by Nancy Marie Mithlo. University of Nebraska Press, September 2020. 272 p. ill. ISBN 9781496202123 (h/c), $34.95.
Reviewed January 2021
Shoshana Vegh-Gaynor, Instruction and Reference Librarian, Institute of American Indian Arts, email@example.com
Nancy Marie Mithlo’s Knowing Native Arts is an invaluable resource for the study of Native arts. Mithlo, a Chiricahua Apache senior academic and curator, explores current and historical issues in the Native arts world that have led to the disenfranchisement of contemporary Native arts. Mithlo’s exploration of Native arts through a Native lens is a much-needed addition to indigenous arts literature that is often written from a Western perspective.
Knowing Native Arts is a compilation of eight essays written by Mithlo over the course of her career, each focusing on a different aspect of the Native art world. These essays explore topics including Native self-determination and sovereignty, lack of scholarly literature on Native arts, funding and training opportunities for Native art professionals, ethnic fraud, global indigenous art movements, and the reception of Native art in the art world. Mithlo analyzes reasons why Native arts are disenfranchised, such as inadequate funding and training. She also discusses the refusal of many museums to acknowledge indigenous intellectualism and knowledge, which has contributed to the rejection of contemporary Native curation and art. While Mithlo acknowledges that there are no easy answers to the equity issues Native arts professionals face, she does offer several recommendations, including developing legal standards for indigenous representation in museums. Mithlo concludes by questioning if Native art professionals’ sacrifices are worth their efforts in an art world that is stacked against them and calls for honest conversations and refusal of continued participation in inequity.
This book is appropriate for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students as well as scholars. While the reader would benefit from having background knowledge of Native arts and the trauma imposed on Native Americans by the United States government, Mithlo provides the background information necessary for the reader to understand her arguments. Mithlo’s use of her own experiences as an indigenous curator and academic throughout her essays adds a personal component to her book in which the reader becomes invested. Knowing Native Arts is printed on thick, glossy pages and has forty-three high-quality color illustrations as well as an extensive notes section.
Knowing Native Arts is necessary reading for those in the fields of museum studies and the arts as well as indigenous studies and anthropology. Understanding the Native arts world through a Native worldview is crucial, and this book is a highly recommended addition to all art library collections.