History of Art and Architecture
Interviewed as Seventh Year Student (2018)
Update: As of August 2019, Dr. Johnson serves as Associate Curator of Native American Art at Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska.
How would you explain your area/s of research?
I research the confluence of Dakota and Euro-American cultures during the turbulent settlement of the Upper Midwest in the 19th century. I examine artistic exchanges between Native and settler artists, military officials, and explorers through the lens of agency – that of humans and objects. The meanings of tobacco pipe carvings and ethnographic paintings shifted as artists accommodated a shared world of change.
What inspired you to choose this field of study?
My topic takes place in what is now called Minnesota, the state I grew up in. When I started graduate school, I had no idea that Mni Sota is Dakota homeland. After writing seminar paper on images of the US-Dakota War of 1862 led me to explore the art making practices of Dakota people, which led me on a four-year journey through art collections across the US and abroad.
What is the significance of your research?
There is very little written on Dakota art, especially in the field of art history. My project is uniquely cross-cultural. I consider shifts in Dakota art and place these works in dialogue with ethnographic paintings made by white artists. By turning to artworks, I seek to uncover Dakota voices of the past that aren’t so visible in the archive.
What has most influenced you as a scholar?
Indigenous scholarship and critical museum methodologies. Half of my research is spent in museums examining how curators are innovatively addressing the institution’s complicity in colonial collecting and display practices that dehumanized Indigenous peoples. My conversations with Dakota scholars and leaders about cultural heritage continue to open my eyes to the very real impact art history can have on communities who were banned from practicing their ceremonies for decades.
Why did you choose Pitt to pursue your graduate degree?
I had heard wonderful things about the art history department at Pitt and my advisor Kirk Savage. I was intrigued by the department’s new constellations program which was entirely unique and embraced changes in the field and job market.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation I want to work on collaborative public-facing research projects that establish partnerships between institutions and Native communities. I could accomplish this through curatorial work or teaching.