edited by Nancy Marie Mithlo. University of New Mexico Press, October 2020. 296 p. ill. ISBN 9780826362094 (pbk.), $39.95.
Reviewed September 2021
Sara Quimby, Library Director, Institute of American Indian Arts Library, email@example.com
Making History is published on the heels of another recent title, Knowing Native Arts, authored by Mithlo. Making History could be considered in part as preparation for building the “intellectual infrastructure of indigenous arts” that, as Mithlo writes in Knowing Native Arts, is often lacking in dominant academic institutions. While many of the works represented and voices amplified are tied to the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and its museum, the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA), the trajectory is bold, exploring avenues of art theory, practice, and scholarship of Native arts generally. Indeed, the writers refer to this book as a textbook.
Mithlo brings together art historians, theorists, museum professionals, and artists to outline what this bold step looks like. Chapters are beautifully accompanied by 102 plates, almost all from the collection of the museum, with some documenting the history of IAIA. The interior is bookended in the beginning by introductions from Mithlo, as well as the IAIA archivist and the MoCNA curator of collections, and at the end by foundational papers and conversations with important IAIA community members. These faculty and staff essays and conversations bring forth the relationship between Native art history and criticism and an institutional history, as they go hand and hand. These foundations intentionally intertwine art history, museology, art, and Indigenous studies.
Each chapter includes educational activities, in the form of sample handouts, glossaries, writing prompts, or interview questions for students, seeking to carve out curriculum for Indigenous narratives from within that are not determined by mainstream discourse. The writers do not require readers to have an in-depth knowledge of the history of Native art. Writers speak to the works in kind, as they are accessible to a variety of audiences. Readings of esteemed artists’ works, alongside representative works from the IAIA MoCNA collection, are informed by Indigenous methodologies, so that teaching and modeling simultaneously take place on the page. Whether it is demonstrating how to interview an Indigenous artist, or how to appropriately engage in curatorial work with students in dialogue with the work of Native artists, or how to understand performance within the context of Indigenous knowledge frameworks, an Indigenous aesthetic emerges with clues on how curriculum can be created.
Traditional art history often deprioritizes the intention and biography of the artist in favor of other methodologies such as reception theory and discourse analysis. The authors of this book center the Native voice in the understanding of contemporary Native art by bringing to the foreground, visually and textually, art that makes its own history, in its own form, in its own structure.