At the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey (VACNJ), The First Water Is the Body, a new exhibition, takes its title from a poem by Natalie Diaz and features multidisciplinary work by 16 Indigenous artists and makers from throughout North America. The art on view, which includes photography, video, sculpture, ceramics, basketry, beadwork, and textiles, is intended as a visual complement to Diaz’s text, accepting the body as the human form of water and that the fate of water is the fate of all people. The exhibition’s curator, Maria Hupfield, an artist, educator, and member of the Anishinaabek Nation from Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario, Canada, notes: “These artists work to produce seismic shifts in cultural perspectives that point to reciprocity, critical accountability and awaken solidarity with place, lands, and waters.”

Participating artists are Carrie Allison, Natalie Ball, Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, Mique’l Dangeli & Nick Dangeli, RYAN! Feddersen, Anita Fields, Shan Goshorn, Shannon Gustafson, Jewell Jenkins, Courtney Leonard, Marianne Nicolson, Wendy Red Star, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith & Neal Ambrose-Smith, and Kali Spitzer.

Concurrently on view is Athena LaTocha: After the Falls, an installation responding to the Great Falls of the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey. To create the work, artist Athena LaTocha, who is interested in the relationship between natural landscapes and human-made environments, first researched the geological and cultural histories of the Great Falls site. She then used thin sheets of lead to gather life-size imprints of basalt rock faces surrounding the falls and incorporated them into large works on paper. Straddling the lines between drawing, painting, and sculpture, these works mean to convey the mystery and power embedded in an ancient place that is both a natural wonder and a site of industrialization. This exhibition is organized by VACNJ curator Mary Birmingham.

Both projects are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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