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Awakening to harsh realities

“Seed” by Rose B. Simpson, ceramic, steel. (Courtesy of Chiaroscuro Gallery)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Chiaroscuro Contemporary has conjured a figurative response to the times in its annual contemporary Native arts exhibit.

Neal Ambrose-Smith, Rose B. Simpson and Duane Slick each put brush to surface and fingers to clay to reflect life in a pandemic nation. The show runs through Sept. 5 at and in the Santa Fe gallery at 558 Canyon Road.

Corrales painter Ambrose-Smith (Flathead Salish, Metis, Cree) embellished his work with text above Native American faces. Slick (Meskwaki/Ho-Chunk Nations) painted coyote masks to hide identities and protect the wearer. Santa Clara Pueblo artist Simpson produced dramatic figurative sculptures in ceramics, steel and leather.

Simpson’s “Seed” and “Can’t Unsee” address the social awakening that exploded during the pandemic. She says that this is a time to cleanse our minds and souls.

Of “Can’t Unsee,” she wrote in an artist’s statement, “This piece was made as the majority of our communities had rested enough and had enough space to reflect to awaken to the harsh realities of the state of our shared governmental systems. The realization of white supremacy, patriarchy, abuses of power and capitalism couldn’t be unseen once we opened our eyes to these realities. From the filming of police-people murdering Black men and women, to Indigenous children in cages along our southern borders, there is a call to movement when we cannot be in denial any more. There are rocks in my stomach, these rocks are prayers to action.” (There are 4 river stones in the bottom of the metal part of the sculpture.)

In “Do you ever get that feeling?” Ambrose-Smith used oil, acrylic and collage to express his frustration with those who pretend to be something they are not.

“Once at a dinner party, I met this person who introduced themselves to me, ‘Hello I’m wehjenk-al-et-hjkls-s.’ I thought, oh, boy, I don’t know what they just mumbled,” he wrote. “Then they said that was their Indian name and proceeded to tell me their favorite pemmican recipe. I was really sinking in that conversation. I don’t even like pemmican. Sometimes it’s good to have some “what if?” statements to run through your mind during a crisis.”

Slick’s acrylic paintings blend the subjects of oral and visual North American traditions with a focus on trickster strategies with a modernist sensibility. He teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.

“Some of them are in a chaotic state,” gallery director John Addison noted.

Additional works in the show, such as Mikayla Patton’s (Oglala Lakota) monotypes “Untitled Quillwork 1 and 2” reach beyond the pandemic to concerns of texture and pattern.

A 2019 Institute of American Indian Arts graduate, Patton is a printmaker who recently won a Roswell art residency.

“This year, she wanted to make a series of geometric abstractions,” Addison said.

The monoprints were inspired by quill work.

As a printmaker and painter, I am exploring matriarchal ideology by navigating its complexities through Lakota artistry, design and geometric forms, Patton stated.

“She’s been doing a lot of beading in the last few months,” Addison added. “Artists have had more time in the studio alone; it’s an interesting side effect to all this.”

Additional works on view include pieces by Rick Bartow (Wiyot), Lisa Holt (Cochiti), Harlan Reano (Santo Domingo Pueblo), Jeff Kahm (Plains Cree) and Emmi Whitehorse (Navajo).

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