Dakota Mace has been thinking about how to use the $10,000 she’ll receive as one of the first two winners of the Forward Art Prize. One idea that came to mind: “To be able to give a workshop in Navajo weaving,” she said. “That would be amazing to share with the community — to teach a bunch of indigenous weaving processes.”
Mace’s work is all about sharing, studying and reflecting on indigenous culture. A member of the Navajo Nation originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mace usually follows her name with the parenthetical (Diné), a Navajo word meaning “the people.”
And that name is all over Madison’s art world. The 28-year-old photographer and textile artist has work in the highly prestigious Wisconsin Triennial show currently at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Her solo show “Nihá (For Us)” opened Nov. 2 at Arts + Literature Laboratory. And an exhibition that Mace co-curated, titled “Intersections: Indigenous Textiles of the Americas,” is on view through Dec. 6 at the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery in the UW-Madison School of Human Ecology building.
Some of Mace’s pieces take years to finish, “and I’m fine with that,” she said, laying out a sparkling piece of beadwork that she doesn’t expect to complete until 2021.
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“My whole purpose in doing my artwork is looking historically at Diné weavers and the time they would spend to create a piece,” she said. “This is something that’s really intentional with my work — I spend a lot of alone time, but it’s very meditative to be able to weave, or add on every single bead.”
“That’s one of the most important things about my work, that I really emphasize the process, the materials that I use. I tend to not buy anything that’s pre-made. Everything I make is literally by hand.”
Mace grew up in a fifth-generation family of silversmiths, then discovered as a child that she’s allergic to silver. But she continued to create and fell in love with photography in high school.
After earning a BFA in Photography from the Institute of American Indian Arts, Mace was convinced to move to Madison by photographer Tom Jones, associate art professor at UW-Madison and a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Mace earned MA and MFA degrees in photography and textile design at UW-Madison. She’s now teaching at the university and also applying to Ph.D. programs, she said.
UW-Madison “has been just amazing in supporting not only my research, but they’ve been fully supportive of representation of indigenous cultures,” Mace said. “Wherever I visit, I try to not only help out the indigenous communities there, but I also think it’s really important to continue sharing that knowledge with other generations.”