Jeffrey Gibson: ‘We are stepping out and owning the space’: Santa Fe Indian Market’s Centennial

Rain Embuscado, The Art Newspaper, August 31, 2022


Even rain couldn’t keep the Santa Fe Indian Market from springing to life.


On 20 August, thousands of visitors—under brightly-coloured coats and with umbrellas in hand—stormed the city’s historic Plaza for the Southwest Association of American Indian Art’s (SWAIA) centennial milestone.


In keeping with tradition, the organisation held all of the usual ceremonies, opening the sprawling annual fair for Indigenous art with a morning prayer and proffering this year’s juried “Best-of-Class” awards across ten categories. Russell Sanchez, a San Ildefonso Pueblo potter native to the region, took home the event's “Best-of-Show” prize for his bejewelled polychrome jar, 100 years in the making!(2022).


Local arts pillars beyond the Plaza augmented the weekend’s festivities. SITE Santa Fe hosted a multi-decade survey of Jeffrey Gibson and a debut solo exhibition of Nani Chacon’s work. At the Center for Contemporary Arts, curators Danyelle Means and Kiersten Fellrath assembled works by 13 rising Indigenous artists in the group show Self-Determined. And the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) hosted a number of hard-hitting programmes, including a critically-acclaimed set of Athena LaTocha’s Mesabi iron pour sculptures.


According to a SWAIA spokesperson, more than 800 artists from across the Americas participated in this year’s edition of Indian Market (20-21 August)—all of whom belong to one of the federally recognized tribes in the United States and Canada. Altogether, more than 200 nations were represented at the Market, a figure SWAIA’s current leadership intends to grow in future iterations.


Through a partnership with IllumiNative,  which bills itself as a Native women-led social justice organisation, conversations about the previous century and plans for the next were conducted in panel-style discussions throughout both days of the event. Should SWAIA have its way, meaningful success for the Market and other events like it hinges on partners, allies and collaborators who are ready to let Native and Indigenous peoples take the lead.


A tale of two art worlds


The Santa Fe Indian Market’s raison d’être, currently the subject of a year-long exhibition at the New Mexico History Museum, has been to preserve Native and Indigenous art amid paternalistic concerns about the perceived threat of demographic and cultural extinction. Since its inception in 1922, during the assimilationist period of Federal Indian Policies, SWAIA’s leadership has largely steered the Market through this lens—an anxiety that has echoed through the decades and perpetuated a bygone era’s attitudes.


Angelique Albert (Confederated Salish and Kootenai), the chief executive officer of Native Forward which claims to be the largest scholarship provider for Native youth—tells The Art Newspaper that in spite of incremental progress in recent years, mainstream media continues to ensnare Native and Indigenous artists in antiquated narratives. “The problem is how Native art is framed,” Albert says. “It’s trapped in time: historical, not contemporary.”


In a broader effort to seize control of the narrative, SWAIA had previously explored the possibility of sponsoring and hosting a contemporary art-focused offshoot called Art Indigenous. Plans for that event have not yet materialised, due in large part to administrative conflicts and internal expectations. But according to Jamie Schulze (Northern Cheyenne and Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate), SWAIA’s operations director, Art Indigenous remains a top priority for the organisation.


“Art Indigenous is an avenue for SWAIA to branch out into a contemporary voice,” Schulze says. “This contemporary Native voice needs to be included during our market. We are going to do this well, just not this year. What we need is for partners to see us as an ally. Santa Fe Indian Market, because of its beginnings, hasn’t always been able to be an ally to the rest of the world. We’re stepping into allyship with cultures across the globe.”

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