Portraits in Red

Missing & Murdered Indigenous People Painting Project
by Nayana LaFond

February 28 - March 24

Opening Reception March 7, 5-7pm


"I do not speak for another person or family… When you look at the paintings, I ask you to listen to what they tell you." - Nayana LaFond


On display at The Umbrella's second floor Gallery 2, Portraits in Red features paintings by Nayana LaFond, focusing on missing & murdered Indigenous peoples. Behind each painting in this exhibition is the voice of an Indigenous person who has suffered the impact of violence. Ninety-eight percent of Native people experience violence during their lifetime, and Native women face murder rates 11 times the national average. Yet disturbingly, these crimes are under-reported by the media and under-prosecuted by law enforcement. LaFond's project brings visibility to this crisis. 

Mostly grayscale portrait of indigenous woman in red dress with face markings and red hand print over her mouthHer work often deals with issues related to trauma, including her experiences as a leukemia, bone marrow transplant, and domestic violence survivor. In 2020, her first portrait in this series was intended to be a one-off to show support for missing and murdered Indigenous people, but the image immediately gained traction on social media. On May 5, 2020, the day of remembrance for MMIP, LaFond shared her painting online and the response was so overwhelming she did one more, yet again intending that to be the end. The response to the second was even more overwhewlming, and so Nayana opened her inbox to anyone wanting to be painted -- not expecting the 25+ that she received the first day: stories and images of loved ones missing, murdered, survivors and advocates/activists. Nayana decided to paint them all and they didn't stop coming. Since then, the project has connected her to families with missing loved ones all across Turtle Island (North America). As of February 2024 there are now 110 completed paintings.

LaFond's decision to place a red hand across each subject's mouth has cultural, political, and aesthetic significance. Native Americans across many tribal groups believe red is the only color that spirits can see. Wearing red is a way to call the spirits of ancestors closer. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's movement adopted the red handprint as a symbol of the pervasive silence that surrounds this crisis and their mission to break that silence. The striking contrast of red against the haunting, monochromatic palette of LaFond's paintings focuses the viewer's gaze on the faces of these victims, survivors, and activists. The intimacy of looking into their eyes has both humanizing and unsettling effects.

Select signed prints of some portraits are available for sale during this exhibition, exclusively where survivors or victims families have granted permission. Considering her art a form of traditional medicine, LaFond does not profit monetarily from the creation or sale of these works. She donates any profits to the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center (NIWRC.org). In lieu of taking monetary donations, she asks people to donate to NIWRC or any of the many organizations working with families and toward change.

Nayana LaFond is a full time multidisciplinary artist and activist who resides with her child in Western Massachusetts. She attended Greenfield Community College for Fine Art and Massachusetts College of Art for Photography and then dropped out to become a full-time painter. Her paintings and sculptures can be seen in galleries and museums around the world. Her project, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Peoples Painting Project, has gained her international acclaim and is currently on display in museums around North America, including a Pacific Northwest Coastal tour, a tour through the Institute of American Indian Studies Museum and more. Nayana has also been a curator and community arts organizer for over 20 years including former founding Chief Curator for The Whitney Center for the Arts. She also sits on several arts organization boards, including as an executive board member of Artist Organized Art. Nayana is a citizen of the Metis Nation of Ontario.

Learn more about Nayana's work


Informational Resources

Photograph of Nayana LaFond by Edward Cohen