IN 2023, THE READERS of USA Today voted the Santa Fe–based IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts the third-best art museum in the country. Run by the Institute of American Indian Arts, which has a 60-year history of educating cutting-edge artists, the museum’s mission is to advance Indigenous arts and culture through exhibiting, collecting, and interpreting the work of contemporary Native artists.

Two new exhibitions at the museum, both opening on February 2, showcase artwork that is directly inspired by the places where the artists live and the many ecological struggles these habitats face due to climate change and other factors.

Although they lack access to traditional art galleries or museums, the Brazilian collective of women artists featured in Womb of the Earth: Cosmovision of the Rainforest creates works that vividly illustrate the threats posed by deforestation, illegal mining, and invasive infrastructure developments to their lives, cultures, and homelands. “The main purpose of the exhibition is to give them a voice,” says Manuela Well-Off-Man, the museum’s chief curator, “as their artworks really speak deeply to their connection to their natural environment.”

Another exhibition, Inuk Silis Høegh: Arctic Vertigo, invites viewers to contemplate Greenland’s Arctic landscape in a global context. Its aim is to expand the conversation about climate issues around the world, while also highlighting the specific needs of Greenland.

Taken together, these exhibitions spotlight individual ecosystems and promote a global awareness of the threats facing Indigenous people in Brazil and Greenland.

Inuk Silis Høegh, "The Green Land," 2011, film installation, 34min. Photograph courtesy of the artist.


Based in the silvery Arctic of Nuuk, Greenland, Inuk Silis Høegh (Danish-Kalaallit) is a sculptor, filmmaker, and mixed-multimedia artist from Qaqortoq, Greenland, who has shown work in Denmark, France, and Germany. In his first exhibition in the United States, Arctic Vertigo moves seamlessly through old and new works that pose the question, Are we the problem?

In addition to his new 34-minute film, The Green Land, a documentary about Greenland’s iconic landscapes and the changes happening there, the exhibition includes his 2014 film, Sumé: The Sound of a Revolution, about the progressive Inuit rock band.

The release of Sumé’s first three albums from 1973 to 1976 had a major influence during the country’s uprising against Danish colonial powers. Their explosive rock songs were recorded in the Greenlandic language—one that, prior to Sumé, didn’t have words for “revolution” or “oppression.”

Høegh’s Ice Poem in a Bottle (2013) showcases his artistic process from start to finish. Høegh painted a poem onto sea ice in red ink and used a “melting machine” constructed from driftwood and other found items to fill a bottle with the liquid remains of the poem. Photographs depicting the melting process are now displayed on the original driftwood. “I like making these circles in my work,” he says, “where I make stories about a place but then take it to the exhibition.”

Kume Assurini (Awaete), "TAYGAWAETE—CORPO DE ALMA DEVERDADE (BODY OF THE TRUE SOUL)," 2021, fabric paint on canvas. Photograph courtesy of Anita Ekman.

In Audio Abstractions (2020), the audience is immersed in the tranquil and haunting sounds of the Arctic. “It transforms you and gives you the illusion of being there,” Well-Off-Man says.

Each of the abstractions captures the sound waves visually as well as sonically, in an authentic representation of Høegh’s recordings. “I want people to find their own pictures within them,” he says. “You’re always trying to make a picture that fits with your mind, with what you’re seeing or hearing.”

The film The Green Land explores the monumental ecosystem of Greenland as it grapples with the challenges of global warming. “The question really is, is nature bad because we can’t control it? Or are we out of control?” says Well-Off-Man.

The film is organized around the four elements—fire, water, earth, and air—all depicted in green. The Green Land captures breakthrough moments of purity, set against a colorful metaphor that simultaneously symbolizes a threat and the potential of earthly salvation.

“There’s this duality in everything that I’m interested in, to keep on questioning our own existence and our relationship to nature,” Høegh says. “Is green the color of spring and nature, or is it like Homer Simpson’s plutonium in the power plant? Is it something toxic?”

Høegh has another purpose for his New Mexico visit: He’s looking for his foster family, who housed him when he was a 17-year-old exchange student in Farmington. “I really felt a kinship there when my host mother taught at Navajo [Preparatory School],” he remembers. “I’m looking forward to going back, and there’s a small hope that I will meet someone that I met then.”

Anita Ekman with Sandra Nanaya (Tariano), "Ocre—Pele e Pedra (Ochre—Skin and Rock)," 2019, digital print on amate paper (Mexican paper). Photograph courtesy of Anita Ekman.


In Womb of the Earth, the beauty of the Amazon rainforest is captured by those who revere it and live there. Many Brazilian Indigenous cultures believe the rainforest is the origin of life on Earth. The artist collective AMITIKATXI’s struggle for justice and cultural rights is evident in Womb of the Earth: Cosmovision of the Rainforest. Each of the ceramic animals, tapestries, and sculptures offers insight into the tribal members’ worldview, which is shaped by one of the most biodiverse ecological regions in the world.

AMITIKATXI is comprised of women from the Tiriyó, Katxuyana, and Txikiyana peoples and five neighboring tribes who reside on the Tumucumaque Indigenous land reserve in the state of Pará, Brazil. “What really unites them is the closeness of the artist and the community to the natural surroundings, even though they are from different tribes,” Well-Off-Man says. Among the collective are Assurini and Awaete artists, who skillfully depict traditional body-painting patterns using acrylic on fabric, as well as on their bodies.

Several short films, such as 2021’s Tupi ValongoKunhanguereko (The Bodies of Women), explore foundational stories, songs, and histories of Indigenous and mixed-race women in Brazil, all while addressing the violence endured by these women and linking it to a broader context of the destruction of their land.

Kume Assurini (Awaete), "JUAKETE—Pintura Verdadeira Plana (True Flat Painting)," 2021, fabric paint on canvas. Photograph courtesy of Anita Ekman.

One piece, Itu nai anya arimikane (A floresta é nosso futuro/o que nos faz crescer; The forest is our future/that which makes us grow), portrays a Sumaúma, the Amazon’s largest tree, which can reach heights of up to 70 meters. The meticulously detailed artwork uses beads sewn onto red fabric, which resembles the skirts worn by women during tribal feast days.

“It’s like a life tree,” says Well-Off-Man. “As a collaboration piece, these artists work together and create it. In the film, they explain why it’s so significant to them.”

Womb of the Earth puts the viewer in the perspective of these rainforest dwellers to emphasize the critical role of that ecosystem to the survival—not just physically, but culturally—of the region’s tribes. The exhibition also sheds light on the struggles and contributions of many other women artists who are critical to that survival.

Read more: Fifth-generation potter Dominique Toya (Jemez) shares the story of watching her mother, Maxine Toya, create a male storyteller figure.