Above: Zoë Urness and Lehi Thunder Voice Eagle at Zohi Gallery. 

A new Native gallery builds community from protest, beauty, and joy. Bangles cut from license plates trumpet tribal names—Ontario, Chippewa, Dakota. Geometric designs and pop-art colors bedeck a giant buffalo. Moody, sepia-toned photographs reveal Native people in traditional settings, but freed from the artifice of an Edward S. Curtis portrait. Throughout the expansive Zohi Gallery in Santa Fe, contemporary Native artists from Alaska to the East Coast, Canada, and Mexico interpret their lives in ways both beautiful and jarring.

“Some of these paintings hit you in the jugular,” says Zoë Urness, a Tlingit-Cherokee-Norwegian photographer who opened the gallery last summer with Lehi Thunder Voice Eagle, a Navajo mixed-media artist. “To be in a gallery, sometimes you’re told, ‘That’s what collectors want’—the stoic Indian, or some other stereotype,” she says. “We thought it was time for us to represent ourselves and change the narrative around Native art.”

The idea for Zohi (rhymes with “oh, hi”) jelled after the longtime friends, both in their thirties, joined Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Returning to New Mexico, they saw a need to nurture the community it had created—and to continue conversations around modern Native issues. Their plan for a temporary pop-up happening during last August’s Indian Market struck such a strong chord that they instead chose permanent digs on Lincoln Avenue, a half block north of the Plaza. A global audience, built largely through social media, converted it into a cultural hub. Besides representing up to 50 artists, Zohi hosts film fests, lectures, and dances that have blended traditional Aztec performers with Native hip-hop masters.

“One thing we saw in Standing Rock was how beautiful our elders were in this moment, how they talked about peace and healing,” Thunder Voice Eagle says. “Our aim is for understanding and moving toward a sense of shared humanity through art.”

Zohi Gallery
130 Lincoln Ave.
Santa Fe, NM 87501
(505) 557-6627; zohigallery.com