Find­ing Bal­ance

SWAIA com­mits to trans­parency in its ju­ry­ing process for Santa Fe In­dian Mar­ket.

Native American Art - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Ali­cia Inez Guzmán

In a pub­lic ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion held on May 23, Ira Wil­son, the newly minted ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the South­west­ern As­so­ci­a­tion for In­dian Arts (SWAIA), in­voked the Diné con­cept of hózhó, a striv­ing to­ward find­ing bal­ance. When Wil­son stepped into his post in late Fe­bru­ary, the ju­ry­ing process for the 2018 sea­son had al­ready wrapped up. His role, as he men­tioned later, had been to right an un­steady ship. And so, when he in­voked bal­ance at the pub­lic pro­ceed­ings, it was in re­sponse to a long-stand­ing need for com­mu­ni­ca­tion about or­ga­ni­za­tional de­ci­sions that ap­peared shrouded in mys­tery. For­mer or cur­rent par­tic­i­pants of In­dian Mar­ket were look­ing for clar­i­fi­ca­tion on topics rang­ing from booth se­lec­tion, how to honor el­ders, ap­pli­ca­tion dead­lines and the ju­ry­ing process. The event was filmed in a Face­book live feed and many in the on­line com­mu­nity also re­sponded in real time with ques­tions, grievances, sup­port and sug­ges­tions.

The dis­cus­sion also cen­tered around the im­mensely thorny is­sue of ten­ure, the now-de­funct prac­tice of al­low­ing long­time par­tic­i­pants to main­tain a booth at In­dian Mar­ket with­out hav­ing to ap­ply or have their

work ju­ried into the show. Be­tween 1992 and 2015, “A ma­jor­ity of artists [in In­dian Mar­ket] were tenured so a smaller per­cent­age who didn’t have ten­ure sta­tus had to jury into the show,” Cliff Fragua, a sculp­tor from Je­mez Pue­blo, for­mer board mem­ber and past ju­ror, de­scribes. For those who had to ap­ply, the wait­ing listing could be up­ward of 10 years, leav­ing many artists feel­ing like par­tic­i­pat­ing in In­dian Mar­ket was an im­pos­si­ble prospect.

At first in­tended by the board of di­rec­tors to be tem­po­rary—two years—ten­ure even­tu­ally lasted for more than two decades. In that time, it had nat­u­rally be­come an ex­pec­ta­tion. With liveli­hoods at stake on both sides, its re­cent abol­ish­ment un­leashed a tempest of re­ac­tions—sup­port, shock and feel­ings of re­jec­tion alike. Amidst the re­sponses there has also been a clear de­sire within the new ad­min­is­tra­tion

and beyond for trans­parency, on the one hand, and the stan­dard­iza­tion of pro­ce­dures, on the other. Here, a new chap­ter of SWAIA is un­fold­ing, in which all artists com­pete against their peers for a place at In­dian Mar­ket. To be in hózhó, then, is to strike a bal­ance be­tween mul­ti­ple forces while tak­ing the nec­es­sary steps to­ward mend­ing the fault lines that have come to bear as a re­sult of the grow­ing pains the or­ga­ni­za­tion is cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. As this new chap­ter opens, the process of ju­ry­ing ap­pli­ca­tions will re­main piv­otal.

Nuts and Bolts

Cur­rently, there are 661 booths avail­able through the City of Santa Fe. To gain one of those cov­eted spa­ces, aspir­ing par­tic­i­pants all go through the same screen­ing process: fill­ing out an on­line or hard copy ap­pli­ca­tion, which com­prises sub­mit­ting high-qual­ity pho­tog­ra­phy, pro­vid­ing a short de­scrip­tion of the work, proof of tribal sta­tus and cer­ti­fi­ca­tions. The ap­pli­ca­tions are num­bered con­sec­u­tively de­pend­ing on when they are re­ceived; the 10th ap­pli­ca­tion to come in the door, for in­stance, would be num­bered “10.” This num­ber is used in the blind ju­ry­ing process so that ju­rors re­fer not to spe­cific creators, but to generic numbers. This is meant to en­sure against bi­ased ju­ry­ing or pref­er­en­tial treat­ment based on one’s per­sonal knowl­edge of the artist. Typ­i­cally, ap­pli­ca­tions open in Novem­ber and are due in mid- to late Jan­uary. As SWAIA’S FAQ page makes clear, all de­ter­mi­na­tions of ad­mis­sion, wait listing or re­jec­tion are based upon pho­to­graphs the artists send and with­out “con­sid­er­a­tion of the artists’ his­tory of awards, fam­ily legacy or any­thing else.”

To Navajo jeweler Lyn­don Tsosie sub­mit­ting high­qual­ity pho­to­graphs of art­work is key to ad­mis­sion. He has him­self been a judge twice and em­pha­sized that a pix­e­lated or blurry pho­to­graph or a back­ground, for in­stance a pat­terned blan­ket, that dis­tracts from the art­work can lead to a low score. “You don’t need ad pho­tos for judg­ing. Sim­ple pho­tos with the right light­ing and the right back­ground at 300 dpi or more,” are his rec­om­men­da­tion. Adrian Wall, a sculp­tor and jeweler who has also judged twice in the past, re­marks that it wasn’t un­til af­ter ap­ply­ing three times and get­ting wait­listed twice that he was ju­ried into the show. Echo­ing Tsosie, he also be­lieves that hav­ing a pool of qual­ity pho­tog­ra­phy taken over the course of the year is next in im­por­tance to mak­ing ex­cel­lent work. It’s also key to es­tab­lish scale for works that are es­pe­cially small, like minia­ture pots.

“Ju­ry­ing is one of the sev­eral pieces that form the core of In­dian Mar­ket,” Wil­son ex­plains, not­ing that SWAIA looks to ex­pe­ri­enced spe­cial­ists (artists, cu­ra­tors, col­lec­tors and art ed­u­ca­tors) in com­pat­i­ble fields to make the de­ter­mi­na­tions of ad­mis­sion. “When a per­son puts them­selves into the po­si­tion of get­ting judged, they’re trust­ing the process,

hop­ing the jury is un­bi­ased, un­der­stand­ing of craft, ma­te­ri­als and de­sign,” as Joan Ca­ballero sums up. A dealer and col­lec­tor of Na­tive art as well as a for­mer judge and board mem­ber, she notes that the process of screen­ing is nec­es­sar­ily sub­jec­tive and re­lies on a deep past knowl­edge of art and crafts­man­ship. It is a process of “mak­ing points of com­par­i­son” un­til the pool fi­nally shrinks and a “few rise to the top.” It takes a close anal­y­sis of works and if any as­pect of the crafts­man­ship (the amount of epoxy used on a chipped in­laid piece of jew­elry, for in­stance) comes un­der ques­tion, that sense of un­cer­tainty can de­fine the fate of the artist’s ad­mis­sion or re­jec­tion. The notes sec­tion of the ap­pli­ca­tion is where artists can con­cisely clar­ify their process.

When ju­ry­ing ap­pli­ca­tions, ju­rors con­sult four cri­te­ria: tech­ni­cal ex­e­cu­tion, con­cept/de­sign/ cre­ativ­ity, aes­thet­ics and In­dian Mar­ket stan­dards, each val­ued at up to 25 points for a pos­si­ble to­tal score of 100. Stan­dards can be up­hold­ing the use of cer­tain ma­te­ri­als while pro­hibit­ing oth­ers. Fragua men­tions that “resin isn’t al­lowed be­cause of the po­ten­tial for mass pro­duc­tion,” even if some ex­cep­tions are made for unique resin sculp­tures. Other ex­cep­tions in­clude the use of can­vas for paint­ing. Re­con­sti­tuted turquoise

and man-made gems will also not be con­sid­ered. As for bronzes and prints, while eas­ily re­pro­duced, they are ad­mis­si­ble in lim­ited edi­tions.

“There are tech­niques, ma­te­ri­als, me­dia that are con­stantly coming into the mar­ket,” Fragua points out. “That can some­times be con­tro­ver­sial. It takes time; re­search has to be done. Just be­cause one or two artists are do­ing that work, we don’t have to make a whole new cat­e­gory.” The shifts in me­dia have war­ranted a cer­tain kind of flex­i­bil­ity on the part of SWAIA and an evo­lu­tion in In­dian Mar­ket stan­dards. For those with whom the ju­ry­ing process has been mys­ti­fy­ing, Fragua’s rem­edy is for “SWAIA artists to vol­un­teer and they will have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing.”

The goal for hav­ing an all ju­ried show is not to push long­time par­tic­i­pants, many who iden­tify as tra­di­tional creators, out of their place in In­dian Mar­ket, but to re­main true to SWAIA’S mis­sion. In fact, tra­di­tional creators had the chance to jury into the mar­ket for their first time in re­cent years just the same as con­tem­po­rary artists. Still, tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary creators are not in op­po­si­tion or com­pe­ti­tion even if the di­a­logue has been mired in just such bi­na­ries. Of­ten por­trayed as a scarab fixed in am­ber, tra­di­tion is rather a con­tin­u­ally evolv­ing set of tech­nolo­gies and as­so­ci­a­tions from an­ces­tral to an­thro­po­log­i­cal, just as con­tem­po­rary Na­tive art al­ways re­mains stead­fast in its roots. And while help­ful to some in defin­ing art­work, the terms can have the un­for­tu­nate ef­fect of box­ing mean­ing and mak­ers into di­vi­sive cat­e­gories. The two are not sep­a­rate on the time­line of cul­tural pro­duc­tion but in­stead walk a par­al­lel path.

Along those lines, the rev­er­ence for el­ders and what they pro­duce has been con­tin­u­ally reaf­firmed across the board. “Our cul­ture says that our el­ders come first and I made sure to help my mother ap­ply [the past two years] and en­cour­age other artists to help their el­ders, too,” Fragua ex­plains, ref­er­enc­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties that older pop­u­la­tions face with tak­ing pho­tog­ra­phy,

sub­mit­ting an on­line ap­pli­ca­tion or saving images to a USB drive or CD. Oth­ers may face ob­sta­cles like lack of in­ter­net ac­cess, for ex­am­ple. SWAIA is now em­bark­ing on out­reach in tribes, set­ting up booths in var­i­ous Pue­b­los, Hopi, Zuni and the Navajo Na­tion, to help artists fill out ap­pli­ca­tions.

Mov­ing For­ward

“As the new ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, the one thing I want to achieve in the next few years is to peel the skin of the onion back and al­low for trans­parency,” says Wil­son. As far as ju­ry­ing goes, Wil­son plans to gather data about other ju­ried art shows to pro­vide bench­marks for SWAIA’S own evolv­ing model. He is well aware of and open about claims of un­scrupu­lous ju­ry­ing prac­tices in the past, whether the re­sult of bias on be­half of col­lec­tors or artists, or in­ex­pe­ri­ence. The Na­tive art world is small, and blind ju­ry­ing re­quires an added sense of neutrality when look­ing at work that is read­ily rec­og­niz­able by crafts­man­ship alone. To that, his rem­edy is to widen the ju­ry­ing net beyond the re­gion to in­clude spe­cial­ists from around the coun­try with the hopes of a work­able on­line sys­tem, as well as to re­spon­si­bly vet ju­rors and their ex­per­tise. In time, a new artist com­mit­tee will be formed to con­front artists’ con­cerns, but also to seek out their opin­ion on ju­rors who will main­tain a com­mit­ment to neutrality and hon­esty.

With a sense of calm about him, Wil­son was clear about the chal­lenges the or­ga­ni­za­tion has met and will con­tinue to meet, many of which go far beyond the ju­ry­ing process. Mov­ing for­ward though, he sees him­self as a uni­fier and, above all, a lis­tener.

2. SWAIA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor di­rec­tor Ira Wil­son

4. Sculp­tor and jeweler Adrian Wall.

3. A vis­i­tor views the 2017 award win­ners. Photo by Daniel Nadel­bach.

4. An artist fills out an In­dian Mar­ket ap­pli­ca­tion, with work to be ju­ried.

A cou­ple brings jew­elry to ap­ply for In­dian Mar­ket dur­ing an out­reach visit.

Jeweler Maria Su­sanna Lo­vato shows off a photo of a past In­dian Mar­ket.

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