Ceci n’est pas René Magritte Exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

28102179867_dd5547a709_ophoto credit: David Martínez

When Michel Foucault published his short treatise on Magritte’s iconic painting of a gentleman’s pipe, titled Ceci n’est pas une pipe, in 1968, it was the year after the artist’s death and two years since the publication of Foucault’s Les mots et les choses – une archéologie des sciences humaines (published in English as The Order of Things). Equally important is the fact that Foucault’s work coincided with the climactic period of Magritte’s legendary images, which the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has curated in an exhibit titled René Magritte: The Fifth Season.

During the 1940s through 1960s Magritte displayed a fully developed vision of the world as a panoply of phenomena in which images are as much seen as projected, mediated by an eye for the fantastic, such that even the most ordinary of objects, an apple or stone, may suddenly reveal a world that are beyond rational explanations. Instigated by classical Cartesian doubt, whereby sense perception is immediately put under question, what Magritte invokes—similar to Diego Velázquez—is a worldview characterized by solipsism, illusion, belief, trompe l’oeil, and the poetic imagination.

Just as a pipe may not be a pipe but the illusion of a pipe, in spite of what our eyes and words may tell us, so too may a great boulder be as light as a feather or a landscape painting be a metaphorical widow through which we may see the literal world it supposedly represents in a new way.

In the final analysis, I thoroughly enjoyed The Fifth Season.  More than an homage to an historically significant artist, the exhibit was a transformative experience in which I not only felt that I saw Magritte’s work for the first time but also that I saw the ordinary world around me with fresh eyes, like a blind man with his vision restored.  Oh, how beautiful everything is!

Please click on the above image to see more photos of the exhibit


Indian Market, 1989


I’ve been to Indian Market only once in my entire life. Way back in 1989, I went with my friend, Barbara Ortiz. At the time, I was a Visiting Scholar at the University of New Mexico, studying Indigenous land relations.  I commuted to campus from my studio apartment on Girard, taking the bus each day.  Since it was summer, there weren’t that many people around.  However, since this was well before the era of online courses, anyone attending summer school had to show up in person.  Consequently, that’s how I met Barbara.  She was from Laguna Pueblo and worked for the American Indian Student Services office at UNM.  Lucille Stillwell was the AISSS director, while Barbara served as program coordinator, which was a fancy way of saying secretary.

Anyway, Barbara had a car—a big old giant Oldsmobile—and I didn’t, so she was the one to invite me out for the day around mid-August. I actually didn’t know what Indian Market was at the time, but it sounded fun, so I said, “Sure!” Barbara, as it turned out, really didn’t like driving around Santa Fe, so she asked me to drive us. No problem. Not having a car all summer was kind of a drag. So, I seized the opportunity to get behind the wheel. The open road between Albuquerque and Santa Fe felt good! Upon arriving at our destination, I vaguely remember a dirt lot where we parked that was a bit of a hike from the Plaza. I also remember thinking “This Plaza is kinda small and CROWDED!” when we got to where all the booths were set up.

Not knowing what to do or where to begin, Barbara and I started meandering around, two brown dots in a river of white faces. All the other Indians were in their booths, some dressed up in their tribal regalia, while others looked like Billy Jack, with a few looking like regular people from the Rez. Although I’d been to events at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ before, this was different. From my point of view, as a Pima Indian, the Santa Fe Indian Market was a combination swap meet-and-zoo. I guess as a unique experience, Indian Market was fun and interesting, though I get a bit uncomfortable being around that many white people. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy anything because I couldn’t afford it, neither could Barbara. So, at the end of the day we walked back to the car empty handed and drove back to Albuquerque.

Along the way, we gossiped about people we knew back on campus and what we were going to have to do when Monday rolled around. I remember telling Barbara about meeting Greg Cajete at his office on the edge of campus, where the American Indian Studies program was located. I also told her about the Luci Tapahonso poetry reading that was held outdoors on the UNM campus, and how she started talking to me like she’d known me a longtime, asking me how my writing was going? We’d never met before. I also saw Tony Hillerman that summer. When we stopped for coffee, Barbara told me about her life at Laguna and how she started working at UNM. I found out, after being friends with her all summer, that she’d been married before. As the day turned to twilight, we hit the road again, talking away, as Santa Fe became a memory, far behind in the distance.

My Heard Museum Experience: A Crossroads of the American Southwest


Ever since I can remember, the Heard Museum has been a prominent part of the City of Phoenix.  Founded in 1929, the ranch-style complex has sat just north of McDowell Blvd on Central Ave.  Because of its Hopi Kachina collection, Navajo jewelry, and an array of pottery samples, not to mention its changing contemporary art exhibits, the Heard galleries have long been at the crossroads of American Indian art and society in the Southwest.

While the museum has undergone a variety of changes over the years, what hasn’t changed is its place in the Phoenician and local American Indian communities, both of which regard the Heard as a citadel dedicated to Indigenous cultures.  Most importantly, as an Indigenous person, I especially appreciate the museum’s concern for not limiting the portrayal of Indigenous peoples to the distant historic past.  In addition to the ethnographic collections of traditional arts are the galleries honoring the generations of children who endured the hardships of the boarding school system, many of whom went on to create works that are still influencing modern American Indian art.

Equally Important is the recognition that Indigenous nations exist throughout the Western Hemisphere, including various mestizo populations, such the ones in Mexico.  Indeed, the ongoing exhibit “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera” is a stunning example of the complexities of the Indigenous experience, which exceed notions of tribe, language, and blood quantum.  Indigenous peoples, in contradistinction to popular stereotypes, have recurrently adopted alien influences, creating innovative responses to the rapidly changing world around them.  To see some of what I saw recently, please click on the photo, which will take you to the photo album I posted on Flickr.  Thank you!

Re(d)Generation: Renewing the Heartbeat of the Earth


Dancing Earth is an Indigenous dance collective based in Santa Fe, NM, which has been gracing stages around the world for more than a decade with their spectacular shows. Founding director and choreographer, Rulan Tangen, is the visionary behind Dancing Earth’s visually eloquent and emotionally moving productions. What is most remarkable about these performances, on which Tangen collaborates with an array of talented dancers, musicians, and artists, is not only their beauty but also the way in which they perfectly balance the contemporary with the traditional.

The clip that I recorded at the Gammage Auditorium, which is located on the Arizona State University campus in the City of Tempe is a mere glimpse into a poignant production titled Re(d)Generation. For those unfamiliar with Dancing Earth, the performance may strike one as incomprehensible as “Indian dancing,” particularly if one is acquainted with pow-wow dancing, or the assortment of traditional American Indian dances performed at, say, the Heard Museum’s annual Hoop Dance competition or the Saturday morning demonstrations of ceremonial dance at the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center.

red generation

As I stated above, Dancing Earth perfectly blends the contemporary with the traditional. More specifically, Tangen and her dancers express very ancient beliefs, recounted in oral traditions, about the earth as a living being in the undulating forms of modern dance. With that in mind, what you may see in the video clip is an evocation of the earth as a place of animate beings, be they plant, animal, or mineral, which are all alive with the impulse of life and movement. The heartbeat of the earth is the most fundamental rhythm, which generates the Epic of Life, in which everything has a place, a conscience, and a way of moving. In closing, I honestly believe that what I saw on stage Wednesday morning, April 20, 2016 was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy. For more about Dancing Earth, see http://www.dancingearth.org/

The Feminine and the Sublime: ‘Dark Star: H R Giger’s World’

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Image credit: H R Giger

Every artist generates a different set of experiences and memories, depending on when one encounters a given artist’s work for the first time. In the case of Hansruedi Giger, one will likely recognize him for designing the queen mother Alien featured to astounding affect in Ridley Scott’s iconic 1979 film, which, of course, haunted various sequels and spinoffs, not mention appearing in other media, such as graphic novels. As for Giger’s accomplishments as an artist, one may also bring to mind the cover of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s 1973 prog-rock album Brain Salad Surgery, which, in my opinion, wasn’t metal enough for such splendid Gigerian imagery. Speaking of which, one may also recall Giger’s cover art for the June 1980 issue of Heavy Metal Magazine or the Giger gallery contained in the June 1982 issue. With respect to album cover art, Giger did get more metal by doing covers for Celtic Frost, Danzig, and Triptykon, while availing his genius to the likes of Debbie Harry’s 1981 Koo Koo and The Dead Kennedys’ 1985 Frankenchrist.

In the case of Belinda Sallin’s 2014 documentary, the Swiss artist is filmed at his home and at various exhibit openings and book signings, in which he’s clearly adored. In fact, in a later scene in which various bearded, pierced, and tattooed men and women line up to get their hero’s autograph, one can easily say that Giger is also worshipped. As for the rest of the film, it’s a fascinating portrayal of the man behind the archetypal images. However, Sallin’s film is less a biography and more of an interpretation of artist and work. One does learn something of Giger’s childhood, including his early fascination with death, in addition to a life-changing tragedy that befell his first wife. Moreover, the film shows on-camera anecdotes and reflections from a wide and interesting assortment of friends, collaborators, and devotees. Among the more intriguing comments are those offered by his wife and partner Carmen Maria Giger, who directs the H R Giger Museum, and Stanislav Grof, psychiatrist, medical philosopher, and longtime friend. As for Giger himself, he’s sufficiently brilliant and a bit creepy. In the end, if you love Giger’s work, then you’ll this homage to his legacy. Indeed, the scenes in which one can watch Giger creating are truly captivating.

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Image credit: Belinda Sallin

“I Will Never Forgive Any Of You”: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s ‘Penance’

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Photo credit: David Martínez

Penance (2012) is a five-part miniseries about the murder of Emili Adachi, who’s lured to the school gymnasium by an unidentified man, while Emili’s four playmates watch from afar as their young friend is led to her death. Asako Adachi, Emili’s mother, played with subtle mastery by Kyoko Kuizumi (Tokyo Sonata, 2008), is inconsolable as her daughter’s murder remains unsolved months later, in spite of the four girls who saw the killer’s face. Under the pretense of Emili’s birthday, the four reluctant witnesses are invited to Asako’s home, where they are confronted with Kyoko’s grief and anger, condemning each of the four girls to a life of paying penance for allowing her daughter’s murderer to get away with his unforgiveable crime.

Ostensibly, what ensues from Kyoko’s moral indictment of the four girls’ complicity in Emili’s death, is how each girl endures the psychological burden of betraying their slaughtered classmate and her mother. More specifically, each of the first four episodes focuses on how Sae Kikuchi (played by Yu Aoi), Maki Shinohara (played by Eiko Koike), Akiko Takano (played by Sakura Ando), and Yuka Ogawa (played by Chizuru Ikewaki) have lived with their guilt fifteen years later. All of them have been traumatized and have lived with the consequences of this trauma until it has infected every part of their being. However, it would be unfair to say that Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s story is based on a simplistic cause-and-effect notion of karma. On the contrary, what unfolds in the four narratives—the fifth is reserved for Emili’s mother—is a complex story, and character analysis, of how Japanese women survive, yet are ravished, by a society that values order and decorum above all else, even if it means coercing people, such as Emili’s playmates, into silence about the abuse, agony, violence and distress they witness and undergo in their own lives.

I have been watching Kurosawa’s work for several years now and have always admired the thoughtful and stylish way in which he tells his stories, especially in Cure (1997) and Pulse (2001). More so in Penance than in any of his previous works does Kurosawa display his admiration for the works of Alfred Hitchcock and Yasujiro Ozu. By this I mean Kurosawa has developed his own unique combination of showing sympathy for the lives of ordinary people while turning his fascination with the dark side of their personalities into a compelling sense of drama and the horror of realizing that the real monsters we need to fear are ones that dwell within human nature.

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Photo credit: David Martínez

Anything But Weird: My Visit to the Portland Art Museum


Image credit: David Martínez

Sitting at the end of the Oregon Trail in downtown Portland, not far from the Williamette River, in the heart of Chinook Indian Country, is the Portland Art Museum. Locally referred to as “PAM,” the museum was founded in 1892, making it the oldest such institution in the American West. When I visited across two days, April 10-11, 2015, the galleries, including a special exhibit titled “Italian Style, Fashion Since 1945,” spanned three stories. Comparable to other regional museums, such as the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona, PAM strives at providing visitors with a carefully curated array of lesser works by historically important artists, in addition to exemplary works by unknowns, a collection of Asian art and artifacts, not to mention regional settler-colonial American art (featuring Oregon sculptor Chris Antemann), and what strives at being a comprehensive collection of Indigenous art (primarily from North America, including México).

Like many museums in mid-size cities, PAM aspires at mimicking the magic of loftier collections, such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum or the Chicago Art Institute, without (hopefully) losing its connection to local communities. As a tourist, I can sincerely say that I enjoyed my visits, even though as I strolled through the European galleries I felt myself yearning for the Louvre, which I visited a few short weeks earlier. However, the one space in which I didn’t find myself comparing PAM’s exhibits to more prestigious establishments was in the Native American gallery, especially when I was looking at the Pacific Northwest Coast collection. While I’m unaware of which items on display are actually indigenous to what is today the state of Oregon, I nonetheless experienced an authentic connection between work and place, which was accomplished in a different way when looking at works by local non-indigenous artists. An unexpected delight was an exhibit titled “Breaking Barriers: Japanese Women print Artists, 1950-2000.” I was particular enchanted by the work of Oda Mayumi, whose goddess images are powerful and lyrical expressions of the feminine spirit inherent throughout nature and the cosmos. In the end, as I headed across the street to the Behind the Museum Café, I felt satisfied.