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Natural storyteller

When the mother of Eric-Paul Riege was growing up, home was the metronomic thump of her mother’s loom.

When her son began weaving, her eyes welled at the percussive sound of his hands beating the wool.

“My Mom started to cry because she hadn’t heard that sound for so long,” Riege said in a telephone interview from Gallup.

The 24-year-old is the only artist from New Mexico included in this year’s SITE Santa Fe biennial, SITElines 2018 “Casa tomada,” opening in Santa Fe on Aug. 3.

Riege will create a hogan of looms instead of walls as the ancient home of Spider Woman, the spiritual being who taught the Navajos to weave.

As much womb as home, the piece will provide the stage for his own ritual dancing.

“I will embody the motions, gestures and poses of the processes and histories that go into weaving,” he said.

Eight 5-by-9-foot Navajo looms will form an octagon to represent the hogan. Inside it will hang two pieces of regalia when Riege isn’t dancing.

Riege conceptualized the installation after reading Julio Cortázar’s short story “Casa tomada.” The piece concerns two shut-in siblings caring for their ancestral home. A ghostly presence takes over the house, forcing the pair into the streets.

Written in revolutionary Argentina in 1946, the story became a metaphor at a time when its people could not speak openly for fear of being jailed or killed.

“I was thinking of it going back to weaving, and Navajo myths and rituals,” Riege said. “We have the story of the two twins. They came across Spider Woman’s cove. They follow her and they enter her house, and it has all these weavings and tools. She teaches them and the Navajo people how to weave.”

Born and raised in Gallup, Riege felt torn between town life and life on the reservation as an Indigenous person.

“There’s a lot of border town violence,” he said. “We were called the Indian capital of the U.S. and the most patriotic small town in the U.S. In the 1990s, we were labeled ‘Drunktown, U.S.A.’ There were all these weird outsider labels. Also, the town is really run on exploitation of Native American life and Native American craft. The shops are not Native-owned. It’s marketed by people that don’t know the history or the symbols.

“When I started creating art, I was very focused on authenticity,” he continued. “All of my work now is the celebration of craft and the celebration of histories.”

The installation also will include Riege’s collage work mixing the textures of wool with foam.

“I like the lightness of it,” he explained. “You want to cuddle with it, in a way. I love people to touch my work. If their hands are dirty and they grab it, I have the story of this person in my work.”

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