Artist Dakota Hoska

Early in her artistic career, Dakota Hoska painted a series of five artworks based on scenes from the “Vagina Monologues,” a play by Eve Ensler. Each painting represented a woman’s story. One of the paintings, “The River,” is featured on the June magazine’s cover. Each of the five paintings also represented a stanza of a poem Hoska wrote. “The River” conveyed the message of these words:

May our tears become nourishment sustaining the river of change.

In 2009, at the conclusion of a V-Day benefit production of the “Vagina Monologues” Hoska donated “The River” to the Women of Nations, a battered women’s shelter in St. Paul.

“I wanted to offer some kind of strength,” she says. “A painting isn’t the strongest thing to offer, but I was hoping it would give them a little strength or inspiration on their journey.”

Hoska’s social justice sensibilities were often conveyed as themes in her early artwork.

A traditionalist

While interested in art in her youth, she found that being an artist was not supported as a likely career path in the small town where she was raised – Langford, S.D. But the big sky and wide-open spaces of the prairie environment shaped her outlook to think expansively.

It was while living in Europe in her early 20s that her interest in art blossomed. Visiting art museums, viewing paintings by the old masters and taking art classes helped to develop her passion for painting with oils.

“I definitely wanted to embrace that tradition,” Hoska says. “When I was first starting to paint, I was a little bit stubborn about adhering to a formal tradition. But now, I think I’m so used to the medium. It’s very challenging. There’s a lot to learn about oils.”

After living in the Netherlands for six years, she moved back to the United States and has lived in Minneapolis since 1996. She attended the University of Minnesota and then the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, graduating with a B.F.A. in drawing and painting in 2012.

In March, she had her first solo exhibit of paintings and prints at the MacRostie Art Center in Grand Rapids, Minn. At first glance, you might consider many of the artworks to be portraits, but to Hoska they were more than that. “I saw them as moments, they often involved people. Sometimes not,” she says.

Sometimes it’s about movement or color intensity or a sense of vibration between layers of colors. “Now, I feel like the painting technique that I want to keep working on is trying to capture these moments,” she says.

Finding Lakota roots

One of the “moment” paintings – “Lakota Family Jewels” – is a self-portrait. “I never knew my biological mother – she was a Lakota woman – but after her passing, I reconnected with my family and my sisters gave me her jewelry,” Hoska says. The pendant and the two turquoise rings shown in the paintings had belonged to her biological mother.

As an infant, Hoska was adopted into a family with Norwegian heritage. In 2009, she joined an adoptee’s group that helps Native American adults find their biological families. In 2013, she discovered that she is Oglala Lakota and met her relatives at Pine Ridge, S.D.

Now she is midway through a course of studying the Dakota language at the University of Minnesota, having earned a scholarship for four semesters of coursework. This month, she will attend a three-week language immersion class at the Lakota Summer Institute on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.

“The Lakota and Dakota languages are very closely connected. If you learn one, you can easily learn the other,” Hoska says. “So even though my heritage is Lakota, Minnesota is where most Dakota people live. Since I’m here, I’m learning Dakota, but I will be able to speak with Lakota people, that’s the goal.”

Everyone can be creative

Studying language has opened more doors for Hoska. She was invited to teach both art and language at the Nawayee Center School in Minneapolis, a school for high school students who have challenges in a traditional classroom setting.

Hoska lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two sons, ages 13 and 11. She has a studio near Harriet Island, across the river from downtown St. Paul.

And while she expresses her creativity through drawing, painting and printmaking, she believes that everyone is creative and can be artistic.

“The qualities of being creative are thinking outside of the box, being able to see something not obviously there. It’s not a formula. We all have a need to be creative, but we express it in different areas of our lives,” Hoska says. “I don’t think you have to be an artistic genius to be a creative person.”