SANTA FE — Currently on view at Gerald Peters Contemporary are dynamic solo shows of two Indigenous artists, Steven J. Yazzie (Diné/Laguna Pueblo) and Patrick Dean Hubbell (Diné); each diving into conversations on memory, appropriation, and land.
Yazzie’s installation Throwing Stars Over Monsters, the more expansive of the two shows, is a sweeping study of Indigenous landscape. The Denver-based artist, who is known for their lush canvases, video work, and installations, muses on land, how we see it, experience it, and move through it, all while interrogating how mechanized and digital technology’s intersection with culture shapes our perceptional readings of the natural world. Returning to his ongoing series Drawing and Driving (2006–present), Yazzie situates his body in a gravity-powered vehicle, which is affixed with an easel and paper, and draws his surroundings as he passes by them, all while trying to avoid crashing. Though the work pre-dates social media platforms, one cannot help but ponder the allegorical significance of viewing the world speeding past you while multi-tasking attempts to steer, capture, and record the experience — albeit it abstracted and altered.
In a new body of work, Yazzie incorporates still photography into his practice for the first time. These works reproduce places and imagery from northern parts of the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico and are imbued with narratives from Diné cosmologies and histories of place. The photographs and accompanying video installation, “EL – D1 (Earth Lines – Dinétah 1)” (2023), play with spatial relationality, reworking and reimagining readings of time, place, and location, creating an almost disorientating flattening of space and near obfuscation of the horizon line. That’s how the artist disrupts and dislodges conventions of landscape as genre, which are often tied to a Eurocentric mode of artistic production. Yazzie replaces these colonial tropes with non-linear continuums of Indigenous artistic production.
Also in Yazzie’s exhibition are four new paintings, each an abstracted landscape that touches on the liminality of coming into being and ending, a moment between beauty and decay that emphasizes the fragility or perhaps the natural world’s current precarity, with increasing occurrences of climate catastrophe, land-rights abuses, and environmental racism.
Hubbell’s exhibition, You Embrace Us, though more intimate in its size, does not pull any punches. As a continuation of Hubbell’s ongoing series Untitled Appropriation (2014–present), the works in the show pointedly probe the appropriative commodification of Indigenous visual and material culture that manifests, in part, through the mass production of colonial imitations of Native designs, motifs, and objects. Hubbell procures these poorly executed copies of Indigenous blankets, ubiquitously available in gas stations, curio shops, and souvenir emporiums that are common in reservation border towns, and applies layer upon layer of paint to the manufactured replicas, obliterating their previous legibility and replacing it with an Indigenous agency. The work is an act of reclamation and re-appropriation; dismantling blatant distillations of Native visuality for profit that continue to commit and perpetrate harm against Indigenous artists and communities.
Hubbell, who lives in the Navajo Nation, makes work that often plays the edge between painting and textile, repudiating any difference between them by invoking culturally significant patterns and themes found in Diné weaving and incorporating them into his practice as a painter. He often elects to keep canvases unstretched and instead uses those same stretcher bars as armatures for draping, folding, and (re)presenting painting and textile as one and the same as an act of displacing coloniality in its expectation of what is “high art” what is not, and how paintings are meant to be displayed.
In “Within The Darkness, The Stars In The Night Sky Came To Reclaim Their Stories and Their Songs” (2023), Hubbell continues this interrogative dive by sourcing five mass-manufactured blankets that feature reductive dominant cultural interpretations of Diné and other Southwest tribes’ aesthetics. Hubbell then thoughtfully defaces the blankets by splattering and dripping paint down the fibers. The counterfeit textiles are hung from single points on the top portion of a frame, their weight gathering at the bottom, dangling like carcasses of colonialism from an armature of their own making. The series, as the artist states, is meant “to intentionally transfigure these colonial reproductions and furthers the conversation of Indigenous inclusion.”