The powerful stories of female Native artists

Amelia Bergeron

Vibrant color, multiple mediums, and seemingly endless rooms of art are what I experienced walking into “Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists” at the Renwick Gallery. The exhibit focuses on traditional and individualistic artistic practices of female Native Americans with 82 pieces of art.

According to the Renwick Gallery, “This landmark exhibition is the first major thematic show to explore the artistic achievements of Native women… At the core of this exhibition is a firm belief in the power of the collaborative process.” The exhibit has videos throughout explaining the familial history of the art. This art ranges from pottery to beaded clothing to sculptures. 

One of the first pieces to catch my eye when walking into the exhibit was a two-paneled artwork with varying mediums. The left side was a vibrant acrylic painting of a cliff, while the right side was steel mesh over acrylic and saponified wax with plastic stones. The two are both separate pieces of art, but they work in unison to highlight each other. Another eye-catching piece was a hand-made royal blue dress with batwing sleeves. The dress itself was solid with white accents, while the sleeves had differing patterns. 

Throughout the exhibit, there were larger explanations on how Native art is created. They started by discussing the legacy aspect, focusing on how generations influence the art and how it also allows the artist to add their specific styles. They then talked about relationships, such as the artists’ families and the environment around them. Finally, they talked about power, specifically about women in their respective tribes and in the general world. 

The exhibit focused on the beautiful capabilities of female artists. Their art was unique because every piece had its own tradition and story behind it. The art told the personal narratives of the artists and their families. Next to the English explanation of each art piece was the description in the Native language of the women’s tribe, honoring all sides of her story.  

March, being women’s history month, was the perfect time to go because it further opened up my eyes to the immense capabilities of women, especially ones I have not learned a lot about. Leaving that exhibit I felt empowered by the artistic expressions and wanted to know more about the artists’ personal stories. 

The exhibit is free as part of the Smithsonian, so if you get the chance I would definitely go see it and experience the beauty.