Dyani White Hawk Is Rewriting Art History

Nehadness Greene

Dyani, you’re an artist, and one in every of these years you’re going to consider me,” Dyani White Hawk’s mother would say as she saw her daughter always drawing and crafting in her youth. “Creating has just all the time been my favorite thing to do,” says the multidisciplinary visual artist. “I remember being young and going to a museum and seeing an abstract painting. I had no idea what it was; I just remember seeing it and craving it, and being like, ‘Whatever that’s, I need to try this.’”

dyani white hawk’s i am your your relative 2020 at halsey institute of contemporary art

White Hawk’s I Am Your Your Relative (2020), at Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art.

Courtesy of the Artist, Rick Rhodes Photography

A long time later, with works within the Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum of the American Indian, White Hawk has very much turn out to be the artist her mother foresaw. Her artwork, which incorporates painting, sculpture, installation, performance, video, and photography, is formed by a reverence for her Lakota heritage. Her 2021 solo exhibition on the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, presented 10 years of labor exploring the way in which the Lakota tribe embraced abstract art, including I Am Your Relative, a 2020 series of six life-size photos of Native women wearing shirts that together spell out the sentence “I’m / greater than your desire / greater than your fantasy / greater than a mascot / ancestral love prayer sacrifice / your relative.”


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The 2022 Whitney Biennial included White Hawk’s work titled Wopila | Lineage, an 8” x 14” installation for which she and her team of mostly Native artists affixed greater than half one million glass bugle beads to aluminum panels to create a vibrant, geometric image that pulls from Lakota beadwork traditions. It was the highest-profile moment in her profession to this point, but White Hawk, 46, says she was initially fearful about presenting the work within the esteemed show, as she hadn’t seen mainstream art institutions embrace overtly Native works like hers. “Mainly all of the things art history has told me is that what I desired to make wouldn’t necessarily be celebrated or supported or uplifted and honored in the way in which that other work is likely to be,” she says. “I made a decision that it was not in my best interest to purchase into that fear or to make what I believed is likely to be well received, but to actually make what was necessary to me.”

dyani white hawks wopila lineage acrylic, glass bugle beads, and synthetic sinew on aluminum panels, eight parts

Dyani White Hawk, Wopila|Lineage, 2022. Acrylic, glass bugle beads, and artificial sinew on aluminum panels, eight parts, 96 9/16 × 168 3/8 in. (245.3 × 427.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, Latest York; purchased jointly by the Whitney Museum of American Art, Latest York, with funds from the Director’s Discretionary Fund; and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. © Dyani White Hawk.

Photograph by Ron Amstutz

Constructing her profession in Minneapolis, near where she was raised in Wisconsin, was intentional. Town has one in every of the biggest urban Native populations and a thriving arts community. She sees her presence there as a way of pushing back on the notion that to be taken seriously as an artist, one must live in Latest York or L.A. “It’s ridiculous that there’s an expectation that to be a thriving artist, you will have to follow a script,” she says. “I need to be grounded in a spot that is smart for me and to be a participant in a greater arts community. I don’t feel like I should should select.”

ELLE is proud to be one in every of 12 Hearst magazines partnering with the Whitney Museum of American Art in Latest York to amplify the voices of female artists in honor of International Women’s Day 2023. For this historic collaboration, each artist contributed a bit she feels speaks to the name of the initiative: “The Art of Moving Forward.” Women will not be just surviving but thriving, moving ever forward to guide, define, and shape a difficult world, and these artists exemplify that.

This program is being presented in partnership with Johnnie Walker, which has awarded greater than $1 million in grants to women-owned businesses and helps women overcome historical barriers by showcasing stories of their progress.

This text appears within the March 2023 issue of ELLE.


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Adrienne Gaffney is an editor at ELLE who previously worked at WSJ Magazine and Vanity Fair.

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