See 2 new Native American Art exhibitions starting Oct. 9. + The Jingle Dress Project Oct. 16, 11AM-1PM

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Jingle Dresses
You can see photographs from Tapahe’s Jingle Dress Project at the Birmingham Museum of Arts’s Native American art gallery. Photo via Eugene Tapahe

Monday, October 11 is Indigenous People’s Day, and the Birmingham Museum of Art has two new exhibitions and one dance performance lined up for the occasion. Both exhibitions open Saturday, October 9, and all are invited to watch the dancers of The Jingle Dress Project on Saturday, October 16 from 11AM-1PM. Keep reading for all the details.

3 opportunities to experience Native American art at the Birmingham Museum of Art

Engraved shell cup
Engraved shell cup with depiction of Birdman. Le Flore County, Oklahoma, Spiro site, AD 1100 – 1200. Marine shell. Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, University of Oklahoma, Norman.
  • What: opening of two separate exhibitions of Native American art—both ancient and contemporary
    • Lost Realms of the Moundbuilders: Ancient Native Americans of the South and Midwest—explores the archaeology and history of the Mississippian Moundbuilders
    • Voices So True: New Native American Art from the Clyde Oyster Bequest—features the work of seven contemporary Native American artists, whose vision gives voice to Native American perspectives past and present
  • When: Saturday, October 9
  • Cost: free

  • What: Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project—an in-person performance of the traditional Jingle Dress Dance followed by a presentation and Q&A discussion with artist Eugene Tapahe and the dancers.
  • When: Saturday, October 16, 11AM-1PM
  • Cost: free | Registration required

Visit Birmingham Museum of Art for more details.

1. Lost Realms of the Moundbuilders: Ancient Native Americans of the South and Midwest

moundbuilders disc
Engraved circular palette with intertwined plumed serpents, known as the Issaquena Disk. Issaquena County, Mississippi, ad 1250–1500. Ceramic. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection. A14/023.

Chances are, if you grew up in Alabama, you’re familiar with Moundville, located just south of Tuscaloosa. But did you know that the ancient Moundbuilders of North America, aka the Mississippians, were one of our country’s most important Native American cultures? 

According to historians, the world they created was equal to that of the Aztec, Maya or Inca. 

Fun facts about the exhibition: 

  • Features 175 historic objects from four major Moundbuilder sites:
    • Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma
    • Moundville in Alabama
    • Etowah Mounds in Georgia
    • Cahoka Mounds in East Saint Louis, Illinois
  • Showcases contemporary Indigenous works of art that connect the art and artistry of the Moundbuilder people to their modern descendants.
  • Explores the archaeology and history of the Moundbuilders, their religious and ceremonial activities, farming and hunting practices, daily life, trade networks and their highly developed social, political and religious centers. 
  • Created in collaboration with several Native American tribal nations and  accompanied by a major catalog—with contributions by Native American cultural specialists and 17 humanities scholars from nearly a dozen universities and museums from across the United States.
  • Organized by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma, where it debuted before coming here. 
  • Runs until February 6, 2022. Next stop: Dallas

2. Voices So True: New Native American Art from the Clyde Oyster Bequest

Zoe Urness
Zoë Marieh Urness, Native American, Tlingit and Cherokee, born 1984, December 5th, 2016/Standing Rock, December 5, 2016, photograph; Museum purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Clyde W. Oyster, 2017.61.

This exhibition, which will be in Birmingham from Saturday, October 16 until January 30, 2022, features the work of seven contemporary Native American artists: 

These artists are affiliated with many different tribal nations, including:

Fun facts about the exhibition:

  • Its title is inspired by the writing of Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Nation, and the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States, who wrote, “… my father told me that some voices are so true they can be used as weapons, can maneuver the weather, change time.” 
  • The exhibition includes photographs, prints, paintings and basketry. 
  • The works explore subjects including memory and identity, the environment, cultural appropriation, encroachment, racism, healing from epidemic disease and violence and giving voice to the voiceless.

Exhibition highlights:

  • Photographs from Eugene Tapahe’s Jingle Dress Project document an artist’s vision and act of healing during the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. 
  • Multiple works address the 2016 Standing Rock Sioux protests of an oil pipeline that threatened the Standing Rock water supply. 
  • In her series 1880 Crow Peace Delegation, Wendy Red Star adds hand-written text to a group of historic photographic portraits of Crow leaders—images over which the sitters had no control, and which were appropriated into popular culture. 
  • This exhibition is curated by Dr. Emily G. Hanna, Senior Curator, Arts of Africa and the Americas, and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

3. Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project

On Saturday, October 16, from 11AM-1PM, all are invited to an in-person performance of the traditional Jingle Dress Dance, followed by a presentation and Q&A discussion with artist Eugene Tapahe and the dancers. Registration required.

“The jingle dance of the Ojibwe people originated during the influenza pandemic of 1918-19. It came as a dream to a father whose daughter was sick with the virus. His dream revealed a dress and a dance that had the power to heal. When the dresses were made, they were given to four women to perform the dance. When the little girl heard the sound of the jingles, she became stronger. By the end of the night, she was dancing too.”

Eugene Tapahe

Make plans now to visit the Birmingham Museum of Art beginning October 9 for the two exhibitions and Saturday, October 16, for the Jingle Dress Dance. Follow Birmingham Museum of Art on their website, on Facebook or Instagram.

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Sharron Swain
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