Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Family and Race Mixed-Media Exhibition Opens in 2013

Santa Fe, NM | Nov 26, 2012 –

The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts welcomes 2103 with one of several exhibitions and a symposium addressing the complexities of family, biography and race.

Thicker Than Water, featuring the work of photo and mixed media-based artists – Brenda Croft, Tom Jones, Greg Staats and Anna Tsouhlarakis opening January 19 reveals a broader understanding of communal ideologies that extends into and passes a western construct of individualism to encompass Indigenous references of community, clan and nation.

Greg Staats, dark strings, 2010

Greg Staats, Dark Strings, 2010

First employing autobiography, which often connotes concern with one’s personal genealogy and the nuclear family, the artists also incorporate portraiture, family photos, documentary film, private and public archives, and performance in their work to offer a rich platform for exploration. This journey manifests in Indigenous knowledge to initiate ideas of “blood” as metaphorical and racial/biological measures for family and communal relations.

“Understanding these various levels of belonging enable conversations where the imaginary and the real intersect, co-mingle and create space for a more comprehensive understanding of Indigenous realities in global contexts,” state co-curators Nancy Marie Mithlo and Ryan Rice. “The selection of artists from Canada, the United States and Australia facilitate this more expansive conversation on what the notion of ‘belonging’ means in a globalized 21st century.”

Throughout the exhibition, evidence of inherited blood memory and Indigenous worldviews serve as a powerful political trope that bears witness to the legacies of colonialism. Blood memory in this sense engages transgenerational experiences as a means of upholding the persistence of communal knowledge. The stories and the visual representations of the artist’s ancestors become the language of remembrance, belonging and place across borders and time.

“The body acts as a potent reminder of all that has occurred over the past centuries via acculturation, death, disease and survival,” Rice says. “Our blood, ever thicker than water, continues to instruct, remind and renew us as we move into new territories, imagine new stories and continue to create in the ever-evolving ways of our ancestors.”Thicker Than Water is supported by a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

The opening reception for Thicker Than Water, which runs through May 12, is at 5 p.m. January 18. A symposium, The Personal Archive: Memory and Imagination in Contemporary Art, with the artists is scheduled with the opening for 2 – 4 p.m. January 19. The Thicker Than Water symposium is supported by a grant from the New Mexico Humanities Council.

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About the artists:

Brenda Croft uses a layering of text and images taken from both historical and contemporary sources to question stereotypical/sanitized descriptions of Indigenous and non-Indigenous contact and cultural negotiation. A sense of movement informs much of the work – intangible links to place and time. Her 2003 Man about Town series continues Croft’s use of her family’s personal archives to uncover rarely told histories. Likewise, the series In My Father’s House (1999) and In My Mother’s Garden (1998) re-contextualizes family photographs in an effort to offer a broader analysis of cultural difference in Australia in the 21st century.

Born into the Ho Chunk community, Tom Jones has worked closely with his tribe to portray them from the inside out. By showing some of the tribe’s adaptations to the “white” culture of mainstream America, he hopes to give “a name and face to the individuals and their way of life in our own time.” In his newest work, Jones addresses the idea of phenotype in which enrolled tribal members present as white, and un-enrolled members appear stereotypically Native. These physical attributes are utilized as a means of questioning federal recognition policies based on the genealogies of blood, not culture. 

Greg Staats (Mohawk) explores his cultural heritage. In Reciprocity, a 2007 suite of four short video vignettes addressing memory, existence, condolence and spirituality, his personal narratives serve as affirmation of belonging, isolation and acceptance. They are wrought in a sensory experience that utilizes beauty as a “restorative aesthetic.” He mines the concepts and philosophical ideals of the Kaianeren:kowa of the Haudenosaunee, the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois. In response to Staats’ visual/verbal/sound recollections, viewers draw from their personal experiences to muse on the condition of human existence. In this way, memory becomes a central trope of knowing.

 Anna Tsouhlarakis (Navajo/Creek/Greek) was born in Lawrence, Kan., and graduated from high school in Taos, N.M. Her family comes from the Navajo Nation and the island of Crete, Greece. Her work consists of various media including sculpture, installation, photography, video and performance art. In 1999, she received her Bachelor of Arts from Dartmouth College in Native American Studies and Studio Art. She then attended Yale University and received her Masters of Fine Arts in 2002. Participating in various art residencies, including the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and Yaddo, she has also been part of exhibitions at the Wave Hill Gallery in New York, Dreamspace Gallery in London, among others. In 2011, she was a recipient of the Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art.