Throughout the centuries art has followed many changing trends; from the ancient Greek art to the Renaissance eras, though to the modern day contemporary forms. These changes in trends were driven by the audience’s everyday lives; the variations that have emerged through revolutions, beliefs, politics and geographical inclinations. All have produced some memorable artwork and artists, such as Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso. However, Lakota Art, like other Indigenous art, has held on to the traditional designs and methods, even when it has been combined with the current Contemporized styles.
To my people, art has not been solely direct by the trends of the modern world, but has kept its basis and meanings, and has been utilized with the combination of current Lakota life. This begs the question as to why Indigenous art has survived and flourished, when other art forms are only seen in museums, a reminder of what use to be.
Lakota art has always been a part of every life for every Lakota child and adult. Long ago women were well known for their bead and
quill work, which was put onto blankets, moccasins, clothing, carry bags, jewellery, housing and much more. The distinctive Lakota geometrical shapes are very recognizable, even today, and can be seen outside the Native American community on everyday clothing. However, the everyday person lacks the knowledge of the meaning to each of the designs used, and their significance in Lakota life. For instance, the designs on the right were used, and still are used, on a variety of clothing and ceremonial items. Each has a specific meaning and would either tell a story, echo a Lakota religious belief, or represent a significant vision the person had, which would govern this path in life. In addition, the color of the design also held a deeper meaning. For instance, the color red is considered very sacred and can encompass a number of meanings within the bead and quill work produced by the women.
It was not only women who produced spectacular artwork (and the Lakota still do), but men were also well known for their paintings. These were either seen on hide blankets, tipi covers, shields, pipes, etc. As with the bead and quill work, paintings of animals, symbols, and even parts of the animal incorporated into the design (such as feathers) all had deeper meanings to them as a tribe and the individual person. An example would be a tipi; there is an old belief (still believed today) that if you have a vision of a bear, then the bear’s spirit has chosen you to be a healer. In old times, some Native American individuals would paint their tipi with a bear surrounding the outside of the tipi. This would be called the Bear Hugger Lodge and only those who were deemed healers by the bear spirit could enter (you were part of the Bear Society).
Other artwork and design methods used by men were practiced through the Winter Count tradition. A man was chosen from the tribe to keep a record of the past year events, the Winter Count. When the year passed the man would draw symbol on a buffalo hide, like a pictorial. These would symbolize the significant times throughout the year. This enabled the Lakota, and other Native American tribes, to hand down to other generation the events of the past.
Through modern times though, the need for a Winter Count has been replaced by books and media. This has pushed the Lakota artist into a new world where the combination of tradition and modern life have played parts in the evolving art form of my people. However, like the Winter Count, many of the Lakota Artists are combining current events with Native American sentiments of the past. Plus, unlike many fashion designers of today (that are using the Lakota geometrical symbols for clothing), the Lakota artist understands and keeps the underlying traditions alive through all forms of art. I know for myself, being surround by those elders who are keeping the stories, rituals and knowledge alive, my artwork, although containing a contemporary feel, aims to hold on to the traditions of my people through designs and stories so others too can have an understanding of what it is to be a Native American in the modern world.
Once Again Thank You Kola (Friend)
and Have a Great Day.