UW-Madison alum White Hawk receives MacArthur Fellowship ‘genius grant’

UW–Madison alumna Dyani White Hawk, an award-winning, multidisciplinary visual artist and independent curator, is the recipient of a prestigious 2023 MacArthur Fellowship.

The MacArthur Fellowships, often referred to as “genius grants,” include a stipend of $800,000 to the recipient. Fellows are selected by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and are awarded to talented individuals in a variety of fields who have shown exceptional originality in, and dedication to, their creative pursuits.

Dyani White Hawk
Dyani White Hawk

The announcement of the 2023 MacArthur Fellows came today, with this web page highlighting White Hawk’s work and explaining how she is being recognized for “illuminating the enduring strength, presence, and influence of Indigenous artistic practices within modern and contemporary art.”

White Hawk, who received her master of fine arts degree from the School of Education’s Art Department in 2011, is further described on the MacArthur Fellows website as  a “multidisciplinary artist revealing the underrecognized yet enduring influence of Indigenous aesthetics on modern and contemporary art. In both her finished objects and art-making process, White Hawk … centers ideas of connectedness — within community and family, across generations, and between craft and fine art.”

A woman of Sičangu Lakota and European-American ancestry, White Hawk was raised within Native and urban American communities.

“European and European-American histories have created a hierarchy that has lifted up certain art forms, certain people, and certain communities — and devalued others,” White Hawk says in a video about her work posted to the MacArthur Fellows web page. These conversations in my work push back against those hierarchies and ask us to think critically about how we tell our histories.”

Leslie Smith III, a professor and chair of UW–Madison’s Art Department, says White Hawk’s recognition as a MacArthur Fellow is “well-earned.”

“Dyani White Hawk’s research has served a crucial role in the world of art and beyond as it reaches what makes us all human,” says Smith. “Its timeliness is paramount as we collectively navigate redefining cultural legacy.”

When talking about her work in the video posted to the MacArthur Fellows web page, White Hawk explains how she draws from the “history of both Lakota abstraction and Euro and Euro-American easel painting abstraction. I have a love for and an affinity for both. They’re both parts of my life journey and my history, my genetic makeup, my life experiences. But I draw from who I am as a Lakota woman.”

Dyani White Hawk
Dyani White Hawk

White Hawk goes on to note how her studio practice is grounded in painting and beadwork — but she also works in a range of mediums, including painting mixed media works, video installation, photo installation, and public art, to name a few.

The video closes with White Hawk noting: “I hope that people walk away from my work thinking about how our history has impacted Indigenous communities, thinking about our relatedness, thinking about our interconnectivity, and thinking a little deeper about how our lives are connected across the globe.”

In addition to her MFA from UW–Madison, White Hawk received an associate of arts degree in 2003 from Haskell Indian Nations University and a bachelor of fine arts in 2008 from the Institute of American Indian Arts. From 2011-15, she worked as gallery director and curator for All My Relations Gallery in Minneapolis. 

White Hawk’s work has been exhibited across the country, including at the: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art; Museum of Contemporary Art Denver; John and Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art, University of Nevada; List Gallery, Swarthmore College; Plains Art Museum; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Tucson Museum of Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

White Hawk is the third person with ties to the School of Education’s Art Department since 2019 who has received a MacArthur Fellowship.

In September of 2019, both Lynda Barry and Jeffrey Gibson received the honor. Barry, who joined the UW–Madison faculty in 2013,  is a professor of interdisciplinary creativity with the Art Department and an award-winning author and cartoonist. Gibson, a multidisciplinary artist and craftsperson who merges traditional Native American materials and forms with those of western contemporary art, worked as a visiting artist at UW–Madison’s Tandem Press in January 2020. Tandem Press is housed within the School of Education’s Art Department.

To learn much more about White Hawk and to view some of her work, check out this MacArthur Fellows program web page and her own website: dyaniwhitehawk.com/.

Dyani White Hawk YouTube video
Dyani White Hawk is a multidisciplinary artist and 2023 MacArthur Fellow. White Hawk’s work reveals the enduring presence and influence of Indigenous artistic practices within modern and contemporary art. To learn more about her work, check out this YouTube video.


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