Be careful when you step into Pamala Martinez-Henderson’s art installation called “The Pink House.” You might trip over an iron on the floor.
As she invites a visitor into the area decorated with cardboard furniture and appliances, and real-life objects, Martinez-Henderson says, “I put that iron there on purpose. That’s the way my mother’s house was. There was stuff all over the place.”
Martinez-Henderson (Diné, Chiricahua, Mexican, African American) is one of 13 graduating seniors from the Institute of American Indian Arts whose work is on display in the Balzer Contemporary Edge Gallery on the IAIA campus.
The gallery, at 83 A Van Nu Po, is convenient for south-siders and about a half-hour’s drive from downtown, but the exhibition, on display through Dec. 10, is worth the trip from anywhere. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
Visitors to the Balzer are greeted by Martinez-Henderson’s arresting work. The native of Haystack, New Mexico, said she created”The Pink House” to heal from the trauma of having her home destroyed after her mother died.
According to the artist’s statement, “When my mother died at the hospital, our home was dismantled and burned according to custom, but this was not entirely true. In Diné tradition, homes are burned, destroyed, or sealed off only when the person dies inside. This event caused me to lose connection to my mother, to the land and to my identity.”
The opening reception for “Thirteen” on Nov. 14 came near the birthday of Martinez-Henderson’s mother. She honored the occasion by placing a piece of birthday cake on the cardboard table in her installation.
When the exhibit is over, the artist said she plans to continue her healing process by burning the cardboard table, woodstove, refrigerator, stove and cabinet that she built for “The Pink House,” thus taking back control of the destruction and loss imposed upon her.
The graduating seniors’ exhibit at the Balzer gallery contains examples of the different forms of art taught at IAIA, including painting, photography, ceramics, printmaking and glassmaking. The exhibit was curated by Mattie Reynolds, who became director of the Balzer in August.
Reynolds (Choctaw) holds a master’s degree in arts management from the University of Oregon. She previously was exhibition coordinator and preparator at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) off the Santa Fe Plaza.
Reynolds, who teaches museum studies at the college, worked with each of the graduating seniors on their projects. She helped them choose the best way to present their work, including such details as the color of paint used for the backdrop of the gallery space where the art is displayed. “This is the grand finale for the seniors,” she said.
Nearly all of the work on display in the Balzer gallery and the other spaces where “Thirteen” is housed is deeply personal. The large linocuts in the hall leading to the gallery show tense scenes along the Mexico-U.S. border. The work was created by Makaye Lewis, a member of the Tohono O’odham tribe, whose land is divided by the border.
Not all of the graduating seniors aspire to be professional artists. Martinez-Henderson wants to be an art therapist. Austin L. Big Crow Jr. (Oglala Lakota), whose installation “Iktomi and the Boy” consists of giant spiders and their webs, said he wants to work in a gallery.
The goal of Jacob Frye (Tesuque Pueblo), whose display includes a variety of pots with different firing styles, glazes and designs, is to teach ceramics, according to Reynolds. He calls his exhibit of 19 pots “Frye’s Contemporary Revolt of 2019.”
In addition to Martinez-Henderson, Lewis, Crow and Frye, other seniors whose work is part of the “Thirteen” exhibit include Misty Blakesley, Scarlett Cortez, Jaida Grey Eagle (Oglala Lakota), Fransisco Fraire Jr. (Pascua Yaqui Tribe), Megan Kachiroubas, Jordan McKinney (Kickapoo), Eve Picher, Robyn Tsinnajinnie (Diné) and Brian A. Walker II (Deg Hit’an Athabascan and King Island Inupiaq).
Reynolds said she has been working to raise the profile of the Balzer gallery, including starting an Instagram account under the name “iaiabalzergallery.”