Visit Being(s) by Stella Nall at the Cawein Gallery
When I recently visited the Cawein Gallery (Scott Hall), vibrantly colored animals standing in paintings immediately caught my attention. The two-dimensional paintings of red bison reminded me of the ancient paleolithic cave paintings. Whether intentional or not, as an Indigenous person myself, I interpreted the paintings as a tribute to how our ancestors expressed art. It was one of the many pieces in the current exhibit by Stella Nall that combine tributes to tradition with nods toward postmodernism.
Stella Nall is an Indigenous multimedia artist from Bozeman, Montana, with work consisting of an emotionally moving collection of illustrations, beadwork, printmaking, and painting. A First Descendant of the Apsáalooke Tribe (also known as Crow), Nall focuses the full scope of her artwork on social movements that affect her daily life as an Indigenous person, as well as the damage colonialism has done her community—which is to say, she has a lot to say, and to show, through her artwork.
Much of Nall’s art references social movements like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s movement and the Blood Quantum Controversy that determines whether a person can be seen by the eyes of the government as a Native American Citizen. Many paintings feature red, strong color in the Native American cultures; red can represent the blood of our ancestors as well as violence against Native people.
Nall works in several mediums, including beadwork, which also expresses her culture’s history and traditions, not to mention the relevant knowledge she learned from her mother, which she continues to use in her contemporary art.
Many pieces depict crows, which is perhaps a direct reference to her people, known as Crow. One piece, in particular, depicts a yellow mule with an empty stomach surrounded by flying black crows. The crows have human hands for wings; some have their beaks pulled off in front of them, exposing little beaks and faces. In addition, surrounding the whole thing are elk teeth, prevalent in some Native cultures because they use them for art and clothing. It is a moving piece, and when I looked at it, I saw the mule as a person surrounded by the Crow people; maybe they feel empty inside because of the crows. Their faces seem hidden under large beaks, so maybe they intimidate the mule, but inside, they are much smaller than they appear—and Nall’s artwork is perhaps more significant than it appears. — Christian Mendoza Guerra