With the early-November sun fighting through the clouds of a wide-open Southern California sky, more than 160 Native artists, storytellers, writers, dancers and filmmakers from across North America gathered in Los Angeles for the American Indian Arts Marketplace. Visitors to the event, which took place at the Autry National Center of the American West, gathered to watch dancers, plays, films and panel discussions, wander from booth to booth inside the marketplace and relax outside with frybread and sarsaparilla.
“We want to expose a Los Angeles audience to the Native culture, the contemporary part of it as well,” said Yadhira De Leon, director of public relations for the Autry. “It’s important to show that this is not something from the past but very much a part of the present.”
The Autry National Center was formed in 2003 when the Autry Museum of Western Heritage merged with the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Women of the West Museum. It describes itself as “an intercultural history center dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West.”
For De Leon, one highlight of this year’s marketplace was the talk on ledger art by Joyce M. Szabo, author of Imprisoned Art, Complex Patronage; and contemporary ledger artist Michael Horse. Ledger art, which was originally art created on accounting ledger books by Plains Indians, “is really interesting when you start to explain the concepts of it,” said Horse. Similar work, he said, has been created by survivors of war and hardship all over the world.
Horse has watched the event evolve from its first days at the Southwest Museum of the American Indian more than 20 years ago. When the Autry took over the marketplace, he said, it “really had to try harder. They had this reputation for being a cowboy museum. People would say, ‘I don’t want to see my collection in the cowboy collection, those are the people who did harm to my culture.’ But the Autry has gone out of its way to make sure that they are really fair and have a Native insight. I am really proud of them.”
Winners of this year’s art awards included Métis Cree woodcarver Ken Humpherville, whose eagle bentwood box won the Jackie Autry Purchase Award, and Dyanni Hamilton Youngbird, Navajo, who won best of show for her dragonfly beaded purse. “It’s interesting to be able to talk and eat with so many different people—to come together on a common ground,” said Youngbird.
While dancers, musicians and storytellers brought forth traditional and contemporary Native culture on the main stage, Native playwrights and filmmakers shared their stories in two separate festivals.
“What’s really cool is we’re starting to have a network of Native people who are established writers, directors and actors,“ said Randy Reinholz, Choctaw, artistic director of the Native Voices Short Plays Festival. “Because of the work happening over and over again, it seems like we’re all becoming more aware of each other, so it’s easier to advocate for each other.”
Highlights of the Short Plays Festival included a play called “The Indian on His Toes,” about two Native soldiers in the Middle East, and the award-winning “Raven One,” a science fiction tale set in the distant future about using Indian ways to deal with the loneliness of deep space.
Of particular note this year was the Sundance Institute at the Autry Presents Native Films program, a new partnership between the two organizations that facilitates free public screenings of films that are made by emerging filmmakers from around the world. This year’s program featured the short entries “Grab” by Billy Luther, Navajo/Hopi/Laguna; “Shimásání” by Blackhorse Lowe, Navajo; and a suspense-filled feature drama, On the Ice, by Iñupiaq filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean.
Luther, whose film explores the Laguna Pueblo ritual of Grab Day, was particularly impressed with both the venue and the enthusiastic audience reception at the Autry. “I was blown away,” said Luther. “I thought, Wow, this should happen more often.”
Other presentations during the weekend included a panel discussion on Native sovereignty and tribal relationships with the state and federal governments hosted by Marshall McKay, chair of the Autry board of trustees and tribal chairman of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation; a talk by Indian Country Today Media Network columnist Duane Champagne, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, on his latest book, Notes From the Center of Turtle Island; and an inside view of the juried art selection process with Steven M. Karr and Kim Martindale.
Michael Horse summed up the proceedings thusly: “It was a class show.”