist. Others blend traditional imagery and design into contemporary art-making disciplines, revealing a different kind of continuity.
The Art of the People is an opportunity for the viewer to explore these varied points of view and discover the traditions that inspire them, bringing greater awareness and understanding of Anishinaabeg culture.
- Jason Quigno, Guest Curator
The GVSU Art Gallery would like to recognize the People of the Three Fires: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples on whose land we are gathered. The Three Fires People are indigenous to this land which means that this is their ancestral territory. Every university is built on stolen, native land. We are guests on their land and one way to practice right relations is to develop genuine ways to acknowledge the histories and traditions of the people who originated here first, who are still here, and who tend to the land always. As we make this land acknowledgment, we know it is but an important first step, and that there are many more that we need to take when we decide to engage in the important work of social justice.
We pledge to:
1) provide indigenous artists with the platform to share their talents, artwork, and stories
2) appropriately collect, exhibit, and care for indigenous-made artwork and objects
3) create an environment where the history and traditions of artists indigenous to this area can be recognized and celebrated
For more information on the purpose and intent of land acknowledgments, see Northwestern University's site.
About the Curator
Anishinaabe, Mukwa Ndodem
Contemporary Stone Sculptor from the Great Lakes
Anishinaabe artist Jason Quigno was born in 1975 in Alma, Michigan. Jason works in in a variety of stone – granite, basalt, marble, limestone, and alabaster – transforming raw blocks into flowing forms. His work has garnered significant recognition and awards and he has completed numerous public commissions for communities and institutions around Michigan.
Q&A with Jason Quigno
About the Artists
Multiple artists within the exhibition work in traditional ways but with today’s sensibilities, adapting contemporary art-making to their cultural practice. Adam Avery and Summer Peters work in the media of beadwork, a decorative art form that is a defining characteristic of Native American art and identity. Beadwork likely grew from earlier quillwork, where dyed porcupine quills were used to adorn clothing and other fabric and leather goods. With the arrival of European traders and settlers, small beads and fine needles became available and the art form flourished. Avery adapts traditional floral motifs in his work, adorning such objects as top hats, sashes, purses, and bags. Peters brings markedly contemporary imagery into her beaded pieces, rendering portraits and pop culture and comic-inspired pieces alongside more unusual objects such as beadwork bikinis.
Shirley Brauker continues the tradition of ledger art, paintings of geometric patterns and narrative events that emphasize foreground objects over sparse, even empty backgrounds. The term “ledger art” comes from the use of ledger books by Plains Indians beginning the 19th century and Brauker utilizes this traditional material to address contemporary issues and narratives. She also works extensively with ceramics, telling new stories and incorporating various cultural motifs into functional and decorative objects.
Beaded Top Hat Applique beadwork
Missing and Murdered
Basketmaker Kelly Church comes from a generational line of Black Ash weavers. Her practice preserves the traditional means of making with Black ash splints (layers of wood split from the rings) while also innovating with her use of nontraditional materials including vinyl blinds, metals, ribbon, and photographs. An expression of her contemporary artistry, this innovation is also made necessary by the environmental devastation caused by the emerald ash borer and the seemingly inevitable extinction of the black ash tree. Le’Ana Asher’s paintings showcase traditional Anishinaabe regalia (dance and ceremonial costuming), a celebration of enduring cultural practices now thriving once again after being banned by the U.S. Government for over a century.
Green Egg: Saving Traditions
Black ash, sweetgrass, copper, dye
Collection of the Gun Lake Tribe
Buffalo Shield Medicine
Oil on Canvas
Robin Waynee comes from a family of artists and brings her cultural motifs into jewelry making, creating nontraditional pieces that convey a clear sense of Native American identity. Wally Dion’s work uses a similar approach, adopting timeless motifs into thoroughly modern pieces in a host of media, including quilts made from circuit boards, painted portraits of contemporary Anishinaabe, mixed media sculptures, and intricate drawings and paintings that new craft stories using traditional images and fashion.
Tulip Link Bracelet
Sterling Silver & 18K Gold Tulip link Bracelet with VS1 Diamonds (.50ctw)
Folding Braids 7
Acrylic on paper
While ceramics are not traditional among the Potawatomi, Jason Wesaw has embraced the material to develop new forms and designs that speak to his heritage. Wesaw also draws, paints, and works in mixed media, with a focus on color shapes and geometry. The vibrantly colored paintings of Jonathan Thunder are decidedly post-Modern, blending mainstream pop-culture and cartooning with symbols of Native American identity and history to create new stories.
Mobbish Waboyan (Water Blanket)
Hand dyed and hand sewn cloth with mixed media
Doctrine of Rediscovery
Acrylic on canvas
This exhibition engages themes related to Native American studies, social justice, identity and more. The GVSU Library subject guides listed below and the databases list under "Additional Resources" help you find articles related to these themes. Download the Learning Guide (right) for more information about these themes.
- Art & Design
- Environment & Sustainability
- Human Rights
- Indigenous People, Native American Studies*
*We recommend this subject guide as the most complete resource on Indigenous history, culture, issues, and more. Many of the resources listed below are taken directly from this guide.
Check out the following GVSU Library books and articles covering key themes and other content related to the exhibition. Or use the Libraries Catalog to find more books and articles. Visit the Michigan tab on the Libraries' Native Americans subject guide for a long list of specifically Michigan and Midwestern resources.
Thank you to Amber Dierking and Kim Ranger with the GVSU Libraries for their guidance in compiling this list.
Events & Activities
Join us for a virtual event co-sponsored by the GVSU Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Muskegon Museum of Art. Shirley Brauker, Jason Quigno, and Jonathan Thunder will join Dylan A.T. Miner, Director of American Indian and Indigenous Studies at Michigan State University, in conversation about their artwork, as well as their creative processes and contemporary issues in the indigenous community. Open to all, RSVP required.
Personalized virtual tours or classroom visits are available upon request! Email User Experience & Learning Manager, Amanda Rainey, to set-up a virtual tour or visit for your class; firstname.lastname@example.org
Films & Exhibitions
- Levi Rickert: Standing Rock, Photographs of an Indigenous Movement at the Muskegon Museum of Art
- “No, not even for a picture”: Re-examining the Native Midwest and Tribes’ Relations to the History of Photography at the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
- Online Exhibitions at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
History, Land, & Language
- Native American Oral Histories at the Grand Rapids Public Museum
- MSU's Native American Studies Research Guide
- Our home on Native land: Anishinabewaki: This map includes the Ojibwe, Odawa, and overall Anishinaabe traditional lands and migrations. Native Land Digital is a Canadian, Indigenous-led, not-for-profit organization.
- First Nation Seeker: First Nations across North America at time of first contact: linguistically based
- Anishinaabemdaa: Anishinaabe language lessons, stories, jokes, culture & history lessons in Anishinaabemowin by Kenny Pheasant
- Native American Indian Studies, A Note on Names by by Peter d'Errico, Legal Studies Department, University of Massachusetts
Get Involved On Campus
- NASA: Native American Student Association
- Gi-gikinomaage-min Project: Defend Our History, Unlock Your Spirit - Gi-gikinomaage-min: gee-gi-ki-no-ma-gay-min. Translated from Anishinaabemowin, the original language of this area, Gi-gikinomaage-min means "We are all teachers." This is the name our project team choose to convey to the Native American community that through our stories and experiences, we are all teachers to someone. As we share those stories, we are allowing for our next generations to experience the past.
More from the GVSU Art Gallery & Permanent Collection
January 11, 2021 - February 26, 2021
Performing Arts Center Gallery
Performing Arts Center
1 Campus Dr.
Allendale, MI 49401
Monday 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Wednesday 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Thursday 1:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Friday 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.