‘Color Riot’ – A vibrant look at Navajo resilience, at the Montclair Art Museum
By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
The Montclair Art Museum‘s latest exhibition features 70 living works – some dating from the 1800s – showcasing Navajo weaving experimentation and highlighting the resilience of culture.
“Color riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles ”includes works from 1860 to 1930, as well as contemporary artists. Historic textiles, according to the museum, are rooted in the period between 1863 and 1868, when the United States government forcibly placed 10,000 Diné – another name for the Navajo people, in their own language – in Bosque Redondo, an internment camp at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The exhibit uses the terms Diné and Navajo interchangeably.
During this time, the Diné weavers were influenced by Hispanic textiles. They incorporated aniline dyes and mass-produced woolen yarns in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, according to the museum. The exhibition takes the audience through time and shows how weavers influenced each other with their creations.
“This exhibit and the historic weavings date from a particular period when the Diné weavers were rebuilding themselves and recovering from a great historical trauma and a real social crisis,” said Laura J. Allen, Curator of Native American Art. at MMA. She coordinated the exhibit, first organized by the Heard Museum in Phoenix, for MAM. “And so, the weavings are so expressive, so colorful, so experimental because of this story. They weave to heal and weave to express themselves. So, this is the real story of the exhibition.
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“Color Riot” also includes works by nine highly regarded contemporary Diné weavers, including DY Begay and Marilou Schultz, and new artists Melissa Cody and Venancio Francis Aragon. It “really highlights how their work draws inspiration from the past and pushes the medium in exciting new directions,” Allen said.
In organizing the exhibition for Montclair, Allen wanted to start with contemporary textiles, a change from previous exhibitions, which ended with them. The exhibit is not organized according to a timeline, Allen said, but rather by style.
“There are a few weavings in the exhibit that date from before the internment camp. They reflect an older pattern, they don’t use synthetic dyes, ”Allen said. “Another part of the exhibition highlights these Hispanic textiles which had a great influence on them. “
She worked with Larissa Nez – a Diné scholar and member of ArtTable, who focuses on advancing leadership in the visual arts – in organizing the exhibit for Montclair.
As they browse the exhibit, visitors will discover a special room in the center – designed by Allen and Nez as a space for reflection, with music performed by Connor Chee, a Diné pianist and composer known for combining his classical piano training with his Native American heritage.
It’s “a space to stop and breathe and pay attention to those extra Diné voices,” Allen said.
In December, Allen said, artist Eric-Paul Riege will offer a public program to participate in a long-running performance – an act that takes a long time, as a form of artistic expression.
“He’s a dynamic performance artist and he’s Diné himself, but he’s taking these material ideas, philosophies and practices in a totally interesting new direction,” Allen said.
The last part of the exhibition, one of the largest spaces in the exhibition, is devoted to the largest textiles in the exhibition.
“This is really where I wanted to show the power of these weaves as far as possible,” Allen said. “I really tried to put the bigger weaves on this section. So when you are done with your journey, you end up stepping into this room. The visual power is undeniable.
She said “Color Riot” strengthens MAM’s Native American collection, created as the museum strives to preserve and display Native American and American artwork over more than a century.
“As a curator, my big project here is to facilitate the renovation of our new gallery with works from all over Native America. And we’re definitely going to take inspiration from what we’ve done here in terms of how we’ll present next, ”Allen said. “We will totally reimagine the way Indigenous art has been presented here. “
Allen wants visitors to not only learn about Navajo culture, but also leave with a keen sense of the artistic sophistication of Navajo textile weavers.
“And [I’d like them to] understand the cultural continuity over time that these design ideas, which to us may seem surprising as having taken place in the late 1800s, are still so relevant today – and that Diné culture and Diné resilience are present throughout the exhibition, ”she said.
“Color riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles ”is on display at the Montclair Art Museum until January 2.