When she helped coordinate a project of Chinese dissident Ai Wei-Wei with Navajo artist Bert Benally in a remote canyon in western New Mexico in 2014, Eileen Braziel became increasingly fascinated by land art, and by what happens when the worldviews of Native and non-Native artists come together.
Now, after coming to Peters Projects not quite two months ago as director and curator, Braziel is bringing a series of exhibitions to the gallery from artists who will be coming to the state to collaborate with Native individuals for new art that will be inspired by, or actually be installed on, New Mexico lands.
The year-long thematic program, which opened last weekend with an exhibition of works by Canadian artist Kent Monkman (Cree/Irish), is titled “Outside-In.” The title could be interpreted as non-Native artists looking in on Native cultures, non-mainstream Native artists being incorporated into the established art world, or even arts projects and objects from the outdoors being brought inside the gallery doors.
“We’re trying to be as open as possible to what comes out of this,” Braziel said. With cross-cultural sharing, the result can be a brand new type of communication, even something that could challenge art critiques of the future, she said.
“We’re inviting artists to come experience this place. Out of that would be a new body of work,” she said. “It’s really changing up the idea of ‘regional’ art, as well. Artists are coming here from New York City because we’re offering something new.”
The opening exhibition by Monkman doesn’t immediately have a New Mexico influence, but it sets the stage for the thematic concept with his sly borrowing of images and styles from 19th- and 20th-century artists, and then giving them his own satirical twist. In his paintings, Renaissance angels flutter above a neighborhood scene and residents tend to a victim misshapen by cubism, while a bull made out of rawhide that recalls Picasso hangs on a wall with arrows jutting from its hide.
“He reappropriates art history,” Braziel said of Monkman. “He throws off gender, art history, religion.”
His videos show himself in drag against classically painted European backgrounds, flirting with a bishop, wearing an Indian headdress and high heels amid Greek ruins, executing a wild dance amid a German scene.
“He’s challenging our perceptions in a very subversive way,” Braziel noted.
Monkman himself states, according to a news release, that he “constructs new stories through images that take into account the missing narratives and perspectives of Aboriginal peoples.”
The “failure of modernity” referred to in the exhibition title, then, might be that failure to include non-European/Anglo points of view in art history.
Collaboration in full swing
Future themed exhibitions will include works by both Native and non-Native artists, according to Braziel.
Coming up next will be Will Wilson (Navajo), who grew up in Tuba City and has focused on a series since 2005 called “Auto Immune Response,” in which he portrays Natives in a toxic landscape. He has described the works as “an allegorical investigation of the extraordinarily rapid transformation of Indigenous lifeways, the dis-ease it has caused, and strategies of response that enable cultural survival.”
His installation for Peters Projects will include construction of a greenhouse inside the gallery that will hold plants from the region, making “a statement about indigenous versus invasive” species, Braziel said.
The theme of Native/non-Native collaboration will get into full swing with Kiki Smith, a German-born artist living in New York City, who already has been in New Mexico developing her works that are scheduled to open April 29 in the gallery, said Braziel. Her media often include painting on silk, stitching, weaving and drawings. “She says she works from experiences,” Braziel said. “Not conceptual, more visceral … . We already have weavings she’s done to accompany her piece.”
Other artists who will be involved through the series include Chuck Close, Bruce Conner, Guillermo Galindo, Lewis Desoto, Masami Teraoka, Rupert Garcia, Faisal Abdu’Allah, Donald and Era Farnsworth, Patrick Dean Hubbell, Laural Roth, Jennifer Steinkamp, John Chamberlain and Jenny Holzer.
Hubbell, Braziel added, is from a family of weavers in the area of the Hubbell trading post in Ganado, Ariz., that adopted the name. The gallery already holds abstract paintings in black, white and red that he says are inspired by the landscapes that inspired the traditional weavings of the area.
“He will do a site-specific piece” for the Outside-In program, probably in August, she said.