Subject Area

Art History/Criticism/Conservation, Architecture


This dissertation is the first sustained scholarly study of the Phoenix-based Hopi artist and architect Dennis Numkena (1941-2010). Numkena was the first registered Hopi architect and the first Native American architect to helm his own firm, Numkena Associates, founded in 1970. An analysis of Numkena’s life and work brings to light the temporal, geographical, and stylistic biases and blind spots of the disciplinary field of Native American art history, as well as art history more generally. Numkena’s practice foregrounds the overlooked spatial and artistic politics of the Southwest’s largest city, Phoenix. In Numkena’s use of diverse and immobile media, including architecture, performance, and site-specific sculpture, much of his work has escaped commodification, and therefore entry into the annals of mainstream art history, and yet, Numkena’s work cited and skeptically revered a classic Western history of art. Numkena’s career thus becomes a counterhistory, underscoring the taxonomic exclusion of the art historical canon, and his archive, in its ruinous state, becomes a counter-archive. At the same time, Indigenous perspectives problematize the pernicious use of the term “ruins,” often deployed in the North American context for ancient Indigenous archaeological sites, which many believe has had a deleterious effect on the care of ancestral lands. Similarly, my project makes the case for seeing the vitality and presence in Numkena’s archival ruins: the crumpled napkin drawings and indexical markings of his potential on the land. Furthermore, I argue that Numkena’s polymorphic practice anticipated the concerns and aesthetics of the contemporary movement of Indigenous Futurisms.

Degree Date

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Elizabeth Bacon Eager

Second Advisor

Anna Lovatt

Third Advisor

Adam Jasienski

Number of Pages




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