Great Basin Native Artists
When you want to see national artists, you might go to a gallery at University of Nevada, Reno. To see international work, visiting the Nevada Museum of Art might suit you. But if art from local artists is what you want, the Main Gallery at Truckee Meadows Community College will deliver. This gallery on the Dandini Campus is giving contemporary regional artists a platform to show their art. The gallery caters to students and the surrounding community, so it’s all local all the time.
Curator Candace Garlock didn’t have to look far to find inspiration. One of the artists in the current exhibit was once a student in her printmaking class. His name is Paul Buckheart. He’s part of a group called the Great Basin Native Artists. The group is a collective of Native American artists who serve as mentors for up-and-comers and organize exhibits.
“We gotta let people know that we’re out there, too,” Buckheart said. “Native artists are out there. Hopefully they can see the art as a positive thing for people of Native decent. We’re a better cultural people than what some people portray us.”
The group has been around for just a couple of years. The exhibits are often in Northern Nevada, and members have also shown their work in California, Las Vegas and as far away as Italy. They understand why many people don’t quite know what modern American Indian art looks like—they haven’t seen enough of it.
Melissa Melero-Moose is a leader of the Great Basin Native Artists. “People haven’t really been seeing Native art,” she said. “More than likely they have a stereotype of what Native art is supposed to look like. People are expecting feathers and horses. They don’t really have a clear picture.”
The work in this current exhibition contains narratives about indigenous people generally and also tells the artists’ own contemporary tales. Moose said the artists all used cultural imagery in interesting ways while blending ancient ideas with new ones.
Buckheart loves to repurpose things and add in a bit of cultural flair to his sculptures. For one piece in the show, the story he told was very personal. He is diabetic, and he noticed he had a lot of empty medicine bottles and insulin tubes at home. He wanted to recycle them, and he had a vision of a creation that could be crafted from the trash. He hadn’t initially set out to make something beautiful out of the daily pain of doctor’s visits and injections, but that’s what happened. The sculpture that resulted grabs the attention of gallery visitors. It looks like a person’s body made of clear medical tubes cascading around the neck and a colorful “head” with feathers atop it. Prescription bottles hang from the bottom, and syringes are all around. Shiny silver cones from a Native American jingle-dress accent the piece.
Melero-Moose said Native art is ongoing—it never started, and never stopped. She said the way to convey the message that the Native artist community is full of contemporary, complex artists is easy.
“By letting us show you,” she said. “It is so important to show the non-Native community just as much as the Native community. I want my son and our youth to see this and be inspired and see that there’s a future in art.”