Apoca­lypse then and now

New ex­hi­bi­tions at the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Na­tive Arts

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

New ex­hibits

The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the af­fairs of men there is no wan­ing and the noon of his ex­pres­sion sig­nals the on­set of night. His spirit is ex­hausted at the peak of its achieve­ment. His merid­ian is at once his dark­en­ing and the evening of his day.

— from Blood Merid­ian: Or the Evening Red­ness in the West

No famine, nor pesti­lence, earth­quakes, or floods ac­com­pany the main ex­hi­bi­tion at the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts’ Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Na­tive Arts. An Evening Red­ness in the West is a group show that reimag­ines the idea of the apoca­lypse. As when the myth­i­cal phoenix dies in flames be­fore ris­ing again from its own ashes, the “end-times” are a lead-in to a fresh be­gin­ning, a new life. “The word ‘apoca­lypse’ im­plies the end of one world, but it also has the prom­ise of a new one at the same time,” Candice Hop­kins, the ex­hi­bi­tion cu­ra­tor, told Pasatiempo.

It has been more than a year since Hop­kins joined the staff as an in­terim cu­ra­tor at the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Na­tive Arts, where she now serves as chief cu­ra­tor, and her first two shows for the mu­seum, An Evening Red­ness in the West and Vi­sions and Vi­sion­ar­ies, open on Fri­day, Aug. 21.The ti­tle of An Evening Red­ness in the West’s comes from Cor­mac McCarthy’s novel Blood Merid­ian. “For me, Blood Merid­ian re­ally got to the depth of what I imag­ine was the vi­o­lence of the set­tling of the West, as well as open­ing up the con­sis­tent his­tor­i­cal am­ne­sia that con­tin­ues to plague us when we think about how this area was set­tled,” Hop­kins said. Even now, in the 21st cen­tury, ro­man­ti­cized de­pic­tions of Na­tive peo­ples and the West — in­creas­ingly in­con­gru­ous when com­pared to the land­scape of con­tem­po­rary Na­tive artists — sug­gest an al­most mythic vi­sion of white peo­ple in­her­it­ing, rather than tak­ing by force, the lands of in­dige­nous tribes. The apoca­lypse, from a Na­tive per­spec­tive, could rep­re­sent a time in our na­tion’s his­tory when cul­tural geno­cide meant the near-de­struc­tion of many Na­tive tribes. To­day, global warm­ing and rapidly di­min­ish­ing nat­u­ral re­sources sug­gest that some­thing just as in­sid­i­ous is play­ing out, also on an apoc­a­lyp­tic scale. Na­tive peo­ples who still strive to main­tain sa­cred lands in the face of en­croach­ing strip min­ing and frack­ing ven­tures, for ex­am­ple, or who grew up on reser­va­tions play­ing in ura­nium

tail­ings and now face the health con­se­quences of that in­no­cent ac­tion, have rea­son to be­lieve that the fu­ture — and dooms­day is so of­ten de­scribed as oc­cur­ring in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture — is now.

Naomi Bebo’s Beaded Mask speaks to this re­al­ity with its ref­er­ence to tox­i­c­ity. The mask, made us­ing an Iraqi gas mask, bears el­e­gant flo­ral bead­work, a medium com­mon to many Na­tive tribes. It is an ob­ject of con­trast­ing mean­ings. In the mask, af­fixed with deer hide and strands of er­mine, the or­ganic world of na­ture col­lides with an ob­ject in­tended for use in mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions and for pro­tec­tion from poi­soned air. “Even though it’s some­thing you may need to sur­vive in a toxic en­vi­ron­ment, it’s still aes­theti­cized,” Hop­kins said. Bebo cre­ated a sec­ond, child-sized mask specif­i­cally for the ex­hi­bi­tion.

Other artists rep­re­sented in the ex­hibit in­clude Rose B. Simp­son, an IAIA alumna, Vir­gil Or­tiz, Joseph Tisiga, An­drea Carlson, Shuvinai Ashoona, Duane Linklater, Jef­frey Gib­son, Death Con­ven­tion Singers, Scott Jones, and Nor­man Ak­ers.

Simp­son and Or­tiz col­lab­o­rated for the first time and, by fortuitous cir­cum­stance, Hop­kins was con­sid­er­ing in­clud­ing each artist sep­a­rately when they con­tacted her and asked if they could work to­gether. “I’m re­ally ex­cited about Vir­gil’s post-apoc­a­lyp­tic style,” Simp­son, a Santa Clara Pue­blo-based artist whose fig­u­ra­tive sculp­ture and orig­i­nal fash­ion de­signs are also post-apoc­a­lyp­tic, told Pasatiempo. The col­lab­o­ra­tion seems like a nat­u­ral fit. Or­tiz and Simp­son’s ce­ramic in­stal­la­tion is a sort of store­front where two fig­ures dole out gas masks, elab­o­rately dec­o­rated as ob­jects of high fash­ion, to the sur­vivors of a post-cat­a­strophic world. “All the stuff I do is based on the Pue­blo Re­volt of 1680, and I’m retelling it for 2180,” Or­tiz said. His goal is to one day cre­ate life-size ce­ramic fig­ures that re­flect this theme, but there are chal­lenges to ac­com­plish­ing this us­ing the ma­te­ri­als he is known for. “I never worked with non­na­tive clay be­fore,” said Or­tiz, who nor­mally uses Co­chití clay in his pit-fired ce­ram­ics but tried his hand with more elas­tic store-bought clays for his col­lab­o­ra­tion with Simp­son. “Rose is ex­pe­ri­enced in that. I learned a lot from the tech­nique. I’m used to fir­ing out­side with a lot more things blow­ing up.” The sep­a­rate com­po­nents of their in­stal­la­tion were kiln-fired. “I think go­ing back to 1680 and the Pue­blo Re­volt is about what it means to be a Na­tive per­son but also a war­rior, a cul­tural war­rior,” Simp­son said. “How do you ad­dress our cur­rent sit­u­a­tion with agency? How do you adorn your­self and cre­ate a new iden­tity for Na­tive peo­ples? How do you pro­ceed in a way that’s em­pow­ered?”

Carlson’s Ink Ba­bel, a com­pos­ite draw­ing that is nearly 10 feet tall and 15 feet wide, is a mas­sive piece whose graphic imagery, some of which ref­er­ences pop cul­ture, con­veys a sense of doom. “An­drea Carlson is based in Min­neapo­lis,” Hop­kins said. “She’s never shown in the South­west. A lot of her ear­lier se­ries were based on sci­ence fic­tion and what’s called the ‘can­ni­bal cult’ era of films. She also or­ga­nizes movie nights in Min­neapo­lis so I’m ask­ing her if she’ll cu­rate some out­door screen­ings for us.” Ink Ba­bel is made up of sep­a­rate draw­ings ar­ranged in a grid. Carlson repeats the im­ages from sheet to sheet but al­ters each one slightly. The ti­tle sug­gests the lan­guage bar­ri­ers that faced Na­tive peo­ples and Euro­peans upon their first en­coun­ters with one another. In the com­po­si­tion, where graphic el­e­ments are ar­ranged into a mas­sive “V” shape, an ab­stractly ren­dered masked fig­ure gazes into a mir­ror where im­ages of Colum­bus’ ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María, can be seen.

Tisiga’s Prepa­ra­tion for Utopia, a wa­ter­color, is a haunt­ing im­age with a felled tree de­picted at its cen­ter. The hills in the back­ground send up a plume of smoke from an un­seen fire into the sky where hot air bal­loons as­cend into dark­ness, and two fig­ures in­ter­act near another dead tree, one of them in the process of cut­ting it down, too. “Most of his draw­ings are cen­tered on these two fig­ures which he calls the White Shaman and the Red Chief,” Hop­kins said. “Even though it rep­re­sents this utopia, things are still burn­ing.”

Inuit artist Ashoona fills her land­scapes with fig­ures real and imag­i­nary. “Good and evil are al­ways at play in her draw­ings,” Hop­kins sid. “A lot of that is be­cause when or­ga­nized re­li­gion was in­tro­duced into the north in the 1950s and ’60s, it was a clash of world views be­cause the Inuit al­ready had their own en­trenched be­lief sys­tem and spir­i­tu­al­ity. You do some­times see bib­li­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions in her work, but there’s also Sedna, a very im­por­tant Inuit god or god­dess — some­times she’s seen as male, some­times as fe­male — who lives un­der­neath the sea and con­trols the pow­ers of the sea.”

Gib­son’s What We Want What We Need, one of two pieces by the artist in the show, is also large-scale. The ti­tle is taken from the lyrics in hip-hop artists Pub­lic En­emy’s an­them Fight the Power. The piece is al­most 13 feet long and made from a re­pur­posed wool army blan­ket, glass beads, tin, turquoise, amethyst and quartz crys­tals, plas­tic se­quins, and skeins of in­dus­trial yarn, among other

All the stuff I do is based on the Pue­blo Re­volt of 1680, and I’m retelling it for 2080.

— artist Vir­gil Or­tiz

ma­te­ri­als. “This one by Jef­frey Gib­son is, I be­lieve, his largest piece to date,” Hop­kins said. “He was in­spired by Chilkat robes he saw in mu­se­ums.”

Linklater, a Cree artist from North Bay, Canada, con­trib­utes a neon thun­der­bird, part of a se­ries of five such works he calls Tau­tol­ogy. The thun­der­bird is a sym­bol of great power and strength and is a fig­ure present in the myths and leg­ends of sev­eral Na­tive peo­ples. Linklater’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion was in­spired by the de­signs of Anishi­naabe artist Norval Mor­ris­seau. “Duane took the out­line of one of Mor­ris­seau’s thun­der­birds and trans­posed it,” Hop­kins said. “Mor­ris­seau is cred­ited as the founder of the Wood­lands School of Art, which con­tin­ues to­day as an aes­thetic prac­tice. Duane is in­ter­ested in Mor­ris­seau but also in the thun­der­bird it­self as a me­di­a­tor be­tween worlds and as this god­like force for the Anishi­naabe peo­ple. Also, I think what the neon does is mo­bi­lizes it into the lan­guage of pub­lic sig­nage; Mor­ris­seau for Canada is icono­graphic.”

Hop­kins, a Tlin­git, joined the IAIA mu­seum af­ter serv­ing in cu­ra­to­rial po­si­tions at the Na­tional Gallery of Canada and the Wal­ter Phillips Gallery at Canada’s Banff Cen­tre, among other in­sti­tu­tions. The other group show she cu­rated, Vi­sions and Vi­sion­ar­ies ,is the in­au­gu­ral show of the mu­seum’s Kieve Fam­ily Gallery on the sec­ond floor. The ex­hibit space, in de­vel­op­ment since 2010, is in­tended for show­ing selec­tions from the mu­seum’s nearly 8,000 works of art. It was for­merly used as col­lec­tion stor­age space. “It was so packed they couldn’t col­lect any more,” said mu­seum di­rec­tor Patsy Phillips. “In 2010 we moved the col­lec­tion from here to the cam­pus where we have a state-of-the-art fa­cil­ity.” The new col­lec­tions fa­cil­ity is lo­cated in IAIA’s Bar­bara and Robert Ells Sci­ence & Tech­nol­ogy Build­ing. Be­fore con­vert­ing the sec­ond­floor space at the mu­seum to an ex­hibit hall, staff first had to re­move a floor-to-ceil­ing safe, a rem­nant from the build­ing’s days as a U.S. post of­fice, re­model the walls and ceil­ing, and re­vamp the HVAC sys­tem. “What the mu­seum was lack­ing, in my opin­ion, was show­ing its col­lec­tion,” Phillips said. “Vis­i­tors re­ally want to see what’s in your col­lec­tion. It seemed like the per­fect space.” Af­ter mov­ing the col­lec­tion off­site, the gallery was used for ex­hi­bi­tion prep un­til the fund­ing could be found to com­plete the tran­si­tion. The funds were do­nated by Loren Kieve, chair of IAIA’s board of trus­tees. “That space will only be to show our col­lec­tions be­cause that’s re­ally what’s been miss­ing,” Phillips said. “When the shows ro­tate, which is what hap­pens on the first floor, peo­ple can’t re­ally get to know your col­lec­tion and know your his­tory, our con­nec­tion to IAIA.”

Vi­sions and Vi­sion­ar­ies isn’t pre­cisely an ex­hibit of vi­sion­ary art, although that is a com­po­nent, but it is the ex­pres­sion of the ven­ture that be­gan with the vi­sion of Lloyd Kiva New and IAIA’s founders back in the 1960s. “Orig­i­nally, IAIA was col­lect­ing stu­dent work and then teach­ers,” Hop­kins said. “Many no­table peo­ple were com­ing through the in­sti­tu­tion in the 1960s: T.C. Can­non, Fritz Scholder, Al­fred Young Man. For us to have a place where we can show all these works on long-term dis­play is huge, be­cause I think a lot of the pub­lic might not know what is housed in the col­lec­tion. We’ve got a pretty en­cy­clo­pe­dic col­lec­tion of T.C. Can­non’s work.”

Rather than ar­range a chrono­log­i­cal dis­play, Hop­kins or­ga­nized the ex­hibit in “chap­ters” that re­flect themes that pre­sented them­selves to her through the art: Ab­strac­tion; Ways of See­ing; Pol­i­tics and Per­cep­tion; Re­al­ism and the Documentary Im­age. “At the en­trance to this gallery, what I was in­ter­ested in putting for­ward were the ways in which ab­strac­tion has al­ways been an in­dige­nous aes­thetic and tra­di­tion. I wanted to show that long tra­jec­tory and the way that it’s been in di­a­logue with other art dis­courses and to also make the case that things that might ap­pear to be purely ab­stract to cer­tain view­ers are, in fact, em­bed­ded with mean­ing.” To that end, she in­cluded ab­stract works by Ge­orge Mor­ri­son, Scholder’s Shaman Por­trait #1, whose cen­tral, ab­stract fig­ure con­tains noth­ing overtly “In­dian,” and Diné artist Steven Yazzie’s ab­stracted land­scape Un­der the Arch. “What I like [about Yazzie’s paint­ing] is this re­la­tion­ship be­tween rep­re­sen­ta­tion and ab­strac­tion, but that it reads as land­scape nev­er­the­less,” Hop­kins said. “This one is of a nat­u­ral land bridge. It’s from the cam­pus art col­lec­tion.”

In the sec­tion Ways of See­ing, Hop­kins was in­ter­ested in show­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween cer­e­mony and per­cep­tion. “Cer­e­mony can shape how we see the world, not purely as a re­al­is­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tion but as some­thing per­haps more meta­phys­i­cal.” Un­der­scor­ing this theme are works by Scholder and Can­non that are more ex­per­i­men­tal and, con­se­quently, con­trasted with the tra­di­tional sub­ject mat­ter of early to

mid-20th cen­tury stu­dio paint­ing, sev­eral ex­am­ples of which are also on view. Pho­tog­ra­phy is prom­i­nent in other chap­ters of the show. “In the re­al­ism sec­tion I’m show­ing more in­ti­mate por­traits, of­ten done by stu­dents when they were at IAIA. It’s so com­mon for pho­to­graphs, es­pe­cially older pho­to­graphs, of Na­tive peo­ple to be shot by non-Na­tive peo­ple.” Mu­seum staff plan to ro­tate the art­works out in about a year and bring in other works from the col­lec­tion.

Vi­sions and Vi­sion­ar­ies also in­cludes pieces by alumni Marcus Amer­man and David Bradley, as well as works by former fac­ulty mem­bers in­clud­ing Jonathan Bayer, and artists not af­fil­i­ated with the school but im­por­tant in their own right nev­er­the­less: R.C. Gorman and James Luna among them. Luna, an in­stal­la­tion and per­for­mance artist, par­tic­i­pates in IAIA’s artistin-res­i­dence pro­gram in late au­tumn and in “Act­ing OUT: A Sym­po­sium on In­dige­nous Per­for­mance Art” at the Len­sic in De­cem­ber. Two other ex­hi­bi­tions open on Aug. 21: Eve-Lau­ryn LaFoun­tain: Waa­ban­ishimo (She Dances Till Day­light) and Meryl McMaster: Wan­der­ings. The lat­ter ex­hibit is a photo-based show, guest cu­rated by Jon Lock­yer, di­rec­tor of Artspace in On­tario. Wan­der­ings deals with McMaster’s jour­ney as a per­son of Na­tive and Euro­pean her­itage. In ad­di­tion, the mu­seum holds on­go­ing screen­ings of Na­tive film­maker Ju­lianna Bran­num’s documentary LaDonna Har­ris: In­dian 101, on the life of the Co­manche ac­tivist and pro­po­nent of civil rights.

Op­po­site page, Jef­frey Gib­son: What We Want What We Need, 2015, mixed me­dia

Left, Vir­gil Or­tiz: DRYVR, from Wan­der­lust in­stal­la­tion, 2015, ce­ramic; right, Naomi Bebo: Apoc­a­lyp­tic Wood­land Child, 2015, mixed me­dia

Op­po­site page, Fritz Scholder: Shaman Por­trait #1, 1986, oil on can­vas; all pho­tos Ja­son S. Or­daz

An­drea Carlson: Ink Ba­bel (de­tail), 2014, ink and oil on pa­per, pho­tos cour­tesy Bock­ley Gallery, Min­neapo­lis; left, Vir­gil Or­tiz, Wan­der­lust (de­tail), 2015, mixed me­dia

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