The exhibition presents a trio of artists

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“I See Red: Indian Head Nickel,” Jaune Quick-To-See Smith (Citizen of Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, MT), 1994, mixed media on canvas, 72 72 inches. (Courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Art)

Once relegated to the periphery of the art world, a trio of women have spent decades combining art and activism.

Identity politics and multiculturalism surfaced in traditional artistic institutions during the 1990s.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Judith Baca and Mildred Howard already addressed these questions through collage, painting, sculpture and murals.

“Square Meal”, Mildred Howard, 2021, cast bronze and found object. (Courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Art)

Open at the New Mexico Art Museum in Santa Fe, “Poetic Justice” showcases the thematic intersections of this modernist trio. They used the power of art to critique political and social evils in a celebration of modernism, muralism and jazz.

“All three have worked in this socially charged manner for decades,” said curator Merry Scully. “They are well known and respected and perhaps deserve more than what they get.”

Artist Corrales Smith is a Salish member of the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Nation in Montana. Internationally recognized, she works across media, including painting, drawing, collage and printmaking.

The exhibition features seven of Smith’s large-scale paintings. She works in complex abstractions addressing social and cultural issues.

Smith’s “I See Red: Indian Nickel Head” and “I See Red: A Nickel for Your Thoughts” are spread over two 6-square-foot canvases; one painting shows the head, the other the buffalo. The US Mint minted the coin from 1913 to 1938.

The piece was commissioned by a New York gallery.

“I did it my way,” Smith said in a phone interview from Corrales. “It’s expressionist and it’s dripping with paint. He liked it so much that he ordered the other side.

“I See Red: A Nickel for Your Thoughts,” Jaune Quick-To-See Smith (Citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, Montana), 1993, mixed media on canvas, 72 × 72 inches. (Courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Art)

“I See Red: 10,000 Years” is inspired by a book on pictograms – rock engravings – across the Plateau region. The region includes parts of Alberta, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Wyoming.

“They were making these designs to express the life force that runs through everything,” Smith said. “This whole area is littered with cave paintings that people don’t know. “

Smith saw similarities between the cave work and his own.

“Everything I draw is always an outline,” she said. “Even the outline of the nickel; this is an outline that I could fill out.

Based in Venice, California, muralist Baca trained at La Tallera Siqueiros in Cuernavaca, Mexico, working with the students of renowned muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, who along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco formed the “tres grandes Of the Mexican mural movement.

Like them, Baca uses his art to record and modify the history of his people. His most famous work, the “Great Wall of Los Angeles,” tells a multicultural story of Los Angeles.

Painted through a drainage wash of the San Fernando Valley, it remains one of the largest murals in the world, spanning 2,754 feet, Scully said.

The exhibit features a detailed section of Baca’s depiction of the 442nd Infantry Division of Japanese American soldiers during World War II.

“It dates back to 1940,” Scully said. The men were one of the most decorated officers in the war. Many of them come from families deported to American internment camps.

“She works with history and education teachers and at-risk students to create these murals,” Scully added. More than 400 people contributed to the images.

“442nd Infantry (Japanese Americans), detail from the 1940s section of” The Great Wall of Los Angeles “, Judith F. Baca, 1981, lithographic edition of 40 copies. (Courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Art)

“When I first saw the wall, I imagined a long account of another California story; one that included ethnic people, women, and minorities who were so invisible in conventional textbook accounts, ”Baca wrote.

Bay Area African-American artist Howard is known for his large-scale sculptural installations and public works of art. She was raised by politically active parents who worked on community issues affecting their South Berkeley neighborhood and the civil rights movement.

Howard works with found and everyday objects to create his pieces. It pits the old against the new to create new meaning and new messages.

“I See Red: 10,000 Years”, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith (Citizen of Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, MT), 1992, mixed media on canvas, 60 × 100 inches. (Courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Art)

The artist created “Square Meal” from a lunchbox and a molded black hand.

“He talks about education, nutrition and fairness with that simple juxtaposition,” Scully said.

Howard also created model train cars from safes. She named the work “Tha Dogg Express” in tribute to rapper Snoop Dogg.

“Much of his work speaks of the African American contribution to culture,” said Scully.

The show also includes Howard’s installation “The Time and Space of Now,” as well as film footage she took as a 14-year-old girl.


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