By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
Keith BraveHeart is an enrolled citizen of the Oglala Lakota Oyate and grew up in the community of Pejuta Haka (Medicine Root; Kyle, South Dakota). He attended the Oscar Howe Summer Art Institute at the University of South Dakota and was introduced to contemporary tribal fine arts. He graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2006 with a BFA, and received his MFA in 2018 from the University of South Dakota (USD).
Keith serves as art instructor for the Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and is a 2019 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital Fellow.
Strokes of blues, a swirl of deep red, and the buffalo skull begins to form. Gathered in an art room, Keith leads youth, adults, and elders in painting buffalo head designs. Each individual’s multicolored piece is a unique expression of their creativity through 2D art. Once the designs are finished, Keith helps transfer them onto t-shirts for the participants to take home their art created during his “Buffalo Nation: Creating Community” project.
“This is about overcoming boundaries within the art world as far as, how do we all enjoy and take part in art?” Keith says. “I think it was something very much aligned with a tribal perspective, and definitely my Lakota perspective of how I view art. It’s not only individuals; it’s about everyone.”
Keith’s project is building community and breaking barriers in the art world, making it accessible. The first project collaboration took place in Minneapolis between Keith, the Native community, All My Relations Gallery, the Native American Community Development Institute, the Northern Spark Festival, the Oscar Howe Summer Art Institute at USD, and Minneapolis/St. Paul-based artists.
“With the art workshops, I’m trying to have the community understand that the intention is to uplift artists as being more than able to produce a commodity or an object,” he says. “These are people who are instilled with intergenerational knowledge.”
“Buffalo Nation: Creating Community” demonstrates a living practice of Lakota significance, and recognizes the “relative perspective” (Mitakuye Oyas’in) as a connector between art and community. Keith partnered with the Oglala Lakota College and several districts on the Pine Ridge Reservation, then expanded to Rapid City.
“I do feel motivated and inspired as an artist by my relatives and our cultural significance,” Keith says. “I live my life as an artist, instructor, student, and viewer. I see art in my community and as my identity, and I hold a responsibility in encouraging others to see it also.”