Contemporary Native American Art in Focus: For Zitkála‑Šá

Award-winning composer Raven Chacon combines Diné (Navajo) worldviews with Western classical and avant-garde music traditions

SAAM
November 3, 2023
Media - 2022.7.1.1 - SAAM-2022.7.1.1_1 - 146348
Raven Chacon, For Ange Loft, from the series For Zitkála-Šá, 2020, lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2022.7.1.1, © 2019-2020, Raven Chacon
Raven Chacon, For Ange Loft, from the series For Zitkála-Šá, 2020, lithograph on paper, sheet and image: 11 in. × 8 1⁄2 in. (27.9 × 21.6 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2022.7.1.1, © 2019-2020, Raven Chacon

Artist Raven Chacon (Diné) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and 2023 MacArthur Foundation Fellow. A performer and visual artist, he creates videos, prints, photographs, and installations that bring sonic experimentation into the  gallery. In his artistic practice, Chacon invites collaboration among performers and audiences as well as objects and spaces, creating musical scores that connect Diné (Navajo) worldviews with Western classical and avant-garde music traditions. 

 

Media - 2022.7.1.12 - SAAM-2022.7.1.12_1 - 146344
Raven Chacon, For Olivia Shortt, from the series For Zitkála-Šá, 2020, lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2022.7.1.12, © 2019-2020, Raven Chacon
For Olivia Shortt, from the series For Zitkála Šá, 2020

Trained as a composer, Chacon often starts from musically notated scores to create conceptually rich artworks across creative categories. Since scores are inherently fluid, even when they take fixed form in a video or print, the works based on them retain the possibility for further interpretation, collaboration, and reanimation in new contexts. 

Installation view of the exhibition "Musical Thinking."

Installation photography of Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sonic Strategies, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2023; Photo by Albert Ting 

In his print portfolio series For Zitkála-Šá, Chacon recognizes Zitkála-Šá (Yankton-Dakota, 1876-1938), an Indigenous and women's rights advocate and the first Native composer to use Western musical notation. The series of score-portraits celebrates contemporary Native woman musicians in his circle. Each striking graphic is accompanied by performance instructions, inviting all to imagine how they might activate this legacy. A selection of works from this portfolio of thirteen lithographs is currently on view in SAAM’s exhibition Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sonic Strategies.

It all starts as music. It all starts as some kind of idea of music — and my idea of music has gotten very broad over the years — but I think it all starts as a composition. Then you find the limits of that. Sometimes, you want a composition to last for years. Sometimes you want something to be extremely loud. Sometimes you want to not plan any of this; you want to just go in and improvise. 

 

 

 

Media - 2022.7.1.11 - SAAM-2022.7.1.11_1 - 146342
Raven Chacon, For Laura Ortman, from the series For Zitkála-Šá, 2019, lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2022.7.1.11, © 2019-2020, Raven Chacon
For Laura Ortman, from the series For Zitkála Šá, 2019
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Raven Chacon, For Joy Harjo, from the series For Zitkála-Šá, 2020, lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2022.7.1.10, © 2019-2020, Raven Chacon
For Joy Harjo, from the series For Zitkála Šá, 2020
Media - 2022.7.1.5 - SAAM-2022.7.1.5_1 - 146358
Raven Chacon, For Candice Hopkins, from the series For Zitkála-Šá, 2020, lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2022.7.1.5, © 2019-2020, Raven Chacon
For Candice Hopkins, from the series For Zitkála Šá

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