Yesterday, Manuela Well-Off-Man, chief curator at IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art, walked SFR through the group exhibit New Impressions, which opens tonight. The expansive exhibit, which includes prints from 12 contemporary artists, was still in the process of being hung. As we wandered the show in its final moments of preparation, Well-Off-Man shared the inspirations and histories behind many of the prints.

One in particular stood out.

It is a black and white etching by Lynne Allen, a Lakota artist, featuring a woman's shoe above a photograph of her great grandmother and the words "my grandmother was an Indian, can you tell?" Allen often uses pages from her grandmother's journals in her printmaking works.

"She's coming from this long line of female Lakota family members who moved away from the reservation to get the best education they could at the time, and also then married white men," Well-Off-Man tells SFR. "Because of that, as a result, she now feels so removed from her own family traditions and culture."

The heeled shoe in Allen's piece is covered in a tiny intricate pattern. When you look closely, you can identify Native American imagery in the pattern, which represents Allen's own hidden Lakota identity. "With this piece she invites viewers to think about themselves, how they judge other people from other cultures. Allen does not look like a Lakota woman because of her family history and marrying people from outside the tribe. It's a reminder about how we tend to make a judgment about people and often it's only a person's memories or family stories that create this identity," says Well-Off-Man.

The Native American content in this print may be minute, but it tells the whole story. "It's small, but yet so important," she says. It seems more important than ever to honor identity as a sacred thing, and as something that is never fully evident on the surface.

Many of the works in this show have elements rooted in modern pop culture. Brad Kalhamer's print, "Cherokee Princess," which has a heavy metal feel, features a boney Native woman with braids and a gun in her lap, surrounded by animal heads. Or John Hitchcock's "Storms of War," which features bombs and colors that could have jumped off the page of a psychedelic poster.

"I think this exhibition really shows how contemporary Native artists embrace both historic influences, but also influences from contemporary daily life, pop culture and urban life influences," says Well-Off-Man.

These printmakers delve into their own histories through their work. They include autobiographical details or memories from childhood stories in each print. Well-Off-Man says she believes this self-discovery and introspection is a symptom of the medium, "I think it's this mood of experimentation that invites the artist to think about their own stories and history. The main thing here is that printmaking has this long tradition of making important statements, about yourself and society and history in general. It is known as this medium to make a statement."

New Impressions Opening Reception: 5-7 pm Friday Jan. 20. Free. IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, 108 Cathedral Place, 983-8900.