11 Jul Celebrating a Centennial: The Body Electric: Jeffrey Gibson
The Body Electric, Jeffrey Gibson’s exhibition at SITE Santa Fe, is a deep dive into the artist’s oeuvre from his more than 20-year career. Including painting, sculpture, beadwork, live performance, and a commissioned mural for the institution’s front lobby and main galleries, the exhibition highlights Gibson’s ability to merge historical and contemporary cultural references to “express the complexities and relationships between injustice, marginalization, and personal identity,” according to the museum.
Known for a wide range of works including hanging tapestries, intricately bead and embellished garments, and punching bags, Gibson takes inspiration from alternative subcultures, fashion, Indigenous handicrafts, current events, and politics, among other sources. As a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Cherokee Nation, he melds “indigenous North American materials and forms with those of Western contemporary art to create a new hybrid visual vocabulary, prompting a shift in how Native American art is perceived and historicized,” according to the MacArthur Foundation, which granted him a fellowship in 2019.
The SITE Santa Fe exhibition, which opened in May 2022, includes a mural titled THE LAND IS SPEAKING ARE YOU LISTENING. Wide swaths of bright color come to a point like a fading horizon in a geometric landscape. The color gradient represents the sunsets found across the country, but particularly those in New Mexico. Gibson, however, asks us to do more than just take in the aesthetic beauty of these moments. Instead, he asks us to look beyond the initial intrigue and seek what the land is telling us at this point in time. The font is also made of geometric bands of color, making the viewer stop and consider the meme-like statement before moving into the heart of the exhibition.
“I have been researching Indigenous kinship and relationality philosophies in response to the chaos of the past few years of the pandemic, political divisiveness, ongoing environmental disasters, racially motivated violence, trauma, and the amplifying of voices that are demanding change,” says Gibson. “I have sought to find ways to continue to have empathy for different perspectives, and these kinship and relationality philosophies have provided me some important ways to move forward.”
Once in the exhibition, a small room on the right of the main gallery features Gibson’s 2020 video installation commissioned by New York City’s Time Square Arts for their series Midnight Moment. The video was inspired by the jingle dancers who came together in 2016 on the Standing Rock Reservation to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline and features Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho performer Sarah Ortegon.
Another strong element in the exhibition is the installation of three large pieces entitled Red Moon, Desert Sky, and Red Sunset (all 2021), for which Gibson strung floor-to-ceiling pieces of fabric made from the nylon shawl fringe typically used in dancers’ regalia. A Warm Darkness (2022) is Gibson’s collaboration with sound artist Raven Chacon, who recently won a Pulitzer Prize for his musical composition “Voiceless Mass.”
Gibson’s work resides in the collections of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Denver Art Museum, the National Gallery of Canada, the Eiteljorg Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among others. The Body Electric is on view through September 11, 2022.