Arthur Amiotte (Oglala Lakota) was born March 25, 1942, in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. His childhood was split between summers with his maternal grandparents in Manderson on the Pine Ridge Reservation and school years with his mother in the predominantly white community of Custer, South Dakota, where he currently lives. Amiotte’s great-grandfather Standing Bear (1859–1933) was at the Battle of Little Big Horn, an event he later recorded in traditional Plains pictographic style on muslin. This familial and tribal history has permeated Amiotte’s work throughout his career. The pictorial images of Standing Bear, Amos Bad Heart Bull, Kiowa artist Koba and the effects of cultural disruption wrought by the reservation system and assimilation have informed his prolific works in paint, collage and fiber arts.
In 1961, Amiotte attended a summer workshop with Oscar Howe where he learned that it was “legitimate and possible for an Indian person to be a professional artist…[and] that it was acceptable to draw from [his] own cultural experience — to have Native content in [his] art.”1 This was not something he had previously experienced in his art classes at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he received his BA in art and art education (1964).
Amiotte’s work in the early 1960s (Blanket Girl #4, 1967 and Prayer Maker, 1965) was stylistically related to Oscar Howe’s but by the mid to late 1960s his paintings became more abstract with subject matter that referenced the Sundance (Shaman, 1972), blankets and beaded or quilled blanket strips (Mystical Duet, 1973), rattles (Petroglyphs, 1973) and shields (Parfleche Circle, 1973). From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, he created fiber art sculptures (Plains Dress, 1970) and reinterpretations of traditional Lakota works (Saddlebag, 1973).2
Since 1988, Amiotte has been creating collages that focus on the period of greatest change for the Lakota, 1880–1930. Collage became the ideal medium for Amiotte to critique modernity and assimilation during this period. His critique seeks not to victimize Lakota people but to reflect the complexity of their situation. Visual and verbal puns from advertising layer his compositions, while his handwritten text gives voice to his ancestors.
Word play and humor are important elements of Lakota culture, and much of the humor and irony in Amiotte’s work comes from his juxtaposition of visual and verbal elements. The simultaneity of events represented in Amiotte’s collages (a narrative convention Amiotte derives from ledger drawings) becomes a powerful metaphor for what transpired during this period for the Lakota, when new ways were developing at the same time old ways were still being remembered and valued by Lakota people. While some scholars discuss this transition in terms of hybridity, it is more accurate to acknowledge the dynamic nature of Lakota or Native cultures in general, recognizing that these cultures have survived precisely because they integrated new ideas and technology into existing cultural practices and epistemologies. The car symbolizes modernity in collages such as Kiowas In Car, Us and Them Together and New Horse Power (all 1992). In these collages, Amiotte anachronistically juxtaposes automobiles and Plains graphic tradition figures, exemplified by hide paintings and ledger drawings, to comment on the changes that were taking place for Plains people in the modern period. The Indians in his collages are often the drivers of the car taking control of the direction of their journey and their destiny.
1. Arthur Amiotte, interview by Janet Berlo, April, June and September 1995.
2. For a more detailed examination of Amiotte’s paintings see essay by W. Jackson Rushing III, “Across the Great Divide,” in Arthur Amiotte Retrospective Exhibition: Continuity and Diversity, ed. John Day (Pine Ridge, SD: The Heritage Center, Inc., Red Cloud Indian School, 2001), 7-12.
Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Art, Spring 2013
Molinsky, Eric. “American Icons: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.” Edited by Leital Molad. American Icons: A Radio Series from Studio 360. July 15, 2011. http://www.studio360.org/2011/jul/15/.
This radio podcast website provides a brief ‘Bonus track’ recording from a podcast interview where the artist explains his viewpoint of how he properly identifies terminology for Native American people.
Molinsky, Eric. “American Icons: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.” Edited by Leital Molad. American Icons: A Radio Series from Studio 360. July 15, 2011. http://www.studio360.org/2011/jul/15/transcript/.
Within this radio podcast transcription of an interview with the artist, Amiotte’s explains his motivation for becoming a contemporary artist.
Amiotte, Arthur, and Janet Catherine Berlo. Arthur Amiotte: Collages, 1988 – 2006. Santa Fe, NM: Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 2006.
An exhibition catalogue that includes the artist’s biography, advertising circulars, historical family photographs and other accomplishments.
Hansen, Emma I., Beatrice Medicine, Gerald Baker, Joseph Medicine Crow, Arthur Amiotte, and Bently Spang. Memory and Vision: Arts, Cultures, and Lives of Plains Indian Peoples. Cody, WY: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, 2007.
This book is co-authored by artist Arthur Amiotte; Chapter 5: Adversity and Renewal: A New and Different Life on a Small Part of a Very Old Place, is a section that is written by Amiotte.
Lohrmann, Charles J. “Weaving New Traditions.” Native People’s Magazine, 1998, 26-32.
This article is about Lakota Sioux artist Arthur Amiotte’s creation of a new Pendleton Blanket entitled “The Day and Night Robe.”
McFadden, David Revere, and Ellen Napiura Taubman. Changing Hands: Art Without Reservations 2 Contemporary Native North American Art from the West, Northwest & Pacific. Edited by Stephen Robert Frankel. New York: Museum of Arts & Design, 2005.
This is the second exhibition and published catalogue of a three part series featuring an artwork by the artist, entitled Woman’s Dress: An Impressionistic Stretch in Fiber.