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Contemporary art by Indigenous artists is receiving a lot more attention these days with growing representation within collections and on exhibition schedules. The art market is a flawed indicator of success for living artists, but numerous news outlets have reported rising valuations and sales of work by Indigenous artists as an indication of a surge of interest from private collectors and museums.

This long overdue recognition is the result of on-the-ground efforts — over decades — by hardworking artists who have created work and curators who have mounted exhibitions that highlight important Indigenous perspectives. The three Seattle exhibitions below vary widely in media, tone and content, but are linked through the artists’ commitment to represent lived experiences, difficult histories and ongoing cultural inequities.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map

New Mexico-based Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation) has been a force in the art world for over five decades, creating deeply impactful work and opening doors for the increasing recognition of contemporary art by Native Americans. As an artist and curator, she has organized over 30 exhibitions of art by Indigenous people in addition to producing highly memorable mixed media art that blends abstraction with the critical use of iconic symbols such as canoes, buffalo, maps and American flags.

Currently showing at the Seattle Art Museum, Memory Map is the biggest and most comprehensive retrospective of her work to date. 

Included in the show is Smith’s well-known, large-scale work from 1992 titled Trade (Gifts for Trading Land with White People), which uses biting humor and modernist strategies including collage, painterly abstraction and the use of found material such as articles cut from a tribal newspaper, stereotyping illustrations from ads and comics, and culturally appropriated or misleading Native-themed toys and sports memorabilia. At over 14 feet across, the immersive triptych offers complex layers and readings to reveal a history fraught with inequity. 

In total, the exhibition includes over 130 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and examples of Quick-to-See Smith’s ongoing activism and generous curatorial practices. Organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), this traveling exhibition has received rave reviews since it opened in 2023 and is a must-see during its final stop — and only West Coast visit — in Seattle through May 12.

– Gayle Clemans

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