The judges for the Eighth Annual Indian Arts Show describe this year's entries as "diverse."
Norman Akers and Gloria Lomahaftewa, judges for the Eighth Annual Indian Arts Show, looked over a multi-panel painting resting against a wall Friday afternoon in the Museum of Anthropology's gallery.
The eight black-and-white-acrylic-covered canvases by Wendy Mahsetky-Poolaw of Norman, Okla., depicted the building strength of a swirling tornado and then the calmness following the storm.
"This challenges the direction of contemporary Native American art," Akers said. "Lots of times people have preconceived ideas. This is a nice piece of work regardless of whether it's Native American art or not."
The quality of the work -- not its relationship to a specific culture or a traditional artistic style -- was the guidepost Akers and Lomahaftewa used to scrutinize and then select the winners in this year's juried competition.
Take the painted parfleche box -- a square storage box made of rawhide -- constructed by Shona Bear of Santa Fe., N.M.
"It's a different way of designing a parfleche box," Lomahaftewa said, adding that primary colors are traditionally used instead of Bear's pastel palette. "It's a mix of traditional and contemporary. ... She uses portraitures (to decorate the front of the box)."
Akers, an artist and printmaker from Fairfax, Okla., and Lomahaftewa, assistant to the director of Native American relations at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, arrived in Lawrence Thursday night to embark on their maiden voyage as judges for the Indian Arts Show.
Winning artists will be notified over the weekend and the Indian Arts Show will open Sept. 7.
Akers and Lomahaftewa said they were pleased by the diversity of the show, which includes pottery, sculpture, paintings, drawings, jewelry, dolls, baskets and textiles by 99 artists from 14 states and 54 tribes. New this year is the youth competition, which drew 34 entries from 16 U.S. artists under the age of 16.
"I'm glad there's a show in this area (of the country) with a wide range of Native American artists who represent awareness of the different realms and mediums of contemporary art," said Lomahaftewa, who is affiliated with the Hopi and Choctaw tribes. "In museums, we see older and more traditional uses."
"The diversity of the exhibit speaks to the diversity of our cultures," said Akers, a member of the Osage/Pawnee tribe. "We are co-existing with our own distinctive elements."
Both judges said they have seen some new trends in American Indian art.
"I'm seeing more installations," Lomahaftewa said.
"And there's more institutionally trained artists and more are exploring new artforms," Akers said. "We're trying to redefine the arts of the past as we are trying to redefine ourselves."
While some art critics have raised their eyebrows at exhibitions and competitions geared toward a single segment of the population, Akers said segregated shows, like those featuring only women artists or American Indian artists, have benefits and drawbacks.
"It opens up opportunities to get in the mainstream, which is resistant," he said. "But I've had people question my identity because I don't do typical Indian art."