Thursday, April 17, 2008

Native American Artists and Poets

Today I visited the Grace Carpenter Hudson museum in Ukiah, which is about to close its special exhibit on Art and Poetry from Native American California. Featuring 32 contemporary artists, the exhibit includes a number of women with whom I'm familiar, including painters Jean LaMarr, L. Frank Manriquez, Judith Lowry, Lyn Risling, and basket maker Julia Parker. The formal exhibit title is "Sing Me Your Story, Dance Me Your Home." Themes of sacred rituals, homelands, changing traditions, and more predominate. This was a rare opportunity to view these artists, who with California women artists in general are difficult to find in major museum permanent collections or at the elite art galleries. One of my criteria for art is an element of surprise, of the new, which resonates in most of this exhibit.

The poets were new for me, and equally effective. I regret not purchasing the small catalog that included the poems. The exhibit travels to the San Francisco Public Library on May 4, 2008 and to the Tulare Historical Museum on July 13, 2008.

For the first time too I could see the permanent gallery with Grace Hudson's art from throughout her career. I was reminded again of how the most exacting reproduction can never match the original. Certain paintings viewed that had struck me as sentimental now delivered a different emotional impact. Her appreciation for the Pomo peoples and culture, her primary subjects, is evident, but to reduce her to a painter of Native Americans is to underestimate some of her work. (Portrait is "Tarweed Gatherer," on exhibit at the GHM.)

When will fine artists be judged, as symphony musicians are today, without regard to their identities? Why is art that invokes Native symbols and beliefs somehow set apart in a different box? This is one of the unintended consequences of Ethnic studies and woman's studies, the isolation of the subjects of interest from the mainstream. I welcomed a comment by one painter that Indian artists don't exclusively address their identity in all their work, just as women artists do not invoke solely feminist themes. Following the Civil Rights movements, identity themes did become prominent, e.g. Judy Chicago, and one consequence has been a sense from some quarters that women and ethnic artists must invoke identity. It's like saying male novelists can have only men in their stories. Enough said.

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