American Indian
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Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Nakota (Sioux), 1915–1983),
War Dancer , ca. 1959
tempera on paper, 17 ¾ x 23 7/8 in.; 45.09 x 60.64 cm
Museum purchase, 1959.199

In 1958 Howe entered a painting similar to this one in a Native American art competition in Oklahoma. It was rejected as being “not Indian,” because it was not executed in the simplified realism and flat color of “traditional” Indian painting. Howe responded in fury. “There is much more to Indian Art than pretty, stylized pictures.…Are we to be held… [to one style], with no right to individualism?” Howe was the first Indian painter to achieve national recognition, and his insistence on artistic freedom was an important precedent. 

A university-trained artist, Howe’s abstractions have been linked to Cubism. He denied this, describing his sources as entirely native, including tahokmu, the spider web.

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