Touch­ing the sky Ra­mona Saki­estewa

ARTIST RA­MONA SAKI­ESTEWA

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Iris McLister For The New Mex­i­can

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

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