Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Diego Romero

 By Dylan A.T. Miner, PhD

A True Tale, 2005, ink on paper, 11 x 14 inches, Photo courtesy of James Kelly Gallery

A True Tale, 2005, ink on paper, 11 x 14 inches, Photo courtesy of James Kelly Gallery

“Negative views toward Indian art made me stronger and firmer in the belief that my art was Indian art and that’s what it was about and it was going to stay that way.”[1] —Diego Romero

Firmly positioning his work within an Indigenous visuality, Diego Romero has built a career constructing ceramic vessels that elevate Pueblo life to Olympian stature.  A third generation professional artist, Romero was born and raised in Berkeley, California to a Cochiti father and a non-Native mother.  Upon completing high school, he returned to ancestral Pueblo lands and attended the Institute of American Indian Arts, before subsequently attaining degrees from Otis College of Art and Design (BFA) and University of California, Los Angeles (MFA).

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Fallen, 2009, Earthenware, 5 x 13 3/4 x 13 3/4 inches, Photo courtesy of James Kelly Gallery

Fallen, 2009, Earthenware, 5 x 13 3/4 x 13 3/4 inches, Photo courtesy of James Kelly GallerySince earning an MFA in 1993, Romero has developed an extensive exhibition record with works housed in significant public collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cartier Foundation, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Heard Museum, the British Museum, and the Scottish National Museum.

Working in a narrative style that evokes pre-contact Mimbres pottery, as well as Greek amphorae (two-handled vases) and Anasazi ceramics, Romero’s earthenware bowls and handled-vessels investigate the marginalized status of Indigenous history and society.  Evoking the anti-colonial writing of Frantz Fanon, who believes that “the native intellectual who wishes to create an authentic work of art realize[s] that the truths of a nation are in the first place its realities,”[2] Romero states that instead of using Indigenous “tradition” as insulated from historical change, he consciously evokes “the historic as a point of departure to reinterpret the contemporary.”[3] By using historically situated oral traditions as source material, Romero departs visually from the canonical work of Pueblo pottery and instead relies heavily on a narrative style gleaned from comic books and popular culture, specters of a childhood spent mingling in comic book stores.  The resulting composition transcends the materiality of the object and engages the viewer in humorous interplay in which the author’s overt anti-colonial content is seen as non-threatening to audiences and collectors.  The confrontational and subversive nature of the work is commonly overlooked in lieu of Romero’s excellent craftsmanship and artistry.

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Knot Bearers, 2009, Earthenware, 5 1/4 x 14 1/4 x 14 1/4 inches, Photo courtesy of James Kelly Gallery

Knot Bearers, 2009, Earthenware, 5 1/4 x 14 1/4 x 14 1/4 inches, Photo courtesy of James Kelly GalleryMerging autobiography with narratives of contemporary Indian life and stories of Pueblo resistance to colonial violence, Romero elevates Pueblo and contemporary Indian narratives to the level of the superhero, devices he draws from Greek pottery and comics.  When placed into an autobiographical context, his ceramic practice develops further layers of nuance and complexity.  For instance, his ceramic bowl A True Tale visually depicts a Spanish conquistador holding the recently dismembered hand of a figure whose hair is tied back in a chongo, the traditional Pueblo style.  This apparently harsh critique of the ongoing colonial violence inflicted on Indigenous peoples in New Spain is a palimpsest-like method of fusing autobiography with historiography that becomes apparent when one understands that Romero’s father lost his hand during wartime service in the U.S. military.  This investigatory nature of simultaneously inserting biographical material while interrogating the cross-sections of Indian life enables Romero to transcend the commonly provincial status of contemporary Indian art.

 

[1] Abbot, Larry. “A Time of Visions.” I Stand in The Center of The Good. Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.  www.britesites.com/native_artist_interviews/dromero.htm.

[2] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove, 1963), 225

[3] Gussie Fauntleroy, “Looking Forward: Mateo and Diego Romero Discuss Current Trends in Native Arts,”  Southwest Art (August 2000): 234.

Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at IAIA, Spring 2013

Web Based Resources

Kelly Kowalski. “Artisode 2.6 | Diego Romero | New Mexico PBS.” February 15, 2009.www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vWPWoKmqYY

This delightful video shows Diego Romero at work in his studio and building his process, collecting comic books.

SWAIA. “SWAIA and localflavor Magazine Artist Luncheon, Inn of the Anasazi, Santa Fe, NM, Feb 10, 2011.” SWAIA. February 26, 2011.www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQZzvIncMtQ

Southwest Association of Indian Arts three-artist interview with Diego Romero, Ricardo Caté, and Jason Garcia

Fauntleroy, Gussy. “Mateo & Diego Romero | Looking Forward: Trends in Native Arts.” Southwest Art, August 2000. www.southwestart.com/articles-interviews/featured-artists/looking_forward

In this article Mateo and Diego talk about marketing strategies used in the Native art world, by galleries, shows, and their own personal marketing.