The young artists studying at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in the 1960s and 1970s felt free to express themselves in styles not attributed to Native American artists.
“There is a misperception that Native artists at that time only wanted to paint in a certain style,” explains IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) chief curator Manuela Well-Off-Man.
“The instructors at IAIA had studied art at universities around the country and supported experimentation. Their students felt liberated from stereotypical expectations of Native American art.”
“Action/Abstraction Redefined,” a show at IAIA MoCNA that runs through July 7, features paintings and works on paper that were produced by some of the first students and faculty at IAIA. Founded as a vocational fine arts high school for Native Americans, IAIA opened in 1962.
IAIA’s young students were influenced by the artistic movements of the day, including action and color field painting. Some of them enjoyed incorporating drips, splatters and accidental gestures into their work. Others played with biomorphic shapes and flat fields of color. Inspiration came from artists such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning.
While the studio art students at IAIA were encouraged to expand the ways in which they worked and to use a variety of materials, they often faced resistance outside IAIA.
“Many of them came from conservative communities that didn’t support what they were doing,” says Well-Off-Man. “They also found that it was hard to find markets for non-traditional work.”
Among the artists whose work is in the exhibit are Juanita Waukazo, Harvey Herman, Lucille Hyeoma, Frances Makil, Earl Eder and Carl Tubby.
“IAIA has a strong and large permanent collection of paintings and works on paper from the 1960s and 1970s,” says Well-Off-Man. “We’ve rotated works in the show so we can highlight many pieces within the collection.”