Dyani White Hawk, 2023 MacArthur Fellow, Wants Us to Rethink Art

Dyani White Hawk wants us to rethink art. She posits that European-American histories have created a hierarchy wherein certain forms and aspects of art are uplifted while others are devalued. Her focus on Indigenous aesthetics, drawing from her perspective as a Lakota woman, is constantly working against this narrative, with the intent to showcase the parts of her artistic histories that have been excluded. As a 2023 MacArthur Fellow, she looks toward a future where we think critically about how we tell our stories.

The MacArthur Foundation awards fellowships to creatives who display notable innovation and originality in their pursuits. Since there are no restrictions, the fellowship functions as a profound belief in the recipient and a trust that they will continue to make vital work. It is a major achievement and recognition of talent and impact. Only 20 artists, spanning multiple disciplines, were chosen in 2023.

As a 2023 MacArthur Fellow, she looks toward a future where we think critically about how we tell our stories.

Residencies have taken her to Australia, Russia, and Germany, and her art has been featured in collections across the United States, from the Museum of Modern Art in NYC to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Her formal education began first at Haskell Indian Nations University, where she received an Associate’s Degree, before earning a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts, and an MFA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Engaging in what are historically artistic practices upheld by women, Dyani’s art is focused in painting and beadwork. This includes porcupine quillwork and parfleche, though she has also delved into video and photo installations, glass and mosaic. Most of her creations are considered abstract, as abstraction was practiced in art “pre-colonization, by [her] ancestors.” She describes it as “distilling complex ideas and thought down to the most graceful and poignant gestures.”

Dyani takes inspiration from the history of Lakota abstraction and Euro and Euro-American easel painting abstraction.

Dyani takes inspiration from the history of Lakota abstraction and Euro and Euro-American easel painting abstraction. Her affinity for both derives from their influence on different parts of her life journey, history, genetic makeup, and experience. Dyani utilizes these two perspectives in making her art, though she draws from who she is as a Lakota woman first and foremost.

For her 2022 Whitney Biennial exhibit, Dyani designed “Wopila | Lineage,” the title of which “expresses deep gratitude for the interwoven network of ancestral and living communities that make the work possible.” It is made from glass bugle beads that she attached to aluminum panels. Before securing the beads, Dyani carefully used a loom to weave them into thin strips. The process is delicate and meticulous, with a striking, large-scale end result. Wopila | Lineage is a depiction of several dimensionally colored triangles representing reciprocal relationships across cultures, between land and life, and ancestral and living communities. Dyani views it as an “offering of beauty” or reciprocity as well as an installation that inspires discourse regarding history and its surrounding narratives. Put clearly and powerfully, her ultimate goal with this piece was to “position Lakota aesthetics in the Whitney Biennial.” 

Opening these discussions sits at the heart of Dyani’s vision. She hopes people spend time considering how our history has impacted indigenous communities, and, ultimately, our relatedness: how we live in accordance with each other and our collective pasts.

Congratulations, Dyani White Hawk!

© Anna Nappi (11/30/23) Special for FF2 Media


Read more about Dyani’s career and her MacArthur award here.

Learn more about Dyani from her website.

Read an interview with Dyani from The Bockley Gallery.

Watch Dyani discuss her work with the Whitney Museum of American Art.


Photos courtesy of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.

Tags: Anna Nappi, beadwork, Dyani White Hawk, Indigenous Artists, MacArthur Fellows, MacArthur Genius Grants, Painting, Whitney Museum

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Anna is currently a senior at Brandeis University studying Film, Journalism, and Psychology. At Brandeis, she writes for the student newspaper and is the undergraduate degree representative of the Journalism program. From theaters to museums to concert halls, she loves exploring the art world in Boston as well as in her Maine hometown. Anna is passionate about FF2’s mission and excited for the opportunity to work alongside a wonderful team dedicated to supporting women artists.
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