More and more Native artists are part of gallery booths at Basel, as are galleries from Central and South America. They broke up the commercial feel and reinforced how this year’s Art Basel Miami had a sub-focus on women’s rights, conversation, heritage, and mixed heritage. K Art Gallery is a Native and Indigenous artists’ only gallery, and there were others in the NFT-for-a-cause side at Scope. Two artists stood out; Edgar Heap of Birds and Rose B. Simpson.
Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne & Arapaho) work was presented by K Art, Buffalo, NY with Columbus Day, a 2-D installation of forty-eight signs, handwritten in white capital letters, on red backgrounds. The signs’ phrases were each written twice – once for each block of twenty-four. The left backgrounds are deep ochre red, the color of blood. The right are weaker, more a dry dirt red. The two pulls are a prime print and a ghost print; the second print comprised of the leftover ink after the first pull. Time passes, generations pass, but the message does not change. Words are mostly in English, but some Spanish ones come in too – mostly insults. Phrases like ‘gold dust quota or slice away hands,’ ‘ships destroy native life create commerce,’ ‘not pre-Columbian our native spirits indigenous,’ ‘second Monday in October celebrate sadness,’ and ‘plague typhus cholera smallpox agents of genocide.’
Edgar Heap of Birds’ other inclusion in the fair, is Native Hosts. A series of roadway signs where each state name is printed backwards, spell out the names of indigenous peoples. Road signs are the most common way we comprehend and navigate where we are. Meant to be read quickly, they are made of weather-proof materials. Road signs are subversive ways to inform the reader about what space really is and to guide them through the land providing instructions: Open, closed, street names. Birds’ inclusion of “ ‘today your host is_____’ simply breaks down our ideas that a sign is bare location, instead showing us that land and people are communal places and should be considered with respect. Land rights matter to a culture. Words create reality, to make anyone who reads, understand.
Rose B. Simpson Presented by Jessica Silverman, San Francisco, CA
Rose B. Simpson has three sculptures in the Jessica Silverman booth; the smallest one has the most power. Simpson trained first as a ceramicist, but has moved into construction of textiles, fashion and steel. Storytelling is a deep part of her work. Guardian 1 is a female warrior caretaker at the same scale as many bronze cowboy figures, large enough to notice, but small enough to hold her own private story. The stereotype in figurative art in this scale is male glory, or female servitude, but Guardian 1, a female warrior is upright, standing strong and defiant, painted in white with black paint against the sun. She is bleeding, but it isn’t blood. She is bleeding white threads, out of many arrows in her arm. To me, she is bleeding out her whiteness, bleeding out her invisibility or mixed-race culture. The injury will not be enough to kill her. As an artist with native ancestry, part of me wishes I could bleed out some of my whiteness, but it doesn’t work that way in the flesh. Or, the arrows are cat-tails, growing out of her arm, their roots reaching through the air to find water. Guardian of her people and guardian of the Earth. An upraised arm is self-protection. To be a Guardian of the land, of her community, facing injury, bleeding for what you believe in, and cure – that’s women.