Indian Country Today Spotlights Terrance Guardipee’s NMAI “Unbound” Exhibition

Mountain Chief

Stories are shared in an array of manners: They can be spoken, portrayed through film, drawn or painted, and can derive from a multitude of places, be it political standpoint, fantastical world, from a personal moment in one’s life, perhaps from a point still yet to be determined. Ledger art, or narrative art, mostly practiced by plains indigenous peoples, including the Blackfeet, Lakota, Comanche, Kiowa, among other nations, is known for relaying stories through simple pictures and bold colors.However, as the new exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian can attest to, Unbound: Narrative Art of the Plains, narrative art is a mode of self-expression that is changing as quickly as the world around us.The exhibit, curated by Emil Her Many Horses [Oglala Lakota], introduces the origins of narrative art with historic pieces dating to early 19th century, created by various plains figures and artists, including Long Soldier [Lakota/Nakota], Mountain Chief [Blackfeet], Black Chicken [Yanktonai], and Chief Washakie [Shoshone]. What was a plains’ tradition of retelling, remembering and honoring war successes and visionary experiences on hide, quickly became a way to express drastic changes in their social context. Devastating blows in plains Natives livelihood during the reservation era can be detected through the changes of material from buffalo hide to paper and muslin, to using color pencils, to changes in themes of the narratives themselves. This is most saliently seen in the art created by Kiowa and Southern Cheyenne prisoners at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, which depicts their life in prison among white clergymen and soldiers. Work by these artists were mostly on ledger paper, drawn in color pencils and ink.

Since the resurgence of Native American art during the 1960s, their work has inspired many Native American artists to explore and push the boundaries of narrative art.


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