With the pandemic still raging and election results still disputed, maps have acquired a central presence in our lives.
They can establish borders or boundaries. They may distort to reflect the politics or agendas of their makers.
Open at 516 ARTS, “Counter Mapping” seeks to map against the dominant power structure to reclaim stories and memories of place.
These artists define their own maps.
The idea sprang from Zuni Pueblo, where co-curator Jim Enote is the director of the pueblo’s A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center. Enote led a similar project there, inviting several Zuni artists to create regional maps from a Zuni perspective.
The 516 exhibition explores geography, identity, politics and the environment through painting, sculpture, photography, video and installation.
These maps investigate Indigenous rights and environmental losses through art as activism.
“Some of us see the world as the maps depict it,” co-curator Viola Arduini said. “There is always something left out of the representation.”
Mallery Quetawki’s (Zuni Pueblo) 2018 “Healing Spirit” signifies connections to the land, air and water that tribal members cherish. The acrylic on canvas painting shifts from bright gardens and rainbows to lifeless and barren fields damaged from pollution and mining on tribal lands.
In the center stands the figure of Crow Woman, who uses her Indigenous prayer, hope and knowledge to “push back” the ailing earth.
“She represents the many Native individuals who have taken on the challenge to represent their communities in the scientific field,” writes Quetawki, who works at the University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy. “The designs that morphed from the petroglyphs are circuits representing the expansion of knowledge throughout Native Country, which includes both ancestral knowledge and those learned from university studies.”
Iranian immigrant Minoosh Zomorodinia (San Pablo, California) uses tracking apps to create her work.
“She uses her own body to walk and explore space,” Arduini said.
The artist created “Golden Route 5” using birch wood and acrylic gold.
“It’s the idea of mapping on the land where you don’t really belong; it’s a take on a virtual procession,” Arduini added.
Felipe Castelblanco’s (Colombia/Switzerland) two-channel 2021 video “Amazon Library/A Vertical Territory from Cartographies of the Unseen” focuses on the region between the high Andes Mountains and the lower Amazon. The area is an epicenter of land-use disputes involving the oil and mining industries, illicit farming (drugs), armed groups, Native communities and the Colombian state, the artist writes. Fragmented by opposing territorial claims, its
ecosystems have been disturbed by continuous violence.
The video shows areas surrounded the Rio Putumayo, an Amazon tributary.
Portland resident Ana Serrano’s “Latino McMansion No. 1” (detail) explores the intersection of her dual cultural identities – first generation Mexican American. Raised in Los Angeles, she is especially captivated by how residents alter and adorn their dwellings. For this exhibition commission, she is creating a work-in-progress structure from cardboard, paper, acrylic, balsa wood and archival photo prints.
“It represents a home being remodeled from a single story track home,” Arduini said. “It’s how Latinos alter the built environment. There’s this idea of cultural assimilation.”
Navajo artist Steven Yazzie produced a four-channel video of the tribe’s four sacred mountains and the colors black, white, blue and yellow in a 2017 still.
“It’s a mural landscape,” Arduini said.
“Counter Mapping” comprises part of 516’s cross-border collaboration “Desierto Mountain Time” spanning 13 organizations, five states and two countries.
The small arts organizations include institutions in Juárez, Mexico; El Paso; Taos’ Harwood Museum of Art; the Santa Fe Art Institute; the Roswell Museum and Art Center; Colorado College; the New Mexico State University Art Museum; Tucson’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Denver’s RedLine Contemporary Art Center.