Anna D. Smith Fine Art and Real Estate Broker is proud to present for Native American Heritage Month, five notable Native American Underground artists.
The United States is home to 567 federally recognized Native American nations, each with its own unique culture, language, and traditions. Conflating these diverse cultures erases the rich tapestry of Indigenous experiences and silences the voices of individual tribes.
Native American art encompasses a vast and diverse array of artistic expressions, traditions, and media, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples across the Americas. From ancient pottery and intricate beadwork to contemporary painting and performance art, Native American artistry spans centuries and showcases the creativity, resilience, and spiritual connection of these communities.
Native American Art Market
The Native American art market is a vibrant and dynamic sector of the global art market, encompassing a diverse range of artistic expressions, cultural traditions, and media. In recent years, the market has experienced significant growth and increasing recognition, fueled by a growing appreciation for Native American artistry and a heightened awareness of Indigenous cultural heritage.
KEY TRENDS IN THE NATIVE AMERICAN ART MARKET
Rising Demand and Prices: There’s a growing demand for Native American art, with collectors from around the world seeking out authentic and high-quality pieces. This demand has driven up prices for Native American artworks, with some pieces reaching record-breaking levels at auctions.
Diversification of Media and Styles: Native American artists are pushing boundaries and exploring new forms of expression, incorporating contemporary media like photography, video, and performance art alongside traditional techniques like basket weaving, pottery, and beadwork.
Increased Institutional Recognition: Major museums and galleries are increasingly showcasing Native American art, providing a platform for these artists to reach a wider audience and gain broader recognition.
Growing Role of Online Platforms: Online marketplaces and social media platforms have become crucial tools for Native American artists to connect with collectors and promote their work, expanding their reach beyond traditional gallery settings.
CHALLENGES FACING THE NATIVE AMERICAN ART MARKET
Authenticity and Provenance: Ensuring the authenticity and provenance of Native American artworks can be challenging, particularly for older pieces. This makes it crucial for collectors to work with reputable dealers and galleries.
Several artists who grew up creating in this tradition and had been identified as Native American artists, suddenly found themselves on the outside looking in, when strict tribal recognition rules had begun in earnest during the 70s and 80s.
One such artist was Brad Kahlhamer. Kahlhamer has been collected by institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Seattle Art Museum, the Hood Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art among others.
Despite such mainstream recognition, Kahlhamer considers himself as an inside-outsider artist. Born as an indigenous child in 1956, he was adopted three days later by a German family. As per the policy of the times, his birth records were permanently sealed. Without a tribal lineage record, Kahlhamer could no longer be identified as a Native American artist.
Cultural Appropriation and Exploitation: There have been concerns about cultural appropriation and exploitation in the market, with non-Native artists and businesses profiting from Native American designs and imagery without proper respect or compensation.
In 1990, Congress passed the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) of 1990. The law made it illegal to sell or market art or craft products in a manner that falsely suggests they are Indian produced, or the product of a particular Indian tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization. Violations can lead to significant civil or criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment.
Prior to its enactment, Randy Lee White, also known as Randy Lee Whitehorse, born in 1951 in Lubbock, Texas was an artist who enjoyed widespread recognition for creating pseudo pictographs and mixed-media abstractions of Native American people and narratives involving hunting, war, domestic life, and death.
During the 70s and 80s, as a member of the Sioux tribe in South Dakota, his works sold in the tens of thousands of dollars. His works were featured in major exhibitions, as evidenced by their listing in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and their availability on art auction platforms like Artnet. Later, he was accused of cultural appropriation, and for jacking up his art prices, because he was actually a white man with no Native American blood.
White would describe his artistic goals as being a “bridge builder,” a means to educate, enlighten, entertain, and to keep the art form of pictographs alive for future generations. He aimed for his art to bridge gaps between discontent and understanding, assumption and real knowledge, between pictograph and abstract, and as a means to transition from a dying art form to one that was living and breathing.
Economic Disparities: Native American artists often face economic challenges, such as limited access to resources, funding, and business opportunities, which can hinder their ability to fully participate in the market.
FUTURE OUTLOOK FOR THE NATIVE AMERICAN ART MARKET
The future of the Native American art market looks promising, with continued growth and increasing recognition anticipated. As awareness of Indigenous cultures and the importance of cultural preservation grows, the demand for Native American art is likely to remain strong.
KEY FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO THE POSITIVE OUTLOOK
Growing Appreciation for Indigenous Art: The global art world is increasingly recognizing the significance and value of Indigenous art, leading to a wider appreciation for Native American artistry.
Support for Indigenous Communities: There’s a growing movement to support Indigenous communities and ensure that artists receive fair compensation for their work.
Cultural Exchange and Collaboration: Cultural exchange and collaboration between Native American artists and institutions are fostering innovation and expanding the reach of Native American art.
As the Native American art market continues to evolve, it’s crucial to prioritize ethical practices, cultural sensitivity, and fair representation to ensure the continued growth and sustainability of this vibrant artistic landscape.
Street Artist Nicholas Galanin
Nicholas Galanin [https://galan.in/] was born in Sitka, Alaska in 1979. He is of Tlingit and Unangax̂ ancestry. Renowned for his multidisciplinary approach encompassing a wide range of mediums including sculpture, video, installation, photography, and music. His work frequently addresses themes of change and identity, particularly in the context of Native and non-Native communities.
Galanin’s artistic journey began under the influence of his family; he learned jewelry and metalwork from his father and uncle and is the grandchild of master carver George Benson. This early exposure to indigenous art forms deeply influenced his artistic trajectory. At 18, while working a desk job at the Sitka National Historical Park, he decided to pursue art full-time after being reprimanded for drawing Tlingit art during work hours.
He honed his skills academically, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jewelry Design & Silversmithing from London Guildhall University in 2003 and a Masters of Fine Arts in Indigenous Visual Arts from Massey University in New Zealand in 2007. He also undertook apprenticeships with master carvers and jewelers, further refining his craftsmanship.
Galanin’s artistic career took off with his first exhibition, “Totems to Turquoise,” at the Museum of Natural History in New York City in 2004. His subsequent works, such as the book sculpture series “What Have We Become?” in 2006, exhibit his unique approach to combining traditional and contemporary themes.
A notable work, “Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan,” was featured in the 2008 “Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture” exhibition, demonstrating his skill in merging traditional Tlingit music and hip-hop. Other significant works include “S’igeika’awu: Ghost” (2009), which juxtaposes Native masks and Delftware, and “Things are Looking Native, Native’s Looking Whiter” (2010), a commentary on cultural appropriation in popular media.
Galanin’s influence extended beyond visual arts to music, operating under the stage name Silver Jackson. He formed the band Indian Agent in 2017, further exploring his multi-disciplinary talents. His music and visual arts are often interlinked, offering a comprehensive view of his artistic vision.
Galanin’s activism is an integral part of his work. He speaks on colonialism and environmentalism and has been a vocal advocate for Indigenous rights and cultural preservation. His works often challenge and provoke thought about the treatment and representation of Indigenous communities.
Digital Artist Powowpopart
Roger Sosakete Perkins, [https://powowpopart9.godaddysites.com/], known artistically as Powowpopart, is a Mohawk, Bear Clan artist from the Akwesasne Reservation, an American Indian territory situated along the Saint Lawrence River, straddling the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec and the state of New York. Born into a culturally rich environment, his artistic journey is deeply rooted in his Indigenous heritage, which is reflected in his distinctive style and creative expressions.
Perkins graduated from the American Indian Institute of Arts and later pursued further studies in digital arts at Berkeley City College. His time in Berkeley was pivotal; an instructor there challenged him to create his own art movement, which led to the development of his unique style known as “Powow Pop Art.” This movement represents a fusion of traditional Indigenous imagery with modern digital art techniques, resulting in a blend that is both innovative and humorous.
In his Powow Pop Art, Perkins skillfully blends American Indian imagery commonly used in advertising with photos, ads, Hollywood ephemera, and Indian Americana. He creates digital compositions from these elements, which are then printed using bright, archival inks on canvas and finished with a UV varnish for protection. This approach not only showcases his talent in digital art but also his ability to merge traditional motifs with contemporary mediums.
Apart from his digital art, Perkins has contributed to the revival of the ancient art of Mohawk pottery making. With spiritual guidance and mentorship, he has been instrumental in bringing this traditional craft back to life, demonstrating his commitment to preserving and promoting Indigenous art forms.
Currently residing in California, Perkins is actively engaged in his artistic endeavors while also teaching on his reservation. His work as an educator highlights his dedication to passing on his knowledge and skills to the younger generations, ensuring the continuity of Indigenous artistic practices.
Prison Artist Brian Sexton
Brian Sexton, a Native American artist from the Chickasaw and Western Cherokee tribes, exemplified the profound impact of art in the lives of incarcerated individuals and the role it played in maintaining cultural identity and fostering community. Born into a family with a rich artistic heritage, Sexton was influenced by his mother, a master craftsperson, and other family members who were artists. His multifaceted artistic abilities ranged from architectural drawings to working with concrete. This versatility reflected his belief in the power of art to evoke emotions and memories, resonating with the philosophy that art is an emotional expression of the human experience.
Sexton’s artistic journey was shaped significantly by his experience at the Nash Correctional Institution in Nashville, North Carolina, where he was incarcerated. Despite the challenging environment, Sexton found solace and self-expression through the Nash Art Club. This club not only allowed him to explore the extent of his abilities but also served as a means of rehabilitation and a source of comfort. The Nash Art Club was pivotal in pushing Sexton out of his comfort zone and enabling him to discover new opportunities in art.
One of the key aspects of Sexton’s experience in prison was the maintenance of cultural practices and observances. He and his fellow Native American inmates participated in the Green Corn festival, an event symbolizing renewal and forgiveness. This festival, historically significant to many Native tribes, involved rituals such as tobacco prayers and communal meals. Although the inmates could not partake in some traditional aspects of the festival, such as tobacco prayers, they still found ways to honor their heritage and connect spiritually within the constraints of incarceration.
Sexton’s art served as a vital link to mental wellness. The act of creating art was akin to meditation for him, providing a spiritual experience deeply intertwined with his Native American heritage. This practice aligned with Indigenous beliefs that viewed life as a journey where health and well-being resulted from a complex interplay of physical, mental, environmental, and spiritual forces.
Sexton’s work often reflected his cultural pride, with a focus on landscapes, wildlife, and Native American themes. His engagement with his cultural identity led to his contribution to “Brothers of the Buffalo Speak Up: Contemporary American Indian Prison Writings,” an anthology of works by Native American incarcerated individuals. This anthology emphasized spiritual healing and explored culturally and spiritually based justice for American Indian communities. Through his art, Sexton not only navigated the challenges of incarceration but also contributed to the broader narrative of Native American experiences and perspectives.
Comic Strip Artist Kayla Shaggy
Kayla Shaggy [https://www.kaylashaggy.gallery/], a Diné and Anishinaabe multimedia artist, has carved a distinctive niche in the world of comics and illustration, marked by her cultural roots and a dynamic artistic approach. Born on December 15, 1993, in Shiprock, New Mexico, Shaggy grew up near Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle, one of the sacred mountains of the Navajo Nation. Her lifelong passion for drawing became a professional pursuit in high school, inspired by her art teacher Dale Latta, who introduced her to various art museums and encouraged her artistic growth.
Shaggy pursued her formal education in art at Fort Lewis College in southwestern Colorado, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Art in Spring 2017. During her college years, she also spent a year studying abroad in Japan, where her love for Japanese comics – known for their versatility and unique stylization – further influenced her artistic direction.
Her artistic journey has been diverse, encompassing various mediums and themes. Shaggy has worked with screen prints, sketches, charcoal, figure drawings, and comics. Her artwork often explores her indigenous roots and personal experiences, imbued with a deep sense of cultural identity and narrative. One of her notable works, “Hell,” won the grand prize in Durango Arts Center’s 41st Annual Juried Exhibit. This piece, inspired by Bosch, depicted devils, devastation, and distress, showcasing her ability to blend traditional themes with modern interpretations.
Shaggy’s grandmother, Arlene Smart, played a significant role in her artistic development, continuously supporting and inspiring her from a young age. This familial influence is evident in Shaggy’s work, which often reflects her personal connections and heritage.
Her professional achievements include illustrating for Netflix’s “Unsolved Mysteries” and providing cultural consultation for Navajo characters for INTERIOR/NIGHT, an award-winning video game studio. Shaggy’s expertise and background made her a prime choice for the Save History team to illustrate their first comic, “Protect the Past for the Future.” This project underscored her commitment to preserving cultural heritage and history through art.
In addition to comics, Shaggy enjoys creating linework and black and white art and has recently ventured into color and digital art. Her entrepreneurial spirit led her to self-publish a successful zine, “Monstrous Zine,” in 2016, followed by other zines. She also opened an online store to sell her art and engages in freelance art and cultural consulting, further expanding her artistic repertoire. As she continues to explore and expand her artistic boundaries, Shaggy remains a vibrant voice in the world of comics and illustration, representing the rich tapestry of Native American art and storytelling.
NFT Artist Alexandra Barton
Alexandra Barton, a contemporary Navajo artist, has emerged as a significant figure in the world of indigenous art, blending traditional Navajo elements with modern artistic expressions. Born in 1985 in the heart of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Barton grew up immersed in the rich tapestry of Navajo culture and traditions. Her early life on the reservation deeply influenced her artistic vision, instilling a profound respect for her heritage and the natural world.
Barton’s journey into the arts began during her teenage years. Influenced by her family’s strong artistic background, she initially explored traditional crafts such as weaving and pottery, skills passed down through generations in her family. However, her creative curiosity soon led her to experiment with various mediums, including painting, sculpture, and digital art.
After high school, Barton attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Here, she honed her skills and began to develop her unique style, which seamlessly integrates Navajo symbolism and stories with contemporary art forms. Her work often features bold colors, geometric patterns, and imagery rooted in Navajo mythology and landscape.
Barton’s art has gained recognition for its innovative approach and its ability to communicate complex themes around identity, tradition, and modernity. Her exhibitions have been displayed in numerous galleries across the United States, and she has been a featured artist at several major Indigenous art fairs and cultural events.
In addition to her artistic endeavors, Barton is a passionate advocate for Indigenous rights and environmental issues. She often uses her platform and art to raise awareness about the challenges facing Native American communities and the preservation of their cultural heritage.
Barton’s contributions to the art world extend beyond her individual work. She conducts workshops and lectures, aiming to inspire young Indigenous artists and foster a greater appreciation for Native American art and culture. Her vision and dedication have made her a respected and influential figure in both the Navajo community and the broader art world.
About Anna D. Smith Fine Art and Real Estate Broker
Anna D. Smith Fine Art and Real Estate Broker, located in Silicon Valley, operates under the trademarked motto “Fine Art needs a Home and a Home needs Fine Art®.” My firm is a prominent art advisory and brokerage entity specializing in contemporary Underground art. Additionally, I offer real estate services related to buying and selling commercial or residential properties in Silicon Valley. As the publisher of the 2023 Underground Art Market Report, I have built a reputation as the “Queen of the Underground Art World” and have developed the firm into a renowned art and real estate brokerage known for its expertise, professionalism, and dedication to client satisfaction. My website also features a blog where I share my insights into the worlds of Real Estate and Underground contemporary art, covering topics like luxury real estate, the art market, NFTs, and more. Furthermore, I have curated art exhibitions and sell over 200 prints or originals of California prison artist Donald “C-Note” Hooker’s rare Fine Art.