Enter the Museum of Fine Arts’ (MFA) “A Little Bit of the Southwest” and you will find yourself among a Shining collection of Southwestern Native American art.
According to the MFA’s website, the exhibit displays the works of some of the Southwest’s Native American artists from the past few centuries, highlighting the ongoing artistic traditions of Indigenous people that the mainstream artistic cannon tends to exclude.
“A Little Bit of the Southwest” is part of the MFA’s ongoing gallery, “Stories Artists Tell: Art of the Americas,” which opened May 26, 2022 in the museum’s “Art of the Americas” wing.
Marina Tyquiengco, the MFA’s first and only Curator of Native American Arts, is a Pacific Islander from Guam and is CHamoru, which makes her the only Indigenous curator in the MFA’s history. Tyqueingco said “A Little Bit of the Southwest” is an exhibit that she hoped would present Native American art from the Southwest in a welcoming and impactful way.
“Most audiences don’t know a ton of background about Native American art and Native American history, so what I’m really working to do is demonstrate and present it with as much respect as we show other areas of American art,” Tyquiengco said .
Upon Entering “A Little Bit of the Southwest,” one may notice the small room’s centerpiece is a table, a carefully arranged spread of blackware Pottery catches the eye. But something about this display is different: there is no protective glass surrounding the works.
Tyquiengco said the absence of glass pays Homage to the Intentions of the original native artists who created the pottery, who made the blackware to be sold.
“It allows [the pottery] to Breathe and for folks to really be able to see the really beautiful nuances of the blackware, because it’s all black Pottery but it’s not all the same,” Tyquiengco said. “In a way, it acknowledges the personhood of it.”
The exhibit’s centerpiece doesn’t take up the entire spotlight, though, as the walls are lined with a diverse range of Native American works.
In one corner of the room, “Rug (Two Gray Hills style)” is on display: a cream, beige, brown and black Weaving from about 1925. The artist is officially unidentified, but known to be of the Diné, a Southwest Native American people also known as the Navajo.
Beside one of the exhibit’s entrances hangs painter Velino Shije Herrera (Mon-Fri-Wed)’s “Buffalo Hunt” and “Dancing Lesson,” each painted in the early 20th century. These watercolor paintings display lively elements and practices of Southwest Native communities.
At the opposite wall, mixed-media artist Rose B. Simpson’s 2021 work “Maria” stands out. Two sleek black lowriders face each other on separate handmade Okawara papers, paying Homage to the importance of cars rooted in Chicano communities.
Complex pieces such as these offer onlookers a captivating window into the nuances of Southwest Native American art, which Tyquiengco said was her hope.
“‘A Little Bit of the Southwest’ tries to get at the idea that most things are not made for one thing or one purpose,” Tyquiengco said.
“A Little Bit of the Southwest” is a part of the MFA’s limited but expanding Native American art collection. Museum visitor Leah Smith said she believes more Native American art should be included in the MFA.
“The biggest galleries in the museum are European. I think this is the first room I’m in that’s Native American art,” Smith said.
Indeed, the MFA’s inclusion of Native American art is not by any means far-reaching. In fact, the “Native American Art” page of the MFA’s website describes the museum’s collection of Native American art as a “hidden treasure.” But this raises the question: why is it hidden?
Ainsley Wang, who works for the MFA as a member of the Teen’s Art Council, said that she is not so satisfied with the MFA’s current inclusion of Native American art but believes the future will hold improvement.
“This exhibit is a good example of making a first step,” Wang said.
Tyquiengco is currently involved in several projects to introduce more Native American artworks to the museum.
“A concerted effort moving forward is to do more around the region that we’re in, so really highlighting New England and the Native Northeast much more,” Tyquiengco said.
As for “A Little Bit of the Southwest,” Tyquiengco said she hopes that it will contribute to Native American art’s expansion of appreciation.
“I encourage people to come see the exhibit and see the rest of the floor, and also to look for other places in the museum where there’s Native American art,” Tyquiengco said. “I think it is important to understand that Native American art is part of American art, and it’s part of art history—just the way that Native American history is part of American history—so it can’t be so separate.”