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Celebrating Native American Heritage


November is National Native American Heritage Month, and in celebration, we are excited to introduce our community to Sháńdíín Brown—RISD’s inaugural Henry Luce Curatorial Fellow for Native American Art at RISD Museum. A graduate of Dartmouth College, prior to joining our community in June 2021, Sháńdíín worked at the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a Research Assistant for the center’s Native American Art Collection.

In her role at RISD, Sháńdíín oversees the Museum’s more than 700-piece collection of Native American works of art, with responsibilities related to caring for and researching collection material and acquiring contemporary pieces for the collection; working on the museum’s Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) project and addressing matters such as land acknowledgement; as well as working with the Museum’s America’s Research Initiative group, which was founded and is based on Indigenous museology; and more. In addition, she is currently co-curating an exhibition, scheduled to open in October 2022 titled, “Being and Believing in Nature.”

“This role is significant to RISD Museum in a number of ways,” shared Sháńdíín. “We have had some historic pieces in our collection for a long time, including an influx of pieces that we acquired in the 1940’s, and it’s important to have people on staff who have the expertise to care for them. Additionally, the Luce Fellowship role provides for increased exposure to and exhibition of these works, lending itself to a shift in focus from these items being seen as ‘oddities’ to more of a focus on the items as ‘fine art,’ which is a trend happening in the larger art world. It also enables our Native students, and others, to see themselves reflected in and experience the collection in new and different ways.”

Sháńdíín, who is a member of the Navajo tribe, noted that while it is difficult to select just one favorite piece from the museum’s collection, she noted that she is especially drawn to the Diné (Navajo) Native North American Men’s Wearing Blanket (Chief blanket, phase III).

“I see art as healing and as a tool for understanding the past and the future,” said Sháńdíín. “I really enjoy having the opportunity to connect with our students, faculty, members of our community, and the public to understand more about the research interests related to the collection. Every day, I get to spend time with some really beautiful pieces of art—we have pieces from Alaska, Hawaii, the Great Plains, the Southwest, and New England, as well as from Oceania, Central America, and South America—going beyond Native American art into Indigenous art, too”

For those interested in learning more about our Native American and Indigenous Art collection at RISD Museum, please feel free to email Sháńdíín at hbrown02@risd.edu.