FORWARD: Issue #4: Redefining Sustainable Design in Indian Country

Public Art Now

Leading Voices Sharing Public Art of the Moment

In the summer of 2020, I was in conversation with a relative who is a Lakota artist. He said that his desire for his art came down to wanting our ancestors to recognize it. He wanted our ancestors to see it and know that it was Lakota, even if he was using new media or materials; that his designs, intentions, meanings, and color use would be understood to be Lakota. That statement has stuck with me since. I realize that this is true for me as well; I want to be recognized by my ancestors in all that I do.

With that in mind, I ask myself, What does public art mean to me, as a Lakota person? What would my ancestors say if I asked them for their thoughts about public art?

Public art exists outside of galleries, in shared space, out in the wide world. Historically my Lakota ancestors have had to be able to identify each other from a distance. It’s not as though they could call, text-message, or send a letter to tell people they were coming. They had to publicly announce themselves, either vocally through song, language, or akíš’a (to yell or shout), or visually by adorning their bodies, their homes, their hair, and many other things, to be recognizable by others as Lakota.

In that sense, all the artworks of the Lakota tradition are public because they are intended to convey identity across space and time. The works of the five artists I am highlighting here don’t all fit neatly into the popular conception of public art that, after all, has been made without reference to the practices of Indigenous people—but all of them announce Lakota identity to the wide world. —Mary V. Bordeaux, guest curator

Image: Lisa Iron Cloud (Oglala Lakota) walks with her late sister, Madonna McCarthy, during ricing season in Minnesota, where McCarthy harvested manoomin—wild rice. Lisa's sister devoted her life to protecting and educating others about manoomin, and they spoke about the history during this walk. Photo courtesy Lisa Iron Cloud.

01: Lakota Food Gathering and Making

A pair of roughened hands filled with two types of luscious berries gently offer them to the viewer
Wicagnaska—gooseberries or currants—are a part of traditional Lakota diets. Lisa Iron Cloud (Oglala Lakota) teaches people how to find, identify, harvest, and process them for cooking and storage. Photo courtesy Lisa Iron Cloud.

by Lisa Iron Cloud (Oglala Lakota)

Rapid City, SD

Lakota food gathering and making—that’s how I would describe the work that Lisa does. She works in a public way to learn and share teachings that range from how to butcher a bison, to harvesting local foods, to how to process them for use and storage. While this may not seem to be art, I believe, as a Lakota, that the sense of art as creation is intertwined in all that we do and cannot be separated from it—whether we are creating beadwork or food. The process of creating is where our knowledge is rooted, grown, and changed.
Lisa does all of this with her family, but she invites the community to join her too, to learn alongside her. Through the artful use of language and storytelling, she explains the how and why of everything, from a Lakota perspective that emphasizes sharing. Lisa shares all these practices via social media for any and all to learn with her—asking and answering questions, sharing new techniques, and reminding us, for example, when and how to gather berries, timpsila (prairie turnips), or sage.
A Lakota woman teaches a child how to butcher buffalo meat, pointing to where the child should slice
A community buffalo harvest took place in Fort Yates, ND, as part of the “Teachings of the Buffalo” event organized by Mni Wiconi Clinic and Farm. Children from the local immersion school also participated in the harvest. Photo by Arlo Iron Cloud, courtesy Lisa Iron Cloud.
Several smiling Native women surround a bison carcass, butchering the meat together; a baby is strapped to one of their chests
A buffalo harvest organized by Meskwaki Natural Resources. This was the second year they worked with the women and young girls who wanted to learn to harvest their buffalo, or tatanka. The baby (who is with its aunt) “was right in there with all the women as they were talking and laughing while butchering,” Lisa explains. “This is exactly what we want to see again,” she says. Photo courtesy Lisa Iron Cloud.
two morel mushrooms nestled among blades of grass
Two morel mushrooms found near a spring in Porcupine, SD, by Lisa and the community of gatherers. Unfortunately these were the only two they were able to find at that time. Photo courtesy Lisa Iron Cloud.
Two Lakota people stand close together outside, their faces touching and framed by the setting sunlight as they gaze at the camera
Lisa and Arlo Iron Cloud during a day outside with their family. A 2018 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital fellow, Lisa Iron Cloud (Oglala Lakota) is a listener, community member, teacher, sewer, beader, traditional food maker/trader, hunter, and mother. Her husband, Arlo Iron Cloud Sr. (Oglala Lakota), is also a 2018 Cultural Capital fellow. He works for KILI Radio and Thunder Valley CDC on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The couple reside in Rapid City, SD, with their four children. Photo by Leroy Iron Cloud.
a closeup view of a child's hand holding raspberries against the backdrop of a green field
Lisa’s son, Lil Louie, as he was picking wild raspberries. “We teach people how to find, identify, harvest, and process plants for food and for storing for future use,” Lisa says. Photo courtesy Lisa Iron Cloud.
Lisa explains, “Canpa (chokecherries) is an important part of our diets as Lakota because of its cultural, spiritual, and nutritional significance to our people. We teach people how to identify canpa, when and how to harvest them, and how to process them for cooking and storing.” Photo courtesy Lisa Iron Cloud.

02: Lakota Adornment

an agate pendant with metal backing and adornments including seven metal balls and horn-like decoration
Pte San Win Iyaye (White Buffalo Calf Woman Leaves) Pendant, a buffalo effigy pendant. Read the artist's description of the creative process behind the buffalo effigy pendant, and how it connects to the Lakota people. Art by Jhon Goes In Center, photos courtesy the artist.

by Jhon Goes In Center (Oglala Lakota)

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD


My uncle Jhon is the relative I spoke about in the introduction, the artist who said that he wanted his art to be recognized by our ancestors. The work he creates is meant to adorn the wearer, but also to be seen as a Lakota creation, as evidence that Lakota philosophy was used to produce it. While at one level these are familiar personal items—rings, pendants, belt buckles, et cetera—I am choosing to see each piece as a wearable public sculpture, speaking to the world in all its Lakota-ness.
a metal horn-shaped personal adornment
Wiohanble Wozuha (Dream Keeper), a creative personal ceremonial adornment that also serves as a protective talisman. Read the artist's description of the creative process behind this adornment, and how it connects to the Lakota people.
a brooch comprised of several agates topped with a star  mimics tinpsila or a turnip braid
Tinpsila Wicapi Suhn (Star Turnip Braid) Brooch, wearable art / personal adornment. Read the artist's description of the creative process behind this wearable art, and how it connects to the Lakota people.

03: Hél čhaŋkú kiŋ ȟpáye (There lies the road)

a woman holds a dramatic pose on a performance stage in a full and dark theater backlit by strands of light and a colorfully illuminated stage backdrop
Hél čhaŋkú kiŋ ȟpáye (There lies the road), an installation and performance by Oglála Lakȟóta artist Suzanne Kite, represents the culmination of the artist’s yearlong research project Wówasukiye waŋží ahóuŋpȟapi kte (There is a rule that we must observe). Performance from December 4, 2021. Photo by Argenis Apolinario, courtesy Vera List Center for Art and Politics and PS122 Gallery.

by Suzanne Kite (Oglala Lakota)

New York, NY


My understanding of Suzanne’s processes is that her creative work is done in kinship, in being a good relative—through installation and performance, she is working to understand that creation of relationship with our nonhuman relatives. Ella Deloria, a Dakota scholar, states that in her tradition “kinship was an all-important matter” and, in theory, this kinship was all-inclusive and co-extensive with Dakota life. (The Dakota and the Lakota are relatives, and we have similar teachings, understandings, and ways of being. The importance of kinship—being a good relative—is an important theme for both peoples, even though there are also important differences between us. It’s important to me to be clear about this so I am not co-opting other Nations’ teaching.) Suzanne is upholding this shared value of kinship, always working in collaboration with the community (human and nonhuman), ensuring that the work is recognizable as Lakota. I believe her inclusion of artificial intelligence also ensures that Lakota ways of being will endure into the future.
a graphic design grid shows many circles and symbols and geometric elements and icons
A methodological chart, based on Kite's research, designed by Lakota graphic designer Bobby Joe Smith III. Courtesy Suzanne Kite. The exhibition page explains, “For this site-specific installation, Kite and a team of collaborators have developed a body interface for movement performances, carbon fiber and stone sculptures, immersive audio-visual installation, and graphics. Together the works on view reconsider our current and future relationships to nonhumans, especially to technology and artificial intelligence, and attempt to establish a sense of relationality between gallery visitors and the computer as a nonhuman entity."

04: Lakȟóta and Dakȟóta Visual Essay

Sadie Red Wing’s Lakȟóta and Dakȟóta Visual Essay depicts Sadie's journey through North Carolina State University by using the Lakȟóta shape grammars and commands Sadie defined in their library of visual Lakȟóta conventions. Explore Sadie's breakdown of meaning for elements in the visual essay.

by Sadie Red Wing (Lakota and Dakota)



Sadie’s Visual Essay is another Lakota public art piece that disobeys the “rules” of public art. Her brilliant creation shows how limiting the English language is compared with the verbal and visual Lakota language. The English language fails me consistently. As with Micheal Two Bulls’ mural, the visuals that Sadie created help me to feel seen. I believe that, even though it isn't beadwork or quillwork (or other historical ways of making), if our ancestors were to see Sadie's work today, they would know it was Lakota.
As a graphic designer, Sadie is creating visual Lakota language, recognizable as part of the continuum of Lakota creating. The use and continuing evolution of the language is a historical practice, a set of historical forms that we used in our quillwork and beadwork, on our homes, on our travel containers, and on whatever else we created. This visual language communicated across prairies, and now communicates across the internet.

05: Mural at Racing Magpie

a mural on an exterior building wall surrounded by blue sky holds many symbols from Lakota culture including water drops, lightning, dna strands, timpsila turnip braid, figures, Lakota and English language and more
Located in Rapid City, SD, Racing Magpie is a contemporary hub for creativity, congregation, sustainability, and learning, with a focus on Native and regional artists. The mural artist was asked “to develop a project that works with the community to address changes needed for decision-making processes, recenters the ‘art world’ around Lakota epistemology by making it more community-centric and less capitalistic, and helps lay some groundwork for our community in the post-pandemic world.” Photo courtesy Micheal Two Bulls.

Micheal Two Bulls, Pejuta Press (Oglala Lakota)

Rapid City, SD


This work is the most “traditional” public art piece in my selection. In developing the design, Mike used community input sessions in which those taking part talked through ideas of resiliency, recovery, and the future. From those sessions, Mike fashioned the mural’s visuals—visuals that all hold what I feel to be Lakota-ness.
The mural speaks to a continuum of Lakota-ness. There is no beginning, middle, or ending to the visuals/items of the mural. They are maybe a little dreamy, or a cyclical visual storytelling, in that elements of past, present, and future Lakota-ness are there, and that each image, element, or visual could be used to start, be a part of, or end a story. For example, the timpsila braid, a wild prairie turnip, is shown lying on its side in the mural. Seeing the tuberous roots braided in that fashion is familiar; I can see that braid in my parents’ house, hanging on the wall, dried and ready to use when needed. I can see those roots in soup after soaking for hours. I see them fresh with the plant still attached, with its green leaves and purple flowers. I am reminded of the story of Star Boy (a Lakota creation story) and how his mother tried to return home from the stars by picking timpsila out of the sky and braiding it into a rope to reach the earth. It holds so much of being Lakota. There is the process of gathering the timpsila in early summer, and thinking about the future as the braid is readied for drying and later use.
Everything in the mural—the water drops (reminding us that mni wiconi, water is life), the cradleboard, the moccasin tops, the bison skulls, the English language, the Lakota language, the DNA! All of it, clouds, lightning, the circles—everything is Lakota to me, telling me I belong.
“Everything is Lakota to me, telling me I belong.”

Mary V. Bordeaux Co-founder and creative director, Racing Magpie

Mary V. Bordeaux (Sicangu Lakota) grew up in her homelands of the Oceti Sakowin, born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Mary is a granddaughter to Eva Goes In Center and Nathanial Witt, and to Mary Laroche and Cleveland Bordeaux; daughter to Deborah Witt and Christopher Bordeaux; sister to Eva, Christopher, Nathaniel, and Clementine; mother to Austin and Cante Nunpa, and partner to Peter Strong. Mary and Peter are co-founders of Racing Magpie, a nonprofit and collaborative space in Mnilúzahaŋ Otȟúŋwah (Rapid City, SD) with flexible community use, a Native art gallery, and artist studios. Their work is grounded in “be a good relative,” a Lakota way of being and knowing; and centering Lakota community.

Mary received her bachelor’s degree from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA from the University of the Arts, both in museum studies with an emphasis in exhibition design and planning. Currently a doctoral candidate at Saint Mary’s University, she is exploring Lakota women’s leadership and Lakota epistemology. Mary has held curatorial positions with The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School and the Indian Museum of North America at Crazy Horse Memorial.

A note from the Public Art Now guest curator and FORWARD’s editorial team on Lakota language use in this publication: We think it is best to let each artist spell tribal terms how they would like to spell them in their language. We support the artists in their learning and judgment in Lakota language use, which may be inconsistent with other writings presented in FORWARD and elsewhere.

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FORWARD: Issue #4

Redefining Sustainable Design in Indian Country