Touching the sky Ramona Sakiestewa
ARTIST RAMONA SAKIESTEWA
IN Light Echoes, Ramona Sakiestewa’s lyrically named show at Tai Modern, the artist expands upon long-standing tenets of her practice: elegantly arranged prints and collaged works whose subject matter wavers gently on the cusp of abstraction, and is often adorned with gold-and-silverleaf detailing that’s simultaneously dazzling and restrained. But in her latest body of work, Sakiestewa also draws inspiration from artifacts and ephemera that existed thousands of years in the past, reconceiving them in highly refined, hypermodern ways. The experience of seeing the artwork in this show feels something like stumbling across a time capsule that’s packed not only with objects from a distant, otherworldly past, but also with things that offer glimpses of an equally remote future. Sakiestewa said, “The series feels like a complete departure for me, in that most of my work is abstracted, but the patterns here are much more literal — even if they’re grounded in prehistoric imagery.”
In 2016, the University of New Mexico’s Maxwell Museum of Anthropology put out a call to indigenous artists to apply for a five-day residency program called the Chaco Heritage Project. Participants gained access to the museum’s Chaco archaeological collections and those of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park Museum, and Sakiestewa, a Hopi Native who was born in Albuquerque, was one of 10 artists selected for the residency. The 18 works in Light Echoes are divided into four distinctive groups, each inspired by imagery that Sakiestewa encountered during her residency. Chaco Canyon was a thriving, highly sophisticated cultural hub between A.D. 850 and 1250. The settlement is nestled between the present-day Navajo and Jicarilla Apache reservations in the northwest part of New Mexico, and stories of its long-gone Pueblo inhabitants are told through petroglyphs, pottery sherds, and even shells and chocolate.
In Sakiestewa’s Sherds series, a quartet of paper collages contain blocky black shapes alongside areas of delicate watercolor, overlaid with stripes or zigzags of silver leaf. Deep matte red beneath it all makes a striking visual contrast that also feels deeply grounding. With their snatches of patterned and truncated design elements, the collages could be interpreted as broken-apart pieces of a larger artwork — much like the actual pottery sherds from which Sakiestewa drew her inspiration. Similarly fragmented elements play across the surfaces of the four
Dance Wand monoprints, inspired by unusually wellpreserved, painted wood objects which Sakiestewa imagined as ceremonial dance wands. Jagged segments of these wands appear amidst predominantly pale grey and red compositions. Polka-dotted bits of