Native Americans in the Arts
by Ira King
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To accompany the Duke Common Experience Reading Program selection of Tommy Orange’s There There, our spotlight highlights books and films that center Native American voices and perspectives. Orange, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, writes in his debut novel about a dozen Native Americans travelling to a powwow in Oakland, California. There There focuses on urban Native Americans, exploring the beauty and despair these characters experience as they navigate life in the United States.
Our collections include books on Native American art, novels by Native Americans, memoirs of native experiences, films and documentaries, and historical accounts. Here are a few highlights from our collection:
This exhibition catalog from the Minneapolis Institute of Art highlights a broad spectrum of art created by Native American women. Work explored ranges from textiles to painting to photography and video, and covers antiquity to contemporary work. If you’re interested in checking out some Native art in person, the Nasher Museum’s exhibit, Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now, opens on August 29th.
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich Louise Erdrich, an acclaimed writer and member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe, experiments with a dystopian setting in this novel. The novel follows Cedar Hawk Songmaker, four months pregnant, as she ventures out of Minneapolis and seeks out her Ojibwe birth mother against the backdrop of a security state cracking down on pregnant women. Check out Erdrich’s bookstore if you are ever in the Twin Cities.
Everything You Know About Indians is Wrong by Paul Chaat Smith Smith, an associate curator at the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian, challenges mainstream assumptions about native peoples and cultures in this essay collection. This book blends memoir and cultural commentary to paint a more nuanced picture of native life.
Smoke Signals Based on a Sherman Alexie short story, this film follows two young Native Americans, Victor and Thomas, on a road trip to pick up Victor’s father’s remains. Smoke Signals is notable for having a Native American writer and director, as well as an almost entirely native cast and crew.