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OU Art Museum Examines Native American Self-Expression in New Exhibit

NORMAN – The final installment in a series of exhibitions featuring works by Native American artists and sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation opens this week at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. Ascendant: Expressions of Self-Determination, on display through Aug. 14, includes works by artists while enrolled at the University of Oklahoma from 1946 to 1954. 

Following in the footsteps of the “Kiowa Six,” Chief Terry Saul (Chickasaw, Choctaw), Walter “Dick” West (Cheyenne) and Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Dakota), the exhibition explores the context in which this remarkable group of students came to OU, presents their development as artists, and demonstrates their legacy. 

Ascendant is the result of a collaboration between the Art History program of the School of Visual Arts and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. The exhibition and accompanying catalog are funded by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in New York City. The show was organized by five student curators – Meagan Anderson, Danielle Fixico (Chickasaw, Mvscoke), Chris Tall Bear (Cheyenne), Olivia von Gries and Nathan Young (Delaware Tribe of Indians, Pawnee, Kiowa, and Cherokee Nation) -- who were enrolled in the fall 2021 seminar on Native American Art and Museum Studies led by Alicia Harris (Assiniboine) Assistant Professor of Native American Art History. 

“The artists in this exhibition are the first Native Americans to receive M.F.A.s in 

the United States,” says Harris. “The exhibition revolves around topics of Native American spirituality (when the full expression of which was illegal in the United States at the time), political and legal paradigms, and their legacy as artists, teachers and leaders. We worked to expand the label “Modernism,” which has been applied to their abstract compositions and assert that these artists also fit securely into the art histories and ancestral paradigms of their unique, sophisticated communities.” 

The exhibition features work from FJJMA’s permanent collection and special loans from the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa and the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma. 

An exhibition catalog published in conjunction with the show is also available at the museum free of charge. Included in the catalog are essays and biographies of the artists written by the curators with an introduction by Alicia Harris. An exhibition webinar with the student curators is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 24. The exhibition and related programming are free and open to the public. 

More information about this exhibition and related programing is available on the museum’s website at www.ou.edu/fjjma. 

The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is located in the OU Arts District on the corner of Elm Avenue and Boyd Street, at 555 Elm Ave., on the OU Norman campus. Admission to the museum is complimentary to all visitors. Further information regarding this exhibition and accommodations are available by calling (405) 325-4938 or visiting www.ou.edu.fjjma. 

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IMAGE CREDITS

The decades following World War II were rife with change on a global scale, no less so for Native American artists at the University of Oklahoma. Ascendant: Expressions of Self-Determination considers the Native art students enrolled at OU from 1946-1954 as the “second generation” of Native artists in the legacy of the university, following in the footsteps of the Kiowa Six. Chief Terry Saul (Chickasaw, Choctaw), Walter “Dick” West (Cheyenne) and Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Dakota) came to OU at a time of political, social and personal transformation. Artists turned to ancestral philosophies of artmaking to represent their identity, celebrate heritage and assert individual artistic agency. 

During this period, Native art was becoming increasingly accepted as “fine art.” This generation of artists is notable as teachers and leaders whose resounding influence on the vast field of Native American art is felt to this day. Curators for the exhibition include instructor Alicia Harris and student curators Meagan Anderson, Danielle Fixico, Chris Tallbear, Olivia von Gries and Nathan Young. This exhibition was made possible with generous support from the Mellon Foundation. 

Oscar Howe (Mazuha Hokshina) U.S., Yanktonai Dakota) 1915-1983 Waci (He is Dancing), 1973 Watercolor on paper Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman; The James T. Bialac Native American Art Collection, 2010 

Tommy Wayne “T.C.” Cannon (U.S., Kiowa/Caddo, 1946-1978) 

On Drinkin’ Beer in Vietnam in 1967, 1971 Lithograph Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, The University of Oklahoma, Norman; The James T. Bialac Native American Art Collection, 2010

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