Indigenous artists of the Southeast Woodlands region explore relationships with Homeland
Dustin Mater and Maya Stewart are among the 26 First Americans exploring their personal and collective relationships with their ancestral Homeland. These shared experiences between artists and their traditional Homeland are the focus of "This Land Calls Us Home: Indigenous Relationships with Southeastern Homelands," an exhibit that opened Nov. 6, at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL Airport).
"I am extremely proud to have a part in this extraordinary exhibit," Mater said. "It (the Homeland) flavors everything I make. While others may think of Rome weekly, the Homeland is on my mind daily."
Artists selected to participate in the exhibit were required to have a shared heritage of belonging to First American tribes of the Southeastern United States. "This Land Calls Us Home" features the work of contemporary First American artists and designers as they display how their ancestral Homeland is integral to their present lives through visuals and literature.
"It sets my heart aflutter to be in those holy lands, like finding a missing loved one. There is creative inspiration in every square inch of those lands," Mater said.
Featuring more than 60 works by First American artists and designers, the exhibit is presented by the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church (Global Ministries), in collaboration with the church's Native American Comprehensive Plan, which supports and amplifies the voices of Indigenous peoples to promote increased public understanding about contemporary First American identity and experience.
"This Land Calls Us Home" is presented as part of the ATL Airport Art program. The show will be on display in the gallery space of Concourse T North, near gates T12-T15 for the next year. The ATL Airport is one of the first airports in history to serve more than 100 million passengers annually.
"While it's not a traditional space, it does open a conversation with an audience who may have never heard of the Chickasaws or even interacted with an Indigenous person," Mater said. "It is a wonderful opportunity to share a part of our story with the world."
The art exhibit's title reflects the contemporary relationships First Americans have with their regional roots. It encourages them to return to their origins, spiritually and literally, to reconstruct an identity fragmented by history.
Five basic relationship categories are included within the pieces on display: community and autonomy, communication and expression, heritage and legacies, identity and diversity, and nature and nurture. The project was led by the Rev. Chebon Kernell, (Seminole/Muscogee) scholar and educator. The collection of artists and their works took years to complete. In 2020, with the support of Global Ministries and its related First American programs, Rev. Kernell led a team of museum professionals and other First American scholars to develop an exhibit that would convey the ongoing ties First American tribes maintain with their Homeland in the Southeastern United States.
"'This Land Calls Us Home' features art and artists primarily selected for how effectively they address contemporary issues pertinent to Native American relationships with their ancestral Homeland in the Southeastern United States," Rev. Kernell said. "The artists and works express contemporary issues, while they also parallel historical themes.
"The artists and subject matter were also chosen with consideration for the exhibit audience and setting, which calls for art objects that can be enjoyed for their simple visual power and beauty," Rev. Kernell said.
View the exhibit website at umcmission.org/thisland.
About the Chickasaw artists
Maya Stewart is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. She is also of Muscogee and Choctaw descent. Stewart is the daughter of artist Jimmie Carole Fife who, along with her sisters, collaborate on The Fife Collection, an innovative Indigenous fashion brand that began in the 1970s. Her designs are influenced by the geometric lines of Southeastern tribes.
Stewart's work is inspired by many years spent in London, New York and Los Angeles. She is a graduate of the London College of Fashion and was the recipient of several honors, including the prestigious Professor Jimmy Choo Award. Stewart's designs have been featured in Vogue, GQ, Elle, Harper's Bazaar and The New York Times.
Dustin Illetewahke Mater
Dustin Mater, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation with Choctaw and Muscogee ancestors, grew up in Ada, Oklahoma. After pursuing a career in graphic design in Los Angeles, he returned to Ada in 2011 to work for the Chickasaw Nation.
Inspired by the lack of representation of his family and community in fine art, Mater creates striking portraits of First Americans. His paintings aim to capture the radiance of the creator and the humanity of his subjects. Mater's work has been featured in books and magazines, used by prestigious organizations like Pendleton, Mahota blankets, the United States Air Force and the National Park Service, and showcased in performances at Carnegie Hall. Some of his artwork can also be seen in the Smithsonian Institution.