Centre for American Art Seminar

Earth Diplomacy: Diné Arts of Reciprocity, 1966–1968

Speaker: Professor Jessica L. Horton - Assistant Professor of Native American, Modern, and Contemporary Art, University of Delaware.

From 1966 to 1968, the United States government commissioned Diné (Navajo) artists Bertha and Fred Stevens to demonstrate weaving and sandpainting across Eurasia and Latin America, ostensibly as an exercise of Cold War “soft power.” Drawing upon Indigenous knowledge, International Relations theory, and the methods of ecocritical art history, Jessica Horton reframes the Stevens’ tour as a creative instance of what she calls “earth diplomacy.” This talk presents one strand of her current book project,Earth Diplomacy: Indigenous American Art and Reciprocity, 1953–1973which examines how artists revitalized longstanding Indigenous cultures of diplomacy in the unlikely shape of Cold War tours, translating Native political ecologies across two decades and four continents.

Jessica L. Horton is an assistant professor of modern and contemporary art history at the University of Delaware. Her research and teaching emphasize the centrality of Native North American art to a global story of modernity. Her first book, Art for an Undivided Earth: The American Indian Movement Generation (Duke University Press, 2017), traces the impact of Indigenous spatial struggles on artists working internationally since the 1970s. Her research for Earth Diplomacy is supported by a Clark Art Institute fellowship, a Warhol Creative Capital Book Award, and a Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Academic Fellowship in American Modernism. 

Organised by Professor David Peters Corbett (The Courtauld) 

Photo of Diné artist Fred Stevens creates an altered sandpainting at the Horniman Museum in London in 1966
Diné artist Fred Stevens creates an altered sandpainting at the Horniman Museum in London in 1966. Image courtesy of Rainbow Stevens.
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