rose b. simpson
Get back, you dominant paradigms!
Rose Bean Simpson has a lot to say, and she’s wellequipped to say it— in words and in her art. Among her most important topics are the virtues of honesty and of seeking self-knowledge— and also what the 26-year-old sees as the rift between contemporary art and “Indian art.”
During a recent interview, Simpson, who is studying for her master’s degree in ceramics at Rhode Island School of Design, talked about tribal membership and the Certificate of Indian Blood as “a genocidal technique by the government to destroy a culture. The art world has been utilizing this genocidal construct to maintain its Indian art status. I think a lot of things like that should be questioned.
“It’s not allowing the culture to evolve,” said Simpson, a member of Santa Clara Pueblo. “It maintains the stereotype of not only blood quantum but all the stereotypes. It’s sort of stagnating the possibilities of culture. That CIB concept— you know, Native Americans are the only people in the entire world who get a piece of paper when they’re born that tells them what quantum of blood they are.”
Simpson is obviously passionate about matters of justice and integrity, and she hopes, among other things, to be a teacher. “I’m a TA [teacher’s assistant] here at RISD, which is a good experience, but I really want to bring it back to Santa Fe. There’s a lot of communities there I feel are stagnated, and opening of perspective can allow evolution.”
Her own early evolution took place in Santa Fe and Santa Clara Pueblo as the daughter of ceramic sculptor Roxanne Swentzell and contemporary artist Patrick Simpson. She was valedictorian of her class at Santa Fe Indian School, then attended The University of New Mexico, majoring in art and writing and playing in a hip-hop band called Garbage Pail Kidz.
She completed her bachelor’s degree in studio arts at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Simpson’s portfolio includes participation in the Pop Life events organized by Apache Skateboards founder Douglas Miles and work (with her aunt Nora Naranjo-Morse and her cousin Eliza Naranjo-Morse) on a multisite installation for SITE Santa Fe’s Seventh International Biennial in 2008. She has also been a singer in two bands: Chocolate Helicopter and TheWake Singers.
Her major focus at RISD is ceramics, but her predilection for mixed media is also apparent. “I’m working on sort of a nest made out of sticks that I’m coating with clay,” she said in early December. “Also, because I have the knowledge of doing audio recording, it’s been really helpful to hash out my ideas in my work here. I didn’t necessarily see it as a skill I could mix with my work, but now this nest will have, like, audio in it. There are little speakers, and it will be recording my voice and playing it. So I’m thinking a lot about installing audio in my clay forms.”
Simpson’s art pieces in both two and three dimensions have been versions of herself— as a punk rocker, a caterpillar-like creature, a “Pueblo butterfly,” and others quite surreal and difficult to describe. “I tend to do self-portraits because I feel they’re the most honest,” she said. “Each piece portrays a different personality. I guess I’m digging around and figuring out who I am in all these different aspects.”
Some of that digging was done atWarehouse 21 and IAIA, and some at less formal collectives. All offered supportive environments. “I think young artists who have tried to create a space like MeowWolf and Humble Space have not had a lot of help and support from the community,” Simpson said. “Warehouse 21 is definitely a gem ... it was for me and still is. I love going over there. However, I think there needs to be more of the sort of DIY — do it yourself. Also, IAIA is one of the main things that will keep me in Santa Fe. I have a lot of heart in that place.
“I have to be in Santa Fe for my soul, but I will definitely continue to fight to make it a place for young people and to allow the freedom of expression, which has been always controlled by the market, and that means people with money, people who have established themselves, older people. And I think the youth in Santa Fe are seen sort of as like these aliens from another planet, like ‘Oh my God, what are you doing?’ rather than, ‘Wow, that’s cool. What have you to show us about the future and how can we support that?’ ”
Protector, mixed-media sculpture by Rose B. Simpson