Academic journal article Aurora, The Journal of the History of Art

Gender Representation in the Art of Jaune Quick to See Smith

Academic journal article Aurora, The Journal of the History of Art

Gender Representation in the Art of Jaune Quick to See Smith

Article excerpt

In her seminal book The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, literary critic Paula Gunn Allen (Laguna Pueblo/Sioux) argued that American feminism has "red roots." (1) By this she meant that the egalitarianism between the sexes that characterized native cultures before colonization served as a precursory model to the efforts by white feminists to resist patriarchy in Euro-American society. As Gunn Allen herself explained, "The feminist idea of power as it ideally accrues to women stems from tribal sources." (2) In her exploration of the position of women in both American Indian and Euro-American societies, artist Jaune Quick To See Smith (Flathead) embraces Gunn Allen's construct of gender in traditional American Indian culture and uses it to reveal the societal limitations imposed upon women in Euro-American culture today. Celebrating women in their roles as artists and healers in traditional tribal societies, Quick To See Smith creates a vision of the future that represents full participation for women in society as a whole. This vision is grounded in a biting critique of gender-based roles for both men and women that stem from the constrictive models of Western discourse and the institutions that have historically rendered the contributions of women invisible. At the same time, her work is a celebration of the contributions of women to both American Indian and Euro-American cultures.

From her early years in art school, Quick To See Smith recognized the limitations of Euro-American culture in supporting women artists. In a 1996 interview published in the catalogue for her exhibition Subversions/ Affirmations, she described being frustrated by the lack of exposure she received as a woman artist while in art school. As she explained in the interview, "From the start I was bothered by the fact that the only artists I heard about in school were mostly white men ... I felt there had to be more than this, and in time I encountered women artists like O'Keefe [sic] and Kollwitz." (3) Quick To See Smith also recognized the limited exhibition space available for women to publicly show their work as another barrier to equality for female artists in the mainstream art establishment. She responded to this problem as early as 1985 by organizing and curating the exhibition Women of Sweetgrass, Cedar, and Sage along with Harmony Hammond. This landmark exhibition highlighted the art of contemporary Native American women working in both traditional and non-traditional media.

In her artwork, Quick To See Smith demonstrates a consistent concern with the position of women in both American Indian and Euro-American cultures. In her exploration of the relationship between American Indian women and the history of art making, she consciously and intentionally connects her painting and printmaking to the long tradition of native women's art production through her use of abstraction. In her catalogue essay for Women of Sweetgrass, Cedar, and Sage, Quick To See Smith stated, "Abstraction is another area that belongs distinctly to Native American women artists, [while] Indian men tended to work in a more figurative mode." (4) The parfleche, a rawhide container painted with abstract designs by American Indian women, best illustrates the long tradition of abstract painting associated with native women's artistic production. In his groundbreaking examination of the parfleche, Gaylord Torrence described it as illustrating "a powerful tradition of abstract painting created by the women of more than forty tribal groups throughout the western half of North America during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries." (5) When Quick To See Smith uses abstraction in her art, she invokes this tradition of painting among North American indigenous women.

Quick To See Smith has spoken directly about the influence of beadwork on her artistic production. Begun as an art form with the introduction of glass beads by Europeans, beadwork is a continuation of the abstract painting tradition of native women. …

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