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A connection across borders

These instructions are for a collaborative wooden installation designed by Sámi artist Carola Grahn. The installation, which has not been created yet, will be put together at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts by Navajo artist Autumn Chacon. The piece is called “Mother Son, 1 Year.” (Courtesy of IAIA Museum Of Contemporary Native Arts)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Starting this week, two shows will be opening at the Institute of American Indian Arts’ Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. One showcases indigenous artists from another side of the world, while the other focuses on issues in our own backyard.

Both exhibits, “Reconciliation” and “Sámi Intervention/Dáidda Gázada,” will be up until early 2020.

“Reconciliation,” which includes eight site-specific installations from both Native and Hispano artists, was born out of the 2018 decision to end Santa Fe’s controversial Entrada pageant.

The long-standing event came to exacerbate tensions between local pueblo and Hispano communities. The re-enactment of the 1692 Spanish re-occupation of Santa Fe 12 years after the Pueblo Revolt, part of the city’s Fiesta celebration and portraying the re-entry as peaceful, was protested as revisionist history of the colonization and oppression of the Native people.

According to MoCNA’s chief curator, Manuela Well-Off-Man, the museum’s show is centered around “truth-telling, healing, reconciliation, transformation.”

She said that while it’s important to acknowledge the impact that colonization had on pueblo communities, the main goal of the exhibition is to explore ways of moving forward. “And many of these artworks, I think they do that,” Well-Off-Man added. “It’s a positive message they convey.”

Over the past several months, eight local Native and Hispanic artists tapped for the project met to brainstorm ideas as a group. Other elements of the show included gathering community input, Well-Off-Man said. In MoCNA’s courtyard, there are plans to set up a “healing garden” using regional plants. In the flower beds will be signs with words and phrases from local groups about what reconciliation means to them.

The show was curated by Well-Off-Man, IAIA’s Collections Curator Tatiana Lomahaftewa-Singer and guest curator Estevan Rael-Gálvez, former state historian and ex-director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

Rael-Gálvez cited two concepts he says are important in conversations about healing. One is the idea “convergence” among communities, acknowledging how interconnected Native and Hispano cultures are in present-day New Mexico.

Symbolizing that idea, Well-Off-Man and Rael-Gálvez said, is the “Reconciliation” exhibit room’s centerpiece. The installation led by Lynette Haozous – of Taos Pueblo, Diné and Chiricahua Apache descent – will include thick, knotted, braided opes made from materials like yucca plant and bear grass.

For the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, pueblo communities used knotted ropes as a calendar . “So they ran from community to community with these ropes, and the ropes had a certain number of knots, indicating how many days are left until the revolt,” Well-Off-Man explained.

But the ropes also represent an intertwining. Visually, she added, they resemble a DNA double-helix. On the floor with the ropes, the artists and curators plan to place rocks, each from their own communities.

“We haven’t talked about that as a community,” Rael-Gálvez said of mixed ancestry. “We often talk about these two separate communities and that’s not true, and we want to speak truth to that power.”

Another healing concept is “mutualism,” or the idea of how we all need each other, said Rael-Gálvez. At the entrance of the gallery will be a series of yucca moths made from paper, by local sculptor Paula Castillo.

“The yucca moth – it’s a tiny insect, maybe an inch at most – lives in symbiosis with the yucca plant,” Well-Off-Man explained. “Each need each other, so the moth contributes to the pollination and in return the plant provides shelter and probably other nutrition for the moth, larvae and whatnot. This is a symbol for how communities here in our area also need each other. We cannot live in isolation.”

Cultural connections

The other exhibition, which will be in MoCNA’s South Gallery, highlights work from artists with Sámi roots. The Sámi people are an indigenous group from northern Europe, in parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Part of the exhibition’s name, “Dáidda Gázada,” comes from the Sámi language and roughly translates into “to make questions with art as a medium.”

Andrea Hanley, MoCNA’s membership and program manager, who is curating this exhibition, said the museum has previously had shows for indigenous artists from other parts of the world, including Australia and South America. With this show, she said, the museum was interested in expanding that reach.

In the exhibit space, there will be a film installation by Norwegian Sámi artist and architect Joar Nango. Hanley described the work, for which Nango documented an indigenous, nomadic community in Mongolia, as exploring ideas about contemporary indigenous architecture, materials and culture.

The show also will present a short documentary by Vancouver-based filmmaker Elle-Máijá Apiniskim Tailfeathers. Tailfeathers’ film, “Bihttos,” explores the artist’s relationship with her Sámi father and her Canadian, Blackfoot mother. According to Hanley, the narrative is one that can apply to people of many different indigenous cultures.

“It really allows a viewer to reflect about life, and where we come to see opportunity for growth and for change,” said Hanley.

For an installation made specifically for this show, Carola Grahn of Sweden, with help from the museum, found a way to work with Albuquerque-based artist Autumn Chacon without the two actually meeting.

Grahn – who is known for creating stacked-wood sculptures – gave instructions to the museum that the piece had to be created by a mother. Called “Mother and Son, 1 year,” it has two wood stacks: one that measures to Grahn’s height and the other to her son’s. Chacon, who meets the criteria for motherhood, will build the sculpture.

The two artists communicated via letter, shedding light on the broader picture behind the work. Those letters, Hanley said, will also be on display.

“(The letters) border on poetic, I think, and have created this connection that travels across borders,” Hanley said. “It talks about indigenous mothers, it talks about the support in loving, indigenous family systems and talks about them confirming they’ll raise their children knowing who they are and where they come from.”

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