Fourteen artists, including five Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community members, have brought their creativity and artistry together for the newest exhibit at the Heard Museum, which opened on February 6. Confluence: Inter-Generational Collaborations features a unique merging of artistic talent and American Indian culture between seven pairs of artists from various tribal nations. Each artist pair consists of one established artist (the mentor) and a younger artist just starting out (the mentee) who worked together to create unique artwork.
The seven mentors were chosen by the Heard Museum based on their established artworks and their current involvement with Native communities. The seven mentee artists, ranging between the ages of 16 and 20, were chosen in September 2015 after a call for artists was advertised by the museum.
After the artists were paired up, they had very little time to come up with a concept and execute their ideas. All artists found that time through phone calls, texting, emailing or meeting one-on-one, and all had a weekend to work inside the museum to put the final touches on their creations.
The word “confluence” is not a word one uses on a regular basis. In fact, it is a geographical term which is used to describe the merging of two rivers becoming one. For any artist or art lover, though, the word takes on new life thanks to the Heard Museum.
The Confluence exhibit represents not only the merging of two artists and their creative processes, but also the mentor/mentee aspect as it applies to Native traditions of passing down cultural information to the next generation. Many indigenous communities today have high populations of young people; youth even outnumber elders in some communities.
“What does this mean for cultural barriers going forward? If you’re 30 and technically considered an elder, how do we continue to move our culture and carry on the traditions that we have?” said Jaclyn Roessel, director of education and public programs at the Heard and curator of the exhibit. “I think that is something that is really exciting for this exhibit.”
The co-created works of art cover a large range of mediums, including fashion design, painting, metalsmithing, film, photography and video game design. Although some of the artist pairs do share a cultural background—some are from the same community and/or work in the same artistic medium—they all have different ways of creating and different ways of learning.
The reasoning behind the Confluence idea, Roessel explained, is that “the work is about modern Native people working today and really reflecting on themes and trends that are happening in Indian Country right now …. This idea really originated by thinking and brainstorming about how leadership and art are connected.”
Along with the collaborative pieces, the exhibit also features individual artworks from both the mentor and mentee artists. Some of the mentees had never tried working in new mediums, and mentors saw this as an opportunity to teach them a new skill.
SRPMIC member Leslie Sampson was used to drawing with pencil, but in her collaborative piece with Navajo artist Darylene Martin, she painted designs on the fabric that was used for the dress they created.
Same with Hopi artist Avery Lomayestewa, who was teamed up with Michael Teller Ornelas (Navajo). Lomayestewa and Ornelas created a video game in which Lomayestewa designed all the digital graphics, a completely new art form for the young artist.
For SRPMIC members Anthony “Thosh” Collins and Sarah Chiago, they took this opportunity to combine their photography skills for a collaborative series of photographs. The pair traveled to many Valley mountain landmarks to capture the photos for their series.
“One thing that we both liked about photography is the ability to portray the landscape of our earth a certain way,” said Collins. “A lot of the mountains in locations around here have names like ‘Camelback’ or ‘Papago Park,’ [but] we have original (tribal) names for them. We thought, let’s go out and explore these locations of the city and show them in a different light, and show the confluence of city and earth.”
While the exhibit was a way for established artists to share some skills with the younger generation, the mentors were definitely learning right along with them.
Painter Warren “Tsishpiah” Montoya (Santa Ana Pueblo/Santa Clara Pueblo) couldn’t help but see a reflection of his younger self in his mentee, SRPMIC member Dominic Burke. “Me and Dominic, we come from the same place. I grew up on the [reservation] and I knew I had some skills with my artwork, but there wasn’t anyone in my life who pushed me to that place to make it something I could be proud of,” said Montoya. “We had some real conversations about some of the challenges that people face on the reservation. [Challenges] that are there to keep us down, that don’t want us to succeed, but they are so common. To have those talks with a younger person that I believe in, that I saw this magic and light in, I’ll never forget it.”
The exhibit not only inspired the mentors and mentees who created it and the curators who believed in it, but it now sits ready to inspire those who come to see and appreciate it.
“I don’t think inspiration stops,” said Sampson, “it just keeps going.”
Confluence: Inter-Generational Collaborations will be on display at the Heard Museum in Phoenix through April 17. For more information, please visit www.heard.org.