Contemporary Native American Exhibition Fuses Personal Identities, Mythologies
Contemporary American Indian artist Brad Kahlhamer’s Bowery Nation exhibition opens at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City on March 23 and gives voice to multiple heritages and artistic traditions. The exhibition brings together 100 katsina-like dolls and 22 birds that are fashioned from feathers, the artist’s hair, bone, metal, rubber, paint, wood, wire and other materials gathered in Kahlhamer’s urban neighborhood on New York’s Lower East Side Bowery.
Traditional katsinas are supernatural beings. As invisible forces, they manifest themselves in a multitude of physical forms and natural phenomena. They are given reality in Hopi and Zuni ceremonial dances and as hand-crafted katsina dolls that are used to teach children the beliefs of the people.
“Identity is a consistent thread in Kahlhamer’s work,” said Jan Schall, Sanders Sosland Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art. “He was adopted as an infant and grew up in a family of German-American heritage in Wisconsin.”
For Kahlhamer, Bowery Nation represents what he calls his “third place,” the fusion of his personal identities and mythologies. Kahlhamer’s work has a visionary quality, as fluid, abstract imagery floats in amorphous space. Pictorial references to urban life, the natural world and the space of imagination and spirit abound. Images of the artist and a soaring eagle are often present.
Bowery Nation calls to mind the hay wagons and flatbed trucks transformed into powwow parade floats that carry dancers adorned in colorful feathered and beaded regalia. The structure is assembled from the artist’s studio materials: an old painting table, saw horses, sheets of plywood, a step ladder and wooden benches. Bowery Nation embodies a coming together of disparate parts to make a unified whole.
This exhibition is supported by the Campbell-Calvin Fund and Elizabeth C. Bonner Charitable Trust for exhibitions and the Rheta A. Sosland Fund.