01 Feb Ones to Watch: Dyani White Hawk
Using non-traditional materials, artist Dyani White Hawk brings a contemporary voice to the topics of traditional Lakota tribal elements.
Her use of handmade paper instead of animal hides, sewing machine stitches instead of quillwork, and paint instead of beads (although she does include beading in some of her mixed-media work) jolts the viewer’s assumptions and redefines expectations.
“The mixed-media works drove a lot of my direction,” White Hawk says. “It came out of my desire to relate my time in Tribal College before I went to the University of Wisconsin. I was trying to figure out how to do both traditional work and contemporary painting — it was a breakthrough for me. I had to figure out how to have the same conversations that quillwork brings. I also wanted to fulfill my desire to connect the values that come with the older modes of making art those of more current methods.”
The first piece she did was ink on paper.
“It was just those lanes across the paper, the type used with beadwork, but with ink,” she says. “It was a way to speed up the process while adhering to the things I needed to be able to talk about … I used handmade paper and a sewing machine and I called them Fast Lanes. Those were kind of a kickoff to be able to talk about our values then and now, wanting that aesthetic but wanting it now.”
She had a peer in graduate school who was making handmade paper and had scraps in her studio. “There were certain pieces that felt like hide,” she says. “Some don’t necessarily mimic the hide but still have that raw natural quality to them, not highly processed. I love that the characteristics heighten the work and still reference the natural world. I love the irregular shapes; it’s been fun to play with that.”
A recurring theme in her work is the moccasin motif.
“I’m always looking for channels to speak to an audience familiar with Western linear abstraction and Lakota abstraction — my desire is a cross education in both,” she says. “I have a strong need to most fully and honestly represent myself and my experiences — I’m Lakota, German and Welsh — and it’s a struggle to see what that means. The moccasins stand for a figure with the power of an abstract form without being too specific — at the same time they are very regionally specific, if you know the culture. This work also allows me to continue another passion, which is research into the archives of our historic works, which is where I get a lot of inspiration.”
Her garnered awards include the 2012 Discovery Fellowship, Southwest Association for Indian Arts; 2012 Best of Division (Mixed Media) and First Place, Santa Fe Indian Market; 2011 First Place and Third Place, Painting, Northern Plains Indian Art Market; 2011 Second Place, Painting, Red Cloud Indian Art Show.