Exhibit of Native art debuts in Brooklyn
Twenty-five indigenous artists present contemporary paintings, drawings and sculptures
NEW YORK - On the evening of March 6, a lively crowd gathered at Long Island University's bustling downtown Brooklyn campus for the opening of the exhibit, ''Native Voices: Contemporary Indigenous Art.'' College students, artists and art collectors exchanged air kisses and consumed wine and cheese while viewing contemporary works in two white-walled, glass-fronted galleries flanking a courtyard. The show will run through March 28.
The 35 pieces on display ranged from a mobile by Miranda Belarde-Lewis, Tlingit/Zuni, a Seattle printmaker and author who is a relative newcomer to the gallery scene, to paintings by veterans including Mario Martinez, Pasqua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, who lives in New York and whose works have long appeared in major museums, including the National Museum of the American Indian in New York and the Heard Museum in Phoenix. As the event got under way, Lorenzo Clayton, Navajo/Dine', who teaches at the prestigious art school of The Cooper Union in Manhattan, painted a 9-foot-tall monolithic column in bold vertical stripes of acid green and black.
Related exhibitions of indigenous art could be seen at two more Brooklyn galleries: Kentler International Drawing Space (where the show will run through March 29) and FiveMyles (which runs through April 20). In all, the three exhibitions offer 50-some pieces by 25 Native artists, curated by art critic and author Deborah Everett and curator and producer Raquel Chapa, Lipan Apache/Yaqui/Eastern Band Cherokee.
At the Long Island University show, examinations of identity were evident in the works, which included references to both colonialism and today's ever-increasing global awareness. Elements of world cultures appeared, as in the sinuous blue coils of a Chinese dragon in a painting entitled "Bicultural" by Jason Lujan, Apache.
Another artist, Jeffrey Gibson, Choctaw/Cherokee, wrote that he is searching for a utopian landscape. His quest has been shaped by a 21st century mix of disparate influences, including ''contemporary and historic powwow regalia, cultural adornment of non-Western cultures [and] techno-rave and club culture.''
For Martinez's part, he placed the vibrant, swirling natural and abstract shapes in his large-scale paintings squarely in the Western modernist tradition. ''The colors are not symbolic,'' he said. ''They have formal relationships, like a language.'' Further, he stated flatly, ''The imagery is not Yaqui.'' Much of the excitement of his work, and that of other artists in the show, lies in their efforts to understand who they are and what images they are willing to use, then to pick up paint, charcoal, paper and canvas and make their
Sarah Sense, Chitimacha/Choctaw, takes pop culture representations of what it means to be Indian and female and transforms them via manipulated photographs, two of which were included in the show. To make her pieces, she first slices into thin strips oversize digital photographs of iconic figures such as an Indian princess, a gun-toting cowgirl, Marilyn Monroe and Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. She then interlaces the narrow bands with transparent and mirrored mylar ribbons to produce woven rectangles that are approximately two feet by four feet. Her weaving patterns are traditional Chitimacha basketmaking designs, but the result resembles a digitized photograph - uniting old and new and literally reformulating the cliches.
''I'm taking on the stereotypes and putting them out there as ridiculous,'' Sense said. ''This lets me figure out who I am and what all this means for my generation.''
Sense has also worked on the Chitimacha reservation, about 100 miles west of New Orleans. One project was part of a tribal language-preservation program; it included a mural of plants and animals, along with their Chitimacha names, that Sense made with preschoolers at an early learning center. ''It was great to see the little kids interacting with the figures as they painted,'' she said.
Sense uses her art to help maintain not just language, but also the ancestral weaving patterns. ''There are only three Chitimacha basketmakers left,'' she said. ''Making this work is part of my responsibility to my community.''
For more information on the exhibits, visit the New York City's American Indian Community House Web site, www.aich.org, and click on calendars.