The Chicagoland region is a longstanding cultural and economic hub for Indigenous peoples, including the Council of Three Fires— the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa—as well as the Menominee, Miami, Ho-Chunk, Sac, Fox, Kickapoo, and Illinois nations. People from many Indigenous nations call the region home today, and the city of Chicago has the third-largest urban Indigenous population in the United States.
Indigenous voices, however, are often absent from art narratives of Chicago, past and present. This silence is damaging. The Block initiated the exhibition Woven Being: Art for Zhegagoynak/Chicagoland with the question: what would it mean if Indigenous people with ties to this land were the point of entry for thinking about art in Chicago and its region through time? Guided by Indigenous collaborations, priorities, and voices, the exhibition foregrounds the perspectives of Indigenous artists currently based in the city and those from nations forcibly displaced from the area in the nineteenth century. The Block is forming Woven Being through Indigenous curatorial methodologies that prioritize collaboration, reciprocity, and sustained dialogue with an expanding, intergenerational community of Indigenous knowledge sharers and non-Indigenous allies.
Through the perspectives of four collaborating artists—Andrea Carlson (Grand Portage Ojibwe), Kelly Church (Match-E-Be-Nash-E-Wish Band of Pottawatomi), Nora Moore Lloyd (Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa), and Jason Wesaw (Pokagon Band of Potawatomi) —Woven Being will explore confluences that have shaped and continue to shape Indigenous creative practices in the region. The place now known as Chicago is a critical nexus for Indigenous art and art histories that impact the larger Great Lakes Region and beyond. The artists are partnering with the Block team to create constellations of their own artwork and historical and contemporary artworks by Indigenous artists to shape the exhibition’s content. Selections highlight themes we have identified in dialogue with diverse project advisors: kinship between materials, relations across regional landways and waterways, and Indigenous Futurisms through the weaving together of past, present, and future temporal lenses.
Seen together the artist’s constellations form intimate and interwoven stories that resist the monolithic storytelling that too often characterizes presentations of Indigenous art in museums still shaped by colonial mindsets and practices. Oral interviews with the collaborating artists will serve as a foundation for the exhibition’s interpretative materials and its accompanying publication, centering the artists’ voices and respecting their agency in determining contexts for the display of their work. Instead of a comprehensive overview of regional art, Woven Being will offer diverse Indigenous perspectives of Chicagoland’s layered Indigenous art histories. These are central not only to understanding Chicago and its region, but also to understanding the widely interconnected Indigenous arts that have been, and continue to be, woven across the entirety of Turtle Island (North America).
Woven Being will present approximately 80 works that speak to the diversity of Indigenous art, materials, and time, including several new works created by the collaborating artists.
In the collaborative spirit of this project, we offer here a selected list of published resources that are guiding our process. We will add resources as our work continues:
- Imprints, John N. Low (Pokagon Band of Potawatomi)
- First American Art Magazine style guide
- "No Word for Art in Our Language?: Old Questions, New Paradigms," Nancy Marie Mithlo (Chiricahua Apache)
- "The Primacy of the Present, the Primacy of Place: Navigating the Spiral of History in the Digital World," Lisa Brooks (Abenaki)
- "These Canoes Carry Culture:" Native American Environmental Issues and the Media, Medill student-created website documenting the creation of a traditional Anishinaabe birchbark canoe by Ojibwe master birchbark canoe builder Wayne Valliere during his October 2021 artist residency at CNAIR.
- "The Transformational Indigenous Praxis Model: Stages For Developing Critical Consciousness in Indigenous Education," Cornel D. Pewewardy (Comanche-Kiowa)
Project development is led by a collaborative team including Jordan Poorman Cocker ([Gáuigú (Kiowa)), Terra Foundation Guest Co-Curator); Kathleen Bickford Berzock (Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs); Janet Dees (Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art); Erin Northington (Susan and Stephen Wilson Associate Director, Campus and Community Education and Engagement); and Dan Silverstein (Associate Director of Collections and Exhibition Management). We are grateful for the participation of Indigenous artists, activists, community leaders, scholars, and non-Indigenous allies who are contributing to the exhibition process and to Woven Being’s presentation at Northwestern University.
For more information about Native American and Indigenous research at Northwestern University visit Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR)
Note: We have used the preferred spelling provided by the artist for the names of Indigenous nations.
Woven Being is part of Art Design Chicago, a citywide collaboration initiated by the Terra Foundation for American Art that highlights the city’s artistic heritage and creative communities. Lead support for Woven Being is generously provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Major support is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Art Design Chicago
Art Design Chicago is a special citywide collaboration and series of events and exhibitions that highlight the city’s unique artistic heritage and creative communities. An initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art in partnership with artists and arts organizations across the city, Art Design Chicago seeks to expand narratives of American art with an emphasis on the city’s diverse and vibrant creative cultures and the stories they tell. Learn more at artdesignchicago.org.
The Terra Foundation for American Art, established in 1978 and having offices in Chicago and Paris, supports organizations and individuals locally and globally with the aim of fostering intercultural dialogues and encouraging transformative practices that expand narratives of American art, through the foundation’s grant program, collection, and initiatives. Learn more at terraamericanart.org.