Born in 1972 in Minneapolis, Julie Buffalohead is an enrolled member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. In 1995, she received a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and in 2001, an MFA from Cornell University. She lives and works in St. Paul, MN.
Buffalohead’s works are whimsical, narrative, mythical, and anthropomorphic. At first glance, the imagery is familiar: People and animals mingle as if in a fairytale or childhood story. Contemporary audiences have been trained (by Disney and others) to view these anthropomorphic characters as inhabitants of strictly cheerful universes. Buffalohead explores a cultural crossover, recasting the Euro-American folktales with Native characters like the hare or coyote trickster. Just as Disney’s sanitized stories often derived from the more complicated folktales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 19th century, Buffalohead’s stories interact with the foundational Ponca beliefs, thrusting the viewer into the deep, dark, and symbolic cultural substrata.
Unlike Disney’s anatomically modified creatures that fit so comfortably into human clothing, Buffalohead’s animals maintain their naturalistic forms. In Bad Feminist (2018), a coyote stretches as its ill-fitting red bra unclasps. A hare holds up some underwear that reads “all you can eat.” A protruding red tongue is the only flash of color on its body. In Why I Hate Bras (2018), the same hare perches uncomfortably in a red stiletto, awkwardly coating its mouth with red lipstick. The coyote lies on its back, liberated from the unnatural bra which floats off the upper boundary of the canvas. The scene certainly reflects some of the artist’s personal uneasiness with female cultural prescriptions, yet, the disturbing, even uncanny impression left by the animals’ humanoid behavior points to something more foundational. Dressed in our clothing, our shoes, our makeup, these animals are profoundly estranged from the natural world, and, perhaps by extension, so are we.
Julie Buffalohead has been the subject of over 15 solo exhibitions, including Julie Buffalohead: Let the Show Begin (2012–2013, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, New York); The Truth About Stories: Julie Buffalohead (2015, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Santa Fe); Eyes on Julie Buffalohead (2018–2019, Denver Art Museum); and Storytelling: Julie Buffalohead (2019–2020, Minneapolis Institute of Art). In 2014, the Minnesota Museum of American Art mounted a mid-career retrospective of her work, Julie Buffalohead: Coyote Dreams, which traveled to the Plains Art Museum in 2015. Her work has appeared in over 27 group exhibitions at prestigious galleries and museums such as the Weisman Art Museum (2001, Minneapolis) and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art (2002, 2013–2014, 2017–2018, Indianapolis), among others.
Buffalohead’s work is featured in the collections of major museums across the country, including: the Denver Art Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Eiteljorg Museum, the Field Museum (Chicago), the Heard Museum (Phoenix), the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Minnesota), the Museum of American Art (St. Paul), the National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States (Jackson, Wyoming), the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City), the Missouri Rockwell Museum (Corning, New York), and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.