Dyani White Hawk: Speaking to Relatives
Speaking to Relatives is a major solo exhibition of mixed-media works by Minneapolis-based artist Dyani White Hawk (Sičáŋǧu Lakota, born 1976). This ten-year survey of painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation presents White Hawk’s unique merging of the visual language of abstraction with Lakota art forms. Her work expresses a shared formal and conceptual practice and acknowledges the significance of Indigenous art as American art.
White Hawk’s artistic practice is distinguished by a hybrid aesthetic highlighting cross-cultural experiences. She uses techniques that abstract artists 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. White Hawk offers a new historical perspective, drawing significant attention to these formal aspects while adding materials and craft derived from Native visual history, an underrepresented focus in American abstraction. The Moccasin series, some of the earliest works in the exhibition, comprises of 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 draw compelling parallels between the abstract works of Plains Indian art and American Modernist painters such as Sean Scully (American, born 1945). In White Hawk's Quiet Strength series, begun in 2016, she uses paint to mimic the colors, rounded form, and shapes of quillwork made by Native women. In their subtle and soft tones, and transcribed in her unique abstract style, these works embody and support the legacy of abstraction found throughout generations of Native Lakota craft and visual imagery. The Carry works from 2019 and 2020 are beaded vessel sculptures made of colorful dyed feathers, glass beads, brass sequins, and cascading synthetic sinew responding directly to the perceived notions of Native art forms as inherently utilitarian.
White Hawk’s newest bodies of work include photographic series I Am Your Relative (2020) and video work Listen (2020). Both focus on the idea of Native visibility. Six photographs of Native women create a collective sentence suggesting a central theme in White Hawk’s work—that we are all connected. Listen depicts eight Native women sharing prayers or personal stories related to language on their Native land and in their Native languages: Cocopah, Dakota, Diné, Hocąk, Kwatsáan, Ojibwe, Seneca, and Tiwa. This video work highlights the fact that Indigenous languages spoken in America are not easily recognizable due to a lack of representation of Native people, language, and art in American popular culture.
Through innovations in abstraction and transcription of historical imagery, this range of White Hawk’s work speaks to themes of identity and visibility, placing White Hawk at the forefront of dialogue on Native art as American art. She works across different cultures, histories, and visual traditions to show the significance of a shared history between Native and non-Native groups. Using this approach, White Hawk encourages conversations that challenge the lack of representation of Native people, arts, and voices in art movements and beyond.
Dyani White Hawk: Speaking to Relatives is organized by Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, and curated by Jade Powers, assistant curator. A full-color catalogue accompanies the exhibition.
This exhibition has been generously supported by the R. Crosby Kemper Jr. Exhibition Fund.
Additional financial assistance is provided by generous donors and members, especially: William T. Kemper Charitable Trust, UMB Bank, n.a., Trustee; Bebe & Crosby Kemper Foundation, UMB Bank, n.a., Trustee; R.C. Kemper Jr Charitable Trust and Foundation, UMB Bank, n.a., Trustee; The R. Crosby Kemper Jr. Exhibition Fund; Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; The Sullivan Family Foundation, Jo Ann and William Sullivan; The Family of Mary Beth Smith Docent Program; Jack and Karen Holland Visiting Artist Fund; Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation; Bebe and Graham Hunt; Catherine Mead; Bradley and Linda Nicholson Foundation; Murphy-Hoffman Company; Jane Voorhees; Thomas and Sally Wood Family Foundation; Stanley J. Bushman and Ann Canfield; Charles M. Helzberg and Sandra Baer; Francis Family Foundation; Spencer Fane LLP; American Century Investments; Paul and Linda DeBruce; JE Dunn Construction Company; Kansas City University; Linda Lighton and Lynn Adkins; Lockton Companies; Virginia and James Moffett; Miller Nichols Charitable Foundation; The Sosland Foundation; Courtney S. Turner Charitable Trust, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee; UMB Financial Corporation; Oppenstein Brothers Foundation, Commerce Bank, Trustee; RLS Illumination Fund.
Kemper Museum is sponsoring this program in partnership with the Missouri Humanities Council and with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.