Continuum: Celebrating Native Art and Native Voices

Listen to three contemporary Native artists interpret their work

By The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

My sculptures help to reach inside to find ourselves, or remember ourselves.” —Roxanne Swentzell

Since its founding in 1933, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has collected works by Native artists. Containing objects that date before Europeans came to North America through to the contemporary moment, the collection affirms that the arts of Native America constitute a living, evolving continuum.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art stands on the homelands of Native American peoples, at the juncture of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers. In recent years, these nations have included the Missouria, Oto, Kansa, Osage, Shawnee, and Delaware. We pay respects to all Indigenous peoples — past, present, and future — for their continuing presence in the homeland and throughout the Native American diaspora.

Kosa Appreciating Anything (1997) by Roxanne SwentzellThe Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Kosa Appreciating Anything
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Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo)

This Kosa is a traditional piece of one of the entities that you find in the Pueblos. They are kind of like clowns, but with a more sacred lean than Western perception of what a clown is. 

Kosa Appreciating Anything
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Clowns are very special to me because they caught my attention as a child, because they reflected things back to whoever was watching them that seemed to stick with me as a child. And I think that's their job. To sort of mimic what they see around them, to reflect that to society, what it is they are doing or behaving like, or seem like. And I believe that, for the Pueblo people, this being was really important to helping the society stay in balance with itself. 

Kosa Appreciating Anything
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...And it’s made so that the hand that’s holding whatever is left empty because you can imagine anything there, really. And at that point, you know, when you start appreciating everything around you, it's a reminder of how everything has a meaning, purpose.

Micaceous Jar (2007) by Lonnie VigilThe Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Micaceous Jar
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Lonnie Vigil (Nambé Pueblo)

...I attempted I think two pieces, and finally on the third attempt it came out, and it happens to be a gorgeous water jar shape piece and the color is referred to as a gunmetal, which is a silvery black color, which is very unusual and difficult to achieve.

Micaceous Jar
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It has a kind of presence that, if you walked into a room and you saw it, it wouldn’t startle you, but you would sense that you stepped into its energy field...it really belongs collectively to my family and my community and all of the ancestors who have given us this gift.

Micaceous Jar
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...I came to this work in my early thirties and I had no idea that this gift was inside of me. In retrospect, I understand that it was part of my genealogy. I was carrying it in my blood and it was passed on to me, I know, by my great-grandmother's spirit...

Warrior Shades - Buffalo Horn Rim Glasses (2008) by Kevin PourierThe Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Warrior Shades
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Kevin Pourier (Oglala Lakota)

Buffalo horns are a real sacred object for Lakotas...the Buffalo spirit lives in the horn caps and so it’s real central to all of our ceremonies. We use it to pour water in the sweat lodges and in our Sun Dance the buffalo skull is the the center of the altar...

Warrior Shades
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…I’ve always heard of this “horn rim glasses” and it was, I don’t know, I thought well why not buffalo horn? A couple years ago, I did get some large horn caps, and so I just had to do it…I carved out Rez Bans on the temples of the glasses and inlaid it with mother of pearl.

Warrior Shades
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...I believe that in our work there’s got to be a balance in everything that we do, and that there’s got to be humor to balance out the seriousness of the spirituality part...we are contemporary people...we're pushing the envelope of art and we're just like everybody else...

Credits: Story

Many thanks to Roxanne Swentzell, Lonnie Vigil, and Kevin Pourier.


The Nelson-Atkins is currently updating its Land Acknowledgment. Learn more about the process here.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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