By Tim Gihring //
Josie Hoffman grew up on the North Dakota/Minnesota border, but would often visit family in Grand Portage—about a seven-hour drive—on the north shore of Lake Superior. There, at powwows held on the reservation of Grand Portage Anishinaabe, her relatives encouraged her to dance. “They kind of threw me in,” she says. “‘Go do what your cousins are doing!’”
Hoffman eventually went on to study visual art, graduating from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2020, but she never stopped dancing. She currently teaches aerial dance at two studios in Minneapolis. When she was invited recently to curate an installation in the Native art galleries at Mia, her ideas naturally coalesced around the theme of movement.
A centerpiece of the installation is a dance costume designed by Wendy Red Star, including an angora gown, a feathered hat, and two wands with feathers at the tip. All white. Red Star calls it a “futuristic powwow outfit” and photographed herself wearing it against a background of stars and planets, as though she were dancing in space—a commentary on notions of Native people as both exotic and anachronistic. “She’s dancing in this faraway galaxy,” Hoffman says, “but she can dance in other spaces, too. It’s a piece that can wander.”
A screenprint by Alex Janvier, of Cold Lake First Nations, in Canada, has the fine, quicksilver look of paint spilled across paper, making a run for the edge. Two abstract drawings by George Morrison, who grew up around Grand Portage and often depicted Lake Superior, reflect Hoffman’s roots. “He was a cool dude,” she says. “My grandma knew him and he was a mentor to my mom, who is an artist, too. To me, abstract works dance in a way. I’m imagining the act of dancing in the creation of these pieces.”
A bandolier bag and a pair of leggings—historical staples of powwow regalia, decorated with floral beadwork—anchor the installation in nature and Native land. “A lot of these pieces have connection to either the land around them or the water around them or the spirits around them, all moving around each other,” Hoffman says. “They’re all interconnected through dance or a type of movement.”
Hoffman’s own artistic practice has ranged from mixed media—2D and 3D—to performances incorporating dance, and she continues to create. But when she interned with Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Mia’s associate curator of Native American art, during her time at MCAD, it got her thinking about the curatorial side of the art world. “I enjoy my work, but I get really excited about other artists’ work, too,” she says. “It’s another way for my brain to pull things together that make sense, and to show the amazing things that our community can do.”
She recently became a fellow of the Emerging Curators Institute, based in the Twin Cities. Soon, she’ll be working with a mentor—Angela Two Stars, the director of All My Relations Arts gallery in Minneapolis—to curate another show.
When Hoffman was working on the installation at Mia, she was pleased to discover that a show of paintings by Jim Denomie would be in the gallery next door. Denomie, an Ojibwe artist who died last year, had attracted a following with his fantastical, socially critical art and was a mentor to Hoffman’s mentors. “I didn’t get to know him super well,” she says, “but every time I saw him he was very encouraging. He wanted me to keep going.”