Although the La Jolla Historical Society is an organization that helps preserve the past, its upcoming exhibit is a pivotal one that aims to remind viewers of the continued presence of Native Americans in Southern California and the art that some of them create.
The exhibit, titled “Voices from the Rez,” will be on view June 4 through September 4 at the Historical Society’s Wisteria Cottage Gallery. It is hosted by Historical Society Archivist Dana Hicks.
Artists include Chuck Contreras, Gail Werner, Gerald Clarke, Gordon Johnson, James Luna, Jamie Okuma, Johnny “Bear” Contreras, Robert Freeman, Sandra Okuma and Tracy Lee Nelson. All live on reservations in San Diego and Riverside counties and work in mediums ranging from painting and sculpture to fashion, narrative writing and music.
“People often refer to Native Americans in the past or say ‘They were’. But they’re not. They’re people who are here now and with us today,” Hicks said. of this exhibit will truly reflect that. There are very contemporary artists and we wanted to present their stories from a contemporary point of view.
The exhibit could have been approached as a history project, said La Jolla Historical Society executive director Lauren Lockhart, “but the goal was not to interpret the past for us, but to celebrate their accomplishments. and their contributions right now today and letting that message get through to their artwork.”
In addition to artwork, artists were asked to write personal statements and provide meaningful quotes to create a narrative. A map will show the reserves that the artists represent so that visitors can link the pieces to their place of origin.
The artists’ statements are “really deeply personal…and really beautiful,” Lockhart said. “They tell their life story and go beyond what we see in their works to tell a lot about their past.”
Hicks has worked with Southern California Natives “from Chumash to Kuumeyaay and Tongva to Cahuilla” over the past 30 years in various museums and educational capacities. Given her experience and after curating a similar exhibit in Los Angeles, she was asked to produce “Voices from the Rez” by former Historical Society executive director Heath Fox.
But Hicks said she didn’t want her voice in the exhibit at all, and her contribution was limited to a paragraph in the gallery’s entrance.
“I asked the artists what they wanted to say…and they naturally started to tell their life stories,” she said. “Every artist has different ideas of why they make their art and how they got started.”
Hicks said she hopes “the veil will lift from people’s eyes” when it comes to preconceptions about local indigenous tribes.
“When people come to see it, it will reveal some things about native people that they may not have realized before and open up a different world,” she said. “With Indigenous communities and Indigenous people over the years, there are a lot of stereotypes, and we want to change that.”
Lockhart said she hopes the exhibit will “inspire people to find connections” with Indigenous communities.
“People often refer to Native Americans in the past or say ‘They were’. But they are not. They are people who are here now and with us today. The artwork in this exhibit will truly reflect that. .
— Dana Hicks, La Jolla Historical Society Archivist
La Jolla sits on the ancestral homeland of the Kumeyaay tribe, and through this exhibit, Lockhart learned that the history of the creation of Kumeyaay is tied to the water’s edge.
“The proximity of water makes [the La Jolla Historical Society] geographically a suitable place to recognize the Kumeyaay,” Lockhart said. “It is fitting for us to celebrate the Kumeyaay culture and their long heritage of stewardship of this land.”
Lockhart said the show is meant to celebrate the range of artistic styles and expressions offered by artists and to be educational for its viewers.
“We hope that visitors will see the exhibition and think, ‘I didn’t know there were so many bookings’ or ‘I didn’t know about this artist’s work’ and wonder, ‘What don’t I know anything else about Indigenous communities?'” she said. “We want them to want to know more.”
An opening reception on Friday, June 3 will feature a blessing and bird singers and dancers.
The Historical Society will present three other events with the artists, in addition to the exhibition.
A “Meet the Artist” event with Johnny Contreras will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, June 17; a reading of Johnson’s works will be held at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 10; and a musical evening with Nelson will take place at 6 p.m. on Sunday, August 21.
‘Voice of the Ground’
When: From Saturday 4 June to Sunday 4 September
Or: Wisteria Cottage Gallery, 780 Prospect Street, La Jolla
Hours: Noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday
Information: lajollahistory.org ◆