TEMPE, Ariz. — This year marks the 10th anniversary of Arizona State University Art Museum’s biennale exhibition, Map(ing) (Multiple Artists Printing Indigenous and Native Geographies). The exhibition is part art show, part residency: Each year, the exhibition director invites indigenous North American artists to participate in a collaborative residency with graduate printmaking students from the university. Featuring 28 works, the show illustrates the range of the printmaking medium and the variations that can be explored visually through the process. The nuance of the media echoes the nuance of the subject matter: indigeneity in North America. As the art and cultures of indigenous tribes often get siloed via a stereotypical lens, this exhibition helps illuminate the wide variety of cultural differences as well as the similarities between the 562 federally recognized indigenous tribes in the US, and the First Nations tribes in Canada.
During an accompanying panel discussion — with the exhibition director and founder Mary Hood, as well as artists Brenda Mallory (Cherokee), Cannupa Hanksa Luger (Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara/Lakota), Hannah Claus (Tyendinaga First Nation/Mohawk), Rory Wakemup (Chippewa), and Sarah Sense (Chitimacha) — the audience was walked through the processes these artists employed. One of the unique aspects of the residency is the fact that the artists invited to participate are not printmakers: They all work with other materials and media in their practice, which made navigating the foreign landscape of printmaking an interesting journey.
Some of the pieces include abstract forms in varying palettes and tonalities, such as Brenda Mallory’s “Focus Break” (2017), a beautiful collagraph with a paradoxical aesthetic. On one hand, it is light and has amazing movement; on the other, it is heavy, displaying a broken quality, a discord of fluidity that creates a wonderful tension. Other pieces in the exhibition are more figural in their formality, even though that representational quality is synthesized with an abstractness. Dana Claxton’s “He Who Transforms” (2009) straddles the line between representational figuralism and abstraction; using the human form as an anchor in a nondescript backdrop, she is able to create a world where the sitter is floating in space.
The resulting pieces are striking, loaded with an ethos of memory and contemporary issues; political, ideological, geographic, and personal identities and topics are investigated and redressed. Each artist’s work references his or her cultural past while exploring relevant issues facing Native America in the 21st century.