GVSU Art Gallery, Muskegon Museum of Art present joint exhibition of Native American contemporary art

A joint exhibition between the Grand Valley Art Gallery and the Muskegon Museum of Art is highlighting Native American contemporary art.

The Art of the People: Contemporary Anishinaabe Artists features artwork from both nationally recognized artists and those early in their career. The artists are addressing through their work issues of craft, history, identity, social and political justice, and popular culture.

Grand Valley's part of the exhibition, which specifically includes themes of identity, social justice and Native American studies, opens Jan. 11 at the Art Gallery in the Haas Center for Performing Arts. The museum has already opened its part of the exhibition, which will remain open at both locations through the end of February.

A call went out to the Anishinaabe community with the help of guest curator Jason Quigno, a sculptor and member of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, said Nathan Kemler, director of GVSU Galleries and Collections. Artists submitted their work for review, with pieces selected from each artist to be shown simultaneously at the GVSU Art Gallery and museum.

The exhibition includes pieces that incorporate sculpture, painting, ceramics, beadwork, mixed media and photography.

Kemler said this collaboration with the Muskegon Museum of Art creates a larger platform for "our Anishinaabe community to tell their stories in their own voice.”

Telling their stories: The artists who are part of the exhibition were asked questions about their work. Here are some of the responses.

Buffalo Shield Medicine, oil on canvas
How does your work comment on current social or political issues? "Not too long ago it was illegal to practice our traditions, to dress in regalia, to pray, to sing, and to dance. My art subtly references that we Anishinaabe people are still here: We are not only survivors of genocide, we live and thrive today. I illustrate the indigenous figures as contemporary people with traditional stories."
Le'Ana Asher Buffalo, "Shield Medicine," oil on canvas
Beaded Top Hat, applique beadwork
How do tradition and identity inform your work? "Tradition and identity inform all of my work, is everything to me, it is my life. I spend the majority of time doing my part to keep traditional art alive and continue to learn and add more skills to carry on and share with the next generation."
Adam Avery, "Beaded Top Hat", applique beadwork
Mobbish Waboyan (Water Blanket), Hand-dyed and hand-sewn muslin, wool, local clay, copper tobacco lids, polyester ribbon, artificial sinew
How did you get interested in creating art? "I was drawn to music, specifically the drums, from an early age. My interest in creating rhythms paved a path into the visual arts, always with a simplified approach to colors, symbols, and an affinity for making work that shows the touch of the maker's hand: a style rooted in craft sensibilities, like the beautiful and functional pieces made by my ancestors."
Jason Wesaw Mobbish Waboyan, "Water Blanket," hand-dyed and hand-sewn muslin, wool, local clay, copper tobacco lids, polyester ribbon, artificial sinew

"The Anishinaabe Peoples have inhabited the Great Lakes area for thousands of years and remain deeply connected to it today despite centuries of injustice and struggle," Kemler said. "The stories of this exhibition, which includes change, grief, celebration and tradition, belong to us all. We all share a common bond, the collective struggle of humanity. Therefore, we want to provide a common space to amplify these stories so that we can learn and grow from them together as a community.”

This partnership also continues a strong working relationship between representatives from two important West Michigan institutions supporting each other's respective missions, said Art Martin, director of Collections and Exhibitions/senior curator for the Muskegon Museum of Art.

"In the case of this exhibition, the MMA and Art Gallery staff were both working in parallel towards similar shows, so pooling our resources was a perfect fit," Martin said. "By having the show in two locations, we can greatly increase the exposure of these artists to the public and better shape programs that meet the goals of both institutions. 

"Both institutions have a history of supporting living Michigan artists as well, so having us partner brings more attention to our efforts."

Find more information about the exhibition here.

The exhibition has opened at the Muskegon Museum of Art

Sculpture at Muskegon Museum of Art
Courtesy of Muskegon Museum of Art
Part of the exhibition at the Muskegon Museum of Art
Courtesy of Muskegon Museum of Art