Exhibit challenges the traditional idea of a singular New Mexico story - Albuquerque Journal

Exhibit challenges the traditional idea of a singular New Mexico story

“Stages of Tectonic Blackness: Blackdom,” Nikesha Breeze, performance, 2021. (Courtesy of 516 Arts)

Taking a cue from the late Rudolfo Anaya, the light, the land and the mysticism of New Mexico meet center stage at 516 ARTS.

“Many Worlds Are Born,” part one of “Art Meets History,” showcases that constellation of community and history, expressed through art.

The exhibition challenges the traditional idea of a singular New Mexico story. To develop the projects, many of the artists researched the Albuquerque Museum’s Photography Archives and participated in 516’s educational program Artist Lab: Art Meets History in New Mexico. Co-curated by Ric Kasini Kadour and Alicia Inez Guzmán, a series of public conversations and activities accompanies the exhibition.

Jeanna Penn’s “Winona Day Nursery” is a 24-by-48 inch collage with archival photographs inspired by her research into Albuquerque’s South Broadway Black community from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Penn is the co-owner of a commercial muralist company in Oakland, California.

“I came looking for the Black community of Albuquerque specifically,” she said. “I’m African American. I’m a collagist.

“I like the idea of taking pieces in time and putting them together and creating a new narrative,” she continued. “I was looking at how the community provides for the children.”

Penn discovered Albuquerque’s Winona Day Nursery, established in the 1930s-’40s on Arno Street by the Black women’s Winona Art Club.

“It was created to provide child care to the workers on the railroad,” Penn said. “It was difficult for Black parents to find space for their children.”

She also researched the Bailey House, a rooming house located at Second Street and Mountain Road. Owners Madora and W.L. Bailey both worked for the Santa Fe Railroad.

“They built this house – a Sears kit house,” Penn said. Sears sold catalog and kit houses primarily through mail order from 1908 to 1940.

“Apparently, it was the biggest, grandest Black-owned house in Albuquerque,” Penn said. “They rented rooms to Black travelers. Apparently, it was a regular stop for musicians. This would be something you’d find in the Green Book.”

The Green Book listed lodgings open to African Americans during segregation.

The Ideal Hotel on Marquette Avenue, also open to Black visitors, featured both a funeral home and a nightclub.

“It had a saloon kind of feel to it,” Penn said.

But it was illegal for African Americans to drink in bars in Albuquerque in the late 1930s, although the owners kept applying for a liquor license.

“They were repeatedly getting denied and denied,” she said. “I think it took them years and years.”

The structure that once housed the Winona Day Nursery is the only one of the three remaining today.

Multidisciplinary artist Nikesha Breeze will present “Stages of Tectonic Blackness,” a collaborative filmed performance exploring Blackdom, the first and only all-Black community founded in southern New Mexico. The collaborators include Breeze, a second dancer, a violist and a filmmaker.

“Over 300 Black people moved here from all over the country,” the Taos artist said. “They owned over 12,000 acres about 20 miles south of Roswell.”

The people established their own school and a community church.

Breeze also created a site-specific sculpture composed of found objects from the area – animal bones, earth and tools.

“Our collaboration is really about pulling up to the surface the lost and erased history of the African American diaspora,” Breeze said.

Blackdom emptied in the 1920s due to crop infestations, well water depletion and racial politics. Many moved to Vado in Doña Ana County.

Ceramicist Margarita Paz-Pedro responded by photo transferring Albuquerque Museum vintage photographs of Indigenous peoples’ hands onto four porcelain cups.

The Albuquerque artist titled the black and white works “Mano a Mano.”

“It could mean side by side, back to back or a take down or a conflict,” Paz-Pedro said. “I like that people can translate it as they see it.”

She added historic pueblo pottery designs to her work.

“My photos look at the hands that shaped and made New Mexico as a reminder not to forget the struggle of the original inhabitants to counteract the initial use of historic photographs,” she continued.

Paz-Pedro teaches at both Albuquerque’s La Academia de Esperanza charter school and at Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts. She creates mosaic tiles and has worked on murals at the Albuquerque Convention Center and the Juan Tabo Library.

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