Stitched in Sovereignty: Contemporary Beadwork from Indigenous North America
Stitched in Sovereignty, curated by Dr. Chelsea Herr, highlights how Indigenous peoples maintain control of their own cultures, social and governing systems, belief and knowledge systems, and relationships with other sovereign groups. These concepts are expressed in the materials and processes of beadwork, a medium that has a long tradition in Indigenous North America and continues to evolve today.
Featured artists in the exhibition are Molly Murphy Adams (Lakota descent), Katherine Boyer (Métis), Brit Ellis (Onondaga), Shelby Rowe (Chicaksaw), and Kellen Trenal Lewis (Nez Perce). Herr (Choctaw) holds a PhD in Native American Art History from the University of Oklahoma and worked at CSHS as an intern for two summers. She is currently curator of Indigenous Art and Culture at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the US government’s return of Taos Blue Lake and its surrounding lands to the Pueblo, which is the only time that the government has ceded land to a recognized tribe without requiring anything in return. While the exhibition is not solely dedicated to Taos Pueblo’s assertion of sovereignty over its land and the relationships they maintain with it, the goal is to illustrate Indigenous self-governance and determination.
“Indigenous beadwork is a material expression of Indigenous peoples’ determination to maintain their identities and agency,” Herr explained. “The works in this exhibit reveal how imported goods from Europe, such as glass beads, have been used by Native peoples to reaffirm their own beliefs, relationships, and priorities.”
The artists challenge the viewer to consider how sovereignty extends beyond the strictly political definition—to include cultural, intellectual, spiritual, and individual components. Some pieces reference different communities’ fights to retain their land and resource relationships; others address the relationships between Native nations and settler governments. Several artists highlight the adaptability of Indigenous cultures as an expression of cultural and social sovereignty.