Natalie Ball: bilwi naats Ga’niipciopening at the Whitney Museum of American Art today, November 17, 2023, is the first New York solo exhibition for boundary-breaking artist and community leader Natalie Ball.
The exhibition presents a group of never-before-seen sculptural assemblages that deepen and destabilize understandings of Indigenous life in the United States. Ball, who is Black, Modoc, and Klamath, lives and works in her ancestral homelands in Southern Oregon and Northern California, where, in addition to creating artworks, she serves as an elected official on the Klamath Tribes Tribal Council.
Her artwork draws from various sources, including found, hunted, purchased, and gifted objects. Ball explores how the lives and meanings of materials interconnect with her sense of self. Through the layering of quilt tops and T-shirts, elk hides and animal bones, synthetic hair, shoes, beads, and newspapers, among other commercially produced items, Ball’s work carries the textures, stories, and scents of the places they have been and traces the history and future of her communities.
“It has been an honor to work with Natalie on this exhibition and to witness these new works come into the space of the Whitney,” says Jennie Goldstein, Jennifer Rubio Associate Curator of the Collection and organizing curator for the exhibition. “Through her gathered materials the artist prompts us to acknowledge where we have been, where we are, and to question the complexities of belonging.”
The exhibition’s title, bilwi naats Ga’niipci, which in maqlaqsyals (the Language of the People), translates to “we smell like the outside.” It is a variation of an expression that Ball associates with her childhood and family in both Black and Indigenous spaces. With this phrase, she highlights her artistic aims: to channel her ancestors while reflecting on her lived experience, including as a future ancestor. Additionally, the exhibition is contextualized in English, Spanish, and, for the first time at the Whitney, in maqlaqsyals, which supports the reawakening of this language.
“With his exhibition, I hope to reach an expansive audience to share my work with as I challenge mainstream ideas of Indigeneity with my personal, community, and our Nation’s history,” says Natalie Ball. “My work disrupts the mainstream definition of Indian and uncovers the complexity of Native American lives, like my own, for a better understanding of ourselves, the Nation, and our shared experiences and histories.”
Natalie Ball: bilwi naats Ga’niipci is on view in the Museum’s Lobby gallery through February 19, 2024. The Lobby gallery is accessible to the public free of charge, as part of the Whitney Museum’s enduring commitment to support and showcase the most recent work of emerging artists.
This exhibition is organized by Jennie Goldstein, Jennifer Rubio Associate Curator of the Collection, with Rose Pallone, Curatorial Assistant
About the Artist ~ Natalie Ball (b. 1980) was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. She has a Bachelor’s degree with a double major in Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies and Art from the University of Oregon. She continued her education in New Zealand at Massey University, earning her Master’s degree focusing on Indigenous contemporary art. Ball then relocated to her ancestral Homelands in Southern Oregon/Northern California to raise her three children. In 2018, Natalie earned her M.F.A. in Painting & Printmaking at Yale School of Art. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally. She is the recipient of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation’s Oregon Native Arts Fellowship 2021, the Ford Family Foundation’s Hallie Ford Foundation Fellow 2020, the Joan Mitchell Painters & Sculptors Grant 2020, Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant 2019, and the Seattle Art Museum’s Betty Bowen Award 2018. In 2022, Natalie Ball was elected to serve on the Klamath Tribes Tribal Council.