Faces of Identity: Hands of Skill

Folks Arts and Identity Beneath the Surface

Beaded Turtle Umbilical Cord Pouches, D. Joyce Kitson-Smutzler

North Dakota encompasses such cultural groups as Arikara, Caucasus German, Chippewa, Finnish, Haitian, Irish, Loatian, Mexican, Norwegian, Polish, Swedish, and Syrian to name but a few. Many North Dakotans identify with their ancestral heritage, but they do not make their cultural identity readily public. It is necessary, then, to go beneath the surface to discover this identity.

People seek to explain to others who they are and to validate to themselves who they are through folk art, a subtle yet public manifestation of cultural identity. Folk art refers to art that is tradition-based and shared between members of a particular folk group such as family, tribal, ethnic, or religious group. It is passed from one generation to the next, often learned informally through word of mouth, observation, and example.

The beauty and skill involved in folk art is often unmatched, yet it is secondary to the part the tradition plays in a person's life. Of primary importance is what we can learn from the object's place within its cultural context. What can it teach us? What does the object tell us about the group's cultural beliefs, values, world view, religion, history?

Faces of Identity, Hands of Skill: Folk Arts in North Dakota focuses on the traditions embodied in the lives of North Dakota folk artists representing twelve cultural groups: Mandan, Dakota Sioux, Sisseton Sioux, Lakota/Hidatsa, Metis, Banat German, Ukrainian, German-Russian, Armenian, Khmer, Kurdish, and Vietnamese. This exhibit seeks to illustrate the integrated nature of culture and how folk art brings a face to familial, religious, and cultural identity. North Dakota's folk artists can teach us much about whom we are as a state and as North Dakotans. - Troyd A. Geist NDCA Folklorist

Many of the folk artists are willing to perform for and/or sell pieces of folk art to the general public. Also, through the North Dakota Council on the Arts, some of the folk artists featured in this exhibition conduct residencies and performances in schools to introduce children to their culture. If you or your organization are interested in hiring an artist, contact the NDCA office at 701-328-3954 for more information.

The exhibition and book that accompanies it have been assembled by the North Dakota Council on the Arts, the state agency responsible for the support and development of the arts and artists throughout North Dakota. This exhibition and book have been funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Folk and Traditional Arts Program.

To request more information on bringing Faces of Identity, Hands of Skill: Folk Arts in North Dakota to your community, click on the NDAGA link on this page.