IAIA - Institute of American Indian Arts

Senior Thesis Exhibition: Traversing Voices

As part of graduation requirements, IAIA students exhibit a selection of work created in their senior year.  The student Primitive Edge Gallery is the central exhibition space on campus that dedicates the gallery, gallery staff, student workers, student volunteers and gallery resources twice a year to exhibit senior art. This is done to assist students in fulfilling their graduate requirements and share the expressions of the soon-to-be exiting artists. Other spaces within the campus, including the Digital Dome and the Library and Technology Center, provide a venue for senior voices.

The noun traverse has several meanings, including something that crosses or lies across or a route or way across or over.  IAIA students in the 2013 Fall Senior Thesis Exhibition selected this term to give their show a single overarching name to help unify the space, which would hold a variety of mediums and artistic types.

Many of the pieces are for sale. And here are selected excerpts of their diligence, which is also for viewing November 14 – 27, 2013.

Primitive Edge Gallery

Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday


Thesis work can also be seen in the Digital Dome and the Library and Technology Center.

Carol Melting Tallow

Carol Melting Tallow

I am the daughter of a Blackfoot fashion designer from the Blood Tribe – Standoff, Alberta. I was born April 19, 1979. I am full status Native Canadian. My parents Juanita and Evan Melting Tallow raised me on Blood Tribe Reservation in Standoff, Alberta, Canada.

After my mother and father passing, I started to remember all the lessons my mother instilled in me.  Over time I developed a broader perceptive towards understanding life.  I found inventive ways to adapt contemporary art through designing Blackfoot regalia.  Glass beads allowed me to experiment with a diverse number of colors, techniques, and designs, which led to distinct beadwork styles among the Blackfoot people. My beadwork designs are complex that was passed down from mother to daughter. My mother quoted,

     “The more complex the design the higher the IQ of an individual.” 

Dakota Mace

Dakota Mace

My series, Leading Cultures, originated from the inspiration of Native students. It explores the relationship of cultural identity and community at IAIA.

My project focuses on extraordinary young Native individuals and how through their eyes, they show their life story. What started as a vision became a yearlong project learning about the lives and passions of others. Through my project I’ve heard many stories from students at IAIA and what drives them to pursue their dreams.

With influences as diverse as Chuck Close and Edward Curtis, portraiture has always been a way to represent a person. On a basic level I am shooting a portrait but when looking deeper, it is taking their likeness and instilling a greater meaning. When I take someone’s portrait it is important to feel something in the subject and translate it into a message. That message is being a leader that inspires others to grow. 

Deborah Corbett

Deborah Corbett

Flowing lines, primal forms, textural surfaces; the expression is the result of personal excavation. The work is about the hands expressing what they already know: an indwelling understanding.

The materials are clay and cement; elements of the earth. The appeal is the various stages of malleability within both mediums.
These forms are not meant to be representational; rather they are designed to go beyond tangible ideas into the metaphysical realm of “other.” The question is, “What does the ‘other’ mean to you?”

Fredrick Big Lake

Frederick Big Lake

The odor of burnt cottonwood, cedar, or pine never fails to trigger memories that send me back to the era of my youth. The wide range of faces and characters etched in my memory speak of good will, the well being of others, and always the request that each path leads to prosperity and good fortune. 
Wood is normally used to give warmth, illumination, and embers for cedar during the various ceremonies in which I have participated. The combination of these elements and eagle feathers are implements connecting us with the Deity. I always feel the power through the softness of feathers. My love caresses them against my face.

Years ago, a spiritual connection was made by my ancestors. Through sacrifice, and nearing the point of exhaustion, he or she, had a vision.  Spiritual medicines exist through the visions of Native Americans since the time when the ancestors rose from the soils of the earth. 


Heidi K. Brandow

Post-colonial theory suggests the process of “gendering” as a socially constructed concept with implications of oppression and control, imposed by Western hegemony. This process is reflected in the assumption of authority over land, people, and animals. Remnants of this assumption are evident in examples such as the following: human initiated land changes, dominance over animals, and a growing disregard for humanity. This series of work examines this theory as it occurs in human relationship to objects, while also noting the eventual transformation to the process of objectification.


Koty Jim

I believe my focus on introducing a contemporary interpretation of Navajo Textiles through contemporary minimalist and abstract design. I am able to incorporate knowledge of color theory, Navajo history, and geometry into powerful minimalist abstractions on three-dimensional sculptural planes. The combination of circles, and Navajo rug color palettes has become a part of my artwork it gives me sense of wholeness and helps me meditate. I want to produce images with a sensory experience, which represents patterns that relate to everyone. This Repetition of Circles in my compositions is to induce a trance-like state in the viewer, transcending a sense of enlightenment. In a way it is my ceremony, it is my release of emotions that are being held captive within me.


Rondee Graham

This current work is a documentation of gold mining. I have targeted it specifically because most of the mines in Nevada, where I’m from, are for gold. Every time I go back to visit I see drastic changes in the landscape. It compelled me to think about the importance of gold and the necessity of it all. Since eighty percent of gold being mined us used for jewelry, it is very disturbing to me that so much of the environmental destruction is preventable. Being part of an indigenous nation to this land, we are taught that human beings were put on this earth to take care of it and respect it, which does not happen in mining.

The goal of this work is to get my audience to think of what role gold plays in their lives? It is in everyone’s lives, our technology and in the “pockets” of others. I cannot justify that it’s worth the destruction to precious natural resources and wildlife.


Stephanie De La Rosa

H0zh= N1h1sdl99’ means I walk in beauty before and all around me in Navajo.  I was brought up traditionally in teachings and stories, therefore expressing myself into my jewelry.  I try to combine traditional Navajo jewelry with contemporary. The new collection of work I created revolves around the concept of containers.  Traditional, antique Navajo jewelry is the inspiration to my style of work.  The simplicity of deep stamp work and elaborate decoration is what catches my eye in traditional Navajo jewelry.  I try to transfer those influential ideas into my work.  I do not only focus on the appearance of the jewelry, but also focus on how I can make a piece of jewelry functional.  The collection of my work was influenced by a story I wrote called, “Moth Madness.”  In the cabinet you see a mask of “Tangled Hair,” who is actually Moth Woman.  In the story, it is about two twin sisters who go on a journey to look for Moth Woman, and they acquire the four pieces of jewelry during their adventure. 


Veneron Yazzen

I have chosen the people of my cultural heritage, to become my narrative theme in art, which these paintings have also put me under the thoughts that question the importance of tradition. Every culture is beneficial to a universal need towards enrichment in life, and I feel Navajo teaching contains a wealth in knowledge. The concerns within any community can be about many things, but most important questions are about the future and the youth to come. I am part of that youth living in today’s world, and painting is one tradition I have followed, which allows me to document what I believe to be worthy for some sacred humanity stirring in my mind. I have many notions that imagery will always be powerful tool in stating my opinions in art. As an art student I wanted to achieve the simple statement of living in a positive environment, where people can work together, share and achieve a higher sense for our moral traditions.


Patricia A. Roy-Trujillo

Powwow – Traditional/Contemporary

Powwows are continuously changing, growing and developing. Like any social activity, various aspects will fall in and out of favor, trends occur, even fashions come and go, and might come back again. This exhibition is a retrospective and prospective case study, by a lifelong participant, of the history and growth of powwow. For many they are a connection to culture, community, family and friends. For others powwows provide both their livelihood and that connection, for example the vendors and dancers who travel the powwow circuit year round to support families back home.

This senior thesis exhibition serves as an introductory insiders’ point-of-view of powwows, using audio-taped interviews of powwow people, matched to a cross section of images illustrating the details of powwows taken over the course of several months. This exhibition will continue to grow with future research and interviews. Individual perspectives of the powwow culture will help demonstrate these complex social gatherings of Native America to an unknowing public.

Mahk and Nunu

Kendra Greendeer

Honor, Courage, My Country: Native American Women in the Military

This exhibition features original research and commentary from Native American women who have served in the U.S. military. Women warriors have gone beyond the roles of gender and the stereotypical image of a Native American warrior as male. The exhibit includes accounts from servicewomen from 1773 to present day. This research is an important step in telling our own story from a Native perspective that fails to be told in mainstream history. Since military service is a longstanding tradition in Native communities, it is important for future generations to understand what their grandparents and great grandparents experienced.