Untouchable Artifacts: A Virtual and Printed Exhibition on Indigenous Storytelling, History, and Resilience is a love letter to the art, practice, and importance of indigenous storytelling on Turtle Island. In the exhibition, eleven indigenous artists who hold intersectional identities and carry ancestral knowledge continue the tradition of storytelling. Each artist has recorded themselves reading their story.
This exhibition is created by Five Oaks Museum’s 2021 Guest Curators Rya Hueston (Diné) and Kat Salas (Chiricahua, Apache).
Storytelling is power.
It is a tool used for preserving culture, language, and artistry. Amongst first nations people on turtle island, it is how we celebrate our heritage, our land, our loved ones, and ourselves.
At the base of Natsisaan, one of the mountains holy to the Dine, lies a vast network of canyons, homesteads and sandstone caves. Filled with the ruins of the Anasazi, or “The Ancient Ones,” entering their cities is forbidden, as is picking up their belongings. Pottery scatters the land, bright fragments of red, black, and white against the sandstone. You may look, but do not touch; for even though the ancient ones have moved on, their physical artifacts, as well as the stories the Hopi, Paiute and Dine tell of their belonging, of history, of presence, keeps these pieces very much alive. It becomes something more than a ruin or a landscape; but a narrative that continues to give perspective, presence and history.
From its genesis, Untouchable Artifacts curators Kat Salas and Rya Hueston intended to create an exhibition celebrating the tradition of storytelling, and its power to transform and enhance the experience of online and two-dimensional work experienced during the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. Much like the stories told to Rya from her home at the base of Natsisaan that gave life, history and context to the surrounding environment, the curators wanted the contributing artists to transform the print and paper of the exhibition into a landscape of living culture.
It is these artists whose storytelling is a catalyst; for healing, community, and ceremony.
—Rya Drake-Hueston and Kat Salas
Rya Drake-Hueston is Diné descended from Paiute and Hopi Ancestry from Navajo Mountain, UT. A sculptor, painter and performer, she uses her background in conservation and historical restoration to inform her artistic practice. Her body of work engages with cultural erasure, historical white-washing, and her family’s experiences with the boarding school system at the turn of the 20th century.
Kat Salas is a multi-racial Chicana and Chiricahua Apache femme born in Gallup New Mexico. They describe their interdisciplinary practice as a desire to see art as a tool for revolution, braiding their work as an organizer and activist with their experience in the world of contemporary art. After spending much of her youth in the Adult Industry, Salas currently works at a mentorship program for youth survivors of Sex Trafficking and is a practicing tattooer wherein they fuse traditional indigenous hand poke tattooing with Chicano style single needle work.
Featured Artists and Storytellers
Additional Materials & Events
Publication: The entire exhibition is available as a printed publication, coming soon to libraries! View publication pdf here.
Learning Materials: Take a closer look at storytelling, history, and resilience and create artwork inspired by the exhibition in these learning materials for all ages. Art Activity here.
Opening Event: Celebrate the opening of Untouchable Artifacts with indigenous storytelling, poetry, and performance. View recording here.
Curator’s Talk: A virtual, behind-the-scenes tour with the guest curator duo. View recording here.
Welcome to the Exhibition Gallery
How to view:
- Click on an artwork to see it fullscreen.
- Click on an artist’s name to view their story page, where you can read and listen to their story and see their artist bio. Each artist has recorded themselves reading their story.
- You can also access the artist story pages by clicking on their quote thumbnail.
The future of knowledge, history and heritage lies in creating space for those with powerful narratives to tell; not just those who history is comfortable with accepting. History as taught by colonizers is told through a white-washed and white-centric lens that erases any sort of disruption and intervention inconvenient to the crafted and carefully curated narrative of white supremacy. The indigenous artists featured in Untouchable Artifacts are telling stories that disrupt the white settler stereotype of indigenous storytelling by asking; who deserves to be recorded? What stories are important to be told? What has value, what knowledge is recorded and passed down as contemporary indigenous culture and heritage?
It is these artists who are not afraid to answer these questions.
It is they who understand that storytelling is not only a tool for learning, but for indigenous liberation.
Each of these works was selected because of its power to disrupt dominant white settler colonizer concepts of indigenous culture.
Please treat these stories as sacred.