Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies ETDs

Publication Date



In this dissertation I examine and posit Indigenous perspectives on contemporary Native art, Indigenous aesthetics and issues of representation. Contemporary Native art at this moment is best described as an expression of values—personal or communal or cultural—with an attention to material conditions and current issues. I employ Indigenous methodologies and Tribal Critical Race theory as a critical framework to intervene in the dominant discourse on Native art. This research focuses on the narratives and perspectives of eight artists who represent a cross-section of the current state of Native arts production in North America drawing from the local Native arts community in Santa Fe, New Mexico, various urban areas of the United States, and a artist in Vancouver, British Columbia. These artists span three generations of artistic practice that includes display, performance, lecture and education. I utilize the current scholarship on Native arts, curatorial practice and the perspectives of museum professionals from the Institute of American Indian Arts, a federally chartered college and museum. Utilizing Indigenous perspectives and frameworks is necessary for understanding Native art and Indigenous aesthetics, particularly in public institutions such as museums. Reclaiming the apparatus of an institution like the museum promotes and encourages the recognition of Indigenous ways of knowing, models of representation and the delivery of knowledge pertaining to Native arts and culture. The Native museum becomes a site to re-educate the general public about the complexities of identity and influence, crosscultural exchanges, and the prevalence of thriving Indigenous living cultures. This is an vi area of research that is under-developed and I extend the discourse on Native art theory and representation through Indigenous aesthetics. Indigenous aesthetics are an expression of a continuum of cultural production and connections to place, language, culture, traditions, values, oral histories and Indigenous knowledge, ancestry and also to future generations. This includes indigenous mapping where the connection to place is tied into worldview, ceremony, language, songs, dance, prayer, family and cultural continuity. Native American art is a spectrum of expression, influences and perspectives represented in forms that embody an expansive range where I utilize the terms essentialism and hybridity. Essentialism employs the concepts of cultural distinctiveness and tribal sovereignty that allows the Native artist to claim and interpret cultural patrimony. Hybridity, in an Indigenous context, resists the limitations of dominant culture projections of Native culture and encourages innovation, adaptation and a response to influences, current conditions and new media. Native artists use Indigenous aesthetics to respond to colonialism through political/social commentary, addresses stereotype and racism, indicating survivance and enacting cultural sovereignty. When Native artists and intellectuals do this they are re-appropriating or indigenizing ideas, symbols, mascots, the colonial gaze. I discuss re-presentation of Native arts and the ongoing development of Indigenous aesthetics through recent exhibitions, current scholarship, Native curatorial practice and the ethnographic narratives of Native artists. I extend the current discourse on Indigenous aesthetics through the concept of the Indigenization of space that occurs when Native people reclaim a location through cultural signifiers, performance, ceremony, song, dance, or installation conveying the existence and presence of Native peoples. My research illustrates how Native people reclaim cultural, intellectual and physical patrimony through this new discourse by using Native critical theory and methodologies, Indigenous aesthetics and Native art terminology.


Education, American Indian, Contemporary Native Art, Cultural Theory, Decolonizing, Ethnography, Identity, Indigenous, Indigenous Aesthetics, Native American, Representation

Document Type




Degree Name

Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Calhoun, Anne

Second Committee Member

Pence, Lucretia

Third Committee Member

Mithlo, Nancy