Nancy Strickland Fields curates exhibition of contemporary American Indian art for the N.C. Museum of Art

Nancy Strickland Fields gives a tour of the To Take Shape and Meaning: Form and Design in Contemporary American Indian Art exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art

The North Carolina Museum of Art opened its first exhibit focusing exclusively on American Indian artists on Saturday, March 2, during a day-long celebration. 

Curated by Nancy Strickland Fields, director of the UNC Pembroke’s Museum of the Southeast American Indian, To Take Shape and Meaning: Form and Design in Contemporary American Indian Art showcases 75 three-dimensional works from American and Canadian Indigenous artists, including eight from North Carolina. The exhibit will be on view through July 28. It is the museum’s first significant American Indian exhibition since 1989.

“I didn't want to repeat anything that had already been done and I certainly didn't want it to feel like a survey exhibit,” Fields said while giving a tour during the opening event.  “I wanted it to be meaningful and build on the scholarship.” 

Visitors to the exhibit will see works by some of the most well-known artists in Indian Country in a number of mixed-media materials. There’s a six-foot-tall, commissioned portrait of Henry Berry Lowrie made of 20,000 dice by Steven Paul Judd and a beaded punching bag by Jeff Gibson, the first Native American artist to represent the United States in the 2024 Venice Biennial. The works are on loan from 66 lenders.

“You're going to see many pieces rooted in our traditions: weaving, ceramics, beadwork,” Fields said during the tour. “And there’s a question about craft versus fine art. All the pieces in this exhibition are, in fact, fine art. It's interesting because when you think about Western art history, that's been a challenge for us as native artists.”

The exhibit includes a few pieces by Santa Clara Tewa artist Rose Simpson, including a restored vintage El Camino whose black-on-black paint job was inspired by the pottery of well-known pottery maker Maria Martinez. A short film projected onto the wall beside the car tells Simpson’s story of how she came to think of the vehicle as a vessel, much like the pottery of her ancestors. Visitors will find an example of Simpson’s inspiration not far from the El Camino display: black-on-black pottery created by Maria and Julian Martinez.

Jessica Muniz, a UNCP alumnae and current doctorate student at Duke University, said that she was drawn to visit the exhibit because, as an undergraduate student, she had the opportunity to learn about indigenous art at the Museum of the Southeast American Indian.

“I connected with everything in the exhibit, especially a lot of the southeastern pottery, just because I knew the history of the stamps and the shapes and how they are much more traditional,” Muniz said.  

For Alaqua Jacobs, a UNCP senior and Lumbee tribal member, the exhibit was an inspiration.

“I have a higher appreciation for contemporary Native art now,” Jacobs said. “Many of the works talked about going back to your heritage but adding your twist on it, telling your story through it or telling your people’s stories. Looking at these pieces today has inspired me to create, whether physically or in another form.”

For more information about the exhibit, visit