Nora Naranjo-Morse exhibition at the NMAI
NEW YORK - An exhibition of installations by Pueblo Santa Clara-Tewa artist Nora Naranjo-Morse will run from Feb. 14 - May 9 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan. The exhibition is part of the museum's ongoing "Continuum: 12 Artists" series that presents showings of renowned, contemporary Native artists. The series pays homage to the spirit of George Morrison (1919-2000) and Allan Houser (1914-1994) who were influenced by European modernism and American art movements, and were originally rejected as "inauthentic" by mainstream art dealers, institutions, and even members of the Native American community. The artists featured in "Continuum" employ contemporary art techniques to address current aesthetic, cultural, social and political issues.
Naranjo-Morse, who comes from a prominent family of potters, strives to find a balance between the Pueblo Santa Clara world and American society in this current exhibition. Her installation "In the Landscape of the Same," is comprised of 200 10-inch clay cones and one black sphere made from the same clay, mined in Northern New Mexico, used by her great-grandmother to make utilitarian pottery (hence the inspiration of the title). "Transition," the second installation in the exhibition, includes a set of 10 six-foot clay columns and describes the many passages people take in life.
The artist works in a number of mediums, from print making to experimental films, but she felt that the traditional clay was the perfect medium when thinking of her own culture's continuum. "Clay has always been my anchor, because the people I come from have worked with it forever, so I naturally fell into it," Naranjo-Morse told Indian Country Today. "Even though I'm still working in this organic, raw form of clay, I am approaching it conceptually. When I was asked to be in the series I found the idea of a continuum very interesting. As much as I respect and appreciate the works of Houser and Morrison, the continuum, to me, was more connected to the process of clay work as a part of my culture. That's why I chose the material I did."
Naranjo-Morse first became interested in installations nine years ago when she was looking for different forms of expression. She began looking at the art of both Native Americans and non-Natives for inspiration and was drawn to conceptualism. "There's this constant from our cultural imprinting that never really leaves us," Naranjo-Morse said. "If we are allowed to express that freely we can access some very important cultural imprinting that makes us even more exciting and interesting, because we're bringing who we are, what we've learned, what we heard, the songs our people have sung, the language, and everything else, and we're manifesting that in what people call 'the avant-garde.'"
While the artist is not wild about the term "avant-garde" in describing the non-figurative style of Native art, she sees how the artists within the movement can connect in a very real way with the past that is not available to figurative painters. "The idea is of having something in quantity, because 200 cones are a lot of cones to make. Just going through that process was initially very intriguing to me. You start off with one cone and you are in a certain place, but by cone number 99 you are in a completely different place, you are relating to the materials very differently. That inspired the idea of things being the same, of things being multiple, and people having ideas that are the accepted and the norm. If you look at 'In the Landscape of the Same' you'll see there is a black sphere. In a way it's autobiographical because at times in my life I've felt that there is a lot of majority of thinking and there are people who have chosen different ways of life or have thought differently. To me, they are like that black sphere, in that they have been different, or they are going against the grain, going upstream. I found that whole idea very interesting and I manifested that in the clay." The installation takes up a square floor space of 12 to 20 feet, depending on how it is laid out.
The other major work in the show is "Transitions," which is made up of 10 textured and colored clay columns that range from six to six and a half feet tall placed in pairs of two. Naranjo-Morse had planned to also have a video in the exhibition, but she is not sure if it will be included in the final show. "The columns are messaging these images and thoughts, and the symbols of transition in someone's life, so it works like a passageway," the artist said. "These are two very big pieces, so to put them in a very narrow space at the NMAI is taking a lot of planning. If the video imagery works and is not visually distracting we will use it. We have to think about lighting; lighting the cones a specific way is very important to me because there have to be shadows on the floor to make the idea of multiples more present. If I have this video going that interferes with these different kinds of lighting, then that's not going to work. The video would be just images of the process of clay, showing the raw clay coming out of the clay pits, and the many stages it goes through, from gathering to drying, shifting, mixing, just a number of things to get it to where it is malleable material."
"Continuum" is a prelude to an exhibition of Morrison and Houser's work, which will be one of the inaugural exhibitions of the National Museum of the American Indian's new museum on the National Mall, scheduled to open in September 2004. The exhibition series has been organized for the National Museum of the American Indian by Truman Lowe, curator of contemporary art and Anya Montiel, curatorial research assistant for contemporary art. For more information, visit www.AmericanIndian.si.edu.