Contemporary Indigenous Art: 5 Inspiring Examples
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read



  1. Brian Jungen
  2. Rebecca Belmore
  3. Kent Monkman
  4. Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun
  5. Daphne Odjig

Indigenous art has long been admired for its deep connection to the earth, the ancestors, and the traditions that have been passed down for countless generations. But what happens when these age-old practices meet the modern world? The result is contemporary indigenous art, a celebration of cultural heritage through modern artistic practices. Today, let's explore the inspiring creations of five notable indigenous artists who beautifully blend tradition and innovation.

Brian Jungen

First on our list is Brian Jungen, a Canadian artist of Swiss and Dane-zaa ancestry. Known for his innovative use of everyday materials, Jungen's work is a unique example of contemporary indigenous art: celebrating cultural heritage through modern artistic practices.

Turning the Ordinary into Extraordinary

Jungen takes objects you might find in your local store, like Nike sneakers or plastic chairs, and transforms them into striking works of art. These creations carry the weight of indigenous symbolism, showing that contemporary indigenous art can exist in the most unexpected places. For instance, he's made impressive sculptures resembling traditional Dane-zaa masks out of — you guessed it — Nike sneakers!

Prototypes for New Understanding

In his series "Prototypes for New Understanding," Jungen takes this concept further. He creates intricate indigenous masks from disassembled sneakers, challenging what you might think of as traditional indigenous art. With this, Jungen reminds us that contemporary indigenous art is not just about preserving the past — it's also about reinterpreting cultural heritage in new and exciting ways.

A Voice for Indigenous Rights

But Jungen's art isn't just visually stunning, it also speaks volumes about indigenous rights. In his work, he often addresses issues such as land rights and the environment, reminding us that contemporary indigenous art can be a powerful platform for social change.

So next time you see a pair of sneakers or a plastic chair, remember Brian Jungen. He shows us how contemporary indigenous art: celebrating cultural heritage through modern artistic practices can be found in the most ordinary objects. And it's this blend of the everyday with the extraordinary that makes his work so inspiring.

Rebecca Belmore

Next, we turn our attention to Rebecca Belmore, an Anishinaabe-Canadian artist. Renowned for her powerful installations and performance art, Belmore's work is steeped in the exploration of identity, place and the human condition.

Art That Speaks to the Soul

Belmore's work transcends the visual, immersing you in experiences that resonate on a deeply emotional level. Take her piece "Fountain," for example. This video installation, which was showcased at the 2005 Venice Biennale, depicts a woman frantically throwing buckets of water at a screen, upon which footage of a waterfall is being projected. The performance is a profound commentary on the indigenous relationship with water, weaving together themes of survival, resistance, and healing.

Creating Connection Through Performance

Belmore's performances often encourage audience participation, building a bridge between art and viewer. In her performance "Vigil", she involved the audience in a powerful ceremony of remembrance for missing and murdered indigenous women. This shared experience creates a space for dialog and understanding, reinforcing the power of contemporary indigenous art in celebrating cultural heritage through modern artistic practices.

Champion for Indigenous Voices

Through her art, Belmore amplifies indigenous voices and narratives, often overlooked in mainstream society. Her work is a powerful reminder of the struggles and resilience of indigenous communities, pushing the boundaries of contemporary indigenous art.

In the end, Rebecca Belmore's art is not just something you view, but something you feel. It's a visceral exploration of the indigenous experience, a testament to the power of contemporary indigenous art: celebrating cultural heritage through modern artistic practices.

Kent Monkman

Shifting gears a bit, let's explore the world of Kent Monkman, a contemporary Indigenous artist of Cree ancestry who's making waves in the art world. Known for his provocative reinterpretations of Western European art history, Monkman challenges preconceived notions of the past and present.

Monkman's Twist on Classic Art

Monkman's approach to contemporary indigenous art is unique. He often flips the script on classic Western art by featuring indigenous peoples as the central figures. His painting "The Scream" is a perfect example. In this piece, Monkman depicts European settlers being forcibly removed by indigenous peoples—an ironic twist on the historical realities of colonization. It's a clever way of celebrating cultural heritage through modern artistic practices.

The Alter Ego

One of Monkman's most intriguing creations is his alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle—an artist, muse, and social critic. Miss Chief allows Monkman to challenge and subvert stereotypes about indigenous peoples in a humorous yet thought-provoking way.

Art as a Tool for Social Critique

Monkman's work constantly challenges the viewer to reassess their understanding of history and identity. Through his art, he forces us to confront the uncomfortable truths about colonization and its lasting impacts on indigenous communities. It's a raw and powerful example of contemporary indigenous art: celebrating cultural heritage through modern artistic practices.

In conclusion, Kent Monkman's art is a bold statement, a reshaping of narratives, and a reclaiming of indigenous identity. His work, much like Rebecca Belmore's, is a testament to the transformative power of contemporary indigenous art.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun

You might be wondering, "Who else is making significant strides in contemporary indigenous art?" Allow me to introduce Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, a renowned Coast Salish and Okanagan artist whose work is a vibrant blend of traditional indigenous iconography and surrealism.

Where Tradition Meets Surrealism

Yuxweluptun's work is a fascinating fusion of traditional indigenous symbols and modern surrealistic elements. His paintings are often bursting with bold colors and abstract shapes that draw the eye and invite closer inspection. This distinctive style serves as a visual representation of the ongoing evolution and resilience of indigenous cultures.

Art as Commentary

But Yuxweluptun's art isn't just about aesthetics—it's also a commentary on the complex relationship between indigenous peoples and the land. His paintings often depict environmental degradation and its impact on indigenous territories, making his work a potent statement on contemporary issues. This is indeed a unique approach to contemporary indigenous art: celebrating cultural heritage through modern artistic practices while also addressing pressing environmental concerns.

A Voice for Indigenous Rights

Through his art, Yuxweluptun has become a powerful voice for indigenous rights and environmental stewardship. His work not only highlights the beauty and vitality of indigenous cultures but also their ongoing struggles for recognition and respect.

In essence, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun's work is a visual testament to the richness and resilience of indigenous cultures. It's a poignant reminder of the vital role that contemporary indigenous art plays in celebrating cultural heritage and addressing modern challenges. And who knows—you might just find his vibrant and thought-provoking paintings leave a lasting impression on you.

Daphne Odjig

Next on our journey through contemporary indigenous art, we encounter the extraordinary Daphne Odjig. This Potawatomi-Canadian artist's innovative style and heartfelt storytelling have made her a cornerstone in the realm of modern indigenous art.

Breaking Boundaries with the Woodlands Style

Odjig is best known for her pioneering role in the development of the Woodlands Style. This unique artistic approach combines traditional First Nations iconography with the fluid lines of modern art, resulting in a visually stunning fusion that resonates with a deep cultural heritage. Her work is a masterclass in how contemporary indigenous art celebrates cultural heritage through modern artistic practices.

The Storyteller

But what truly sets Odjig apart is her ability to weave intricate stories through her art. Each of her paintings is, in essence, a narrative—depicting tales of love, struggle, and resilience that reflect both her personal experiences and the larger history of her people. Her art invites viewers not just to look, but to listen, learn, and empathize.

A Lasting Legacy

Odjig's impact on the world of contemporary indigenous art has been profound and far-reaching. She's not just an artist, but a trailblazer who has broken down barriers and paved the way for future generations of indigenous artists. Her work embodies the power of art as a medium for cultural expression, preservation, and dialogue.

In the end, Daphne Odjig's art serves as a vivid reminder of the enduring strength and beauty of indigenous cultures. Her legacy is a testament to the transformative power of contemporary indigenous art: celebrating cultural heritage through modern artistic practices. And it's a legacy that continues to inspire and shape the world of art today.

If you're inspired by contemporary Indigenous art and want to explore the connections between traditional and modern techniques, don't miss the workshop 'Classical Painting in the Modern Day' by Eric Drummond. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights into how classical painting techniques can be applied to create captivating and meaningful contemporary art.