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Museum hosts mixed-media Native American art exhibit

OCEANSIDE — A crowd packed the Oceanside Museum of Art on July 10 for the opening reception of Defying Expectations: Contemporary Native American Art. The bold mixed media exhibit features contemporary Native American artists James Luna, Gerald Clarke, Catherine Nelson-Rodriguez and Raymond Lafferty.
Exhibit curator Leah Cluff said the focus in on San Diego Native American artists. “It’s designed to break stereotypes,” Cluff said.
The exhibit evokes the question, “What is Native American art?” The hope is contemporary art on display will push boundaries beyond the traditional art of the Plains Indians. “Chasing a buffalo and horse stuff doesn’t have anything to do with all the other Indians out there,” Luna said.
The contemporary art exhibit is designed to expand people’s interpretation of Native American art. “What they do see in it is Indian content,” Luna said. “There’s something there for everyone.
James Luna’s installations look at issues with humor and wit. “We Talk You Listen” reflects Luna’s earlier acclaimed work “Artifact Piece,” in which Luna laid down in a museum case among modern artifacts. In “We Talk You Listen,” a video image and recording of Luna speaking sits atop a Native American garment flanked by cowboy hats.
“Talking Stones” is an interactive installation by Luna that displays resin cast grinding stones that sit over looping video and beneath a dome of piped in sound. The blurred video images and distinct sounds tell each stone’s story.
Gerald Clarke makes bold statements on Native American and California issues with his art. Clarke’s massive installation “One Tract Mind” depicts rows of cookie cutter houses sitting on former Native American grounds. Tribal grounds are represented by Native American images silk-screened on burlap that is spread beneath the tract houses. Dotted between the houses are half-full cups of water that show that water is a limited resource.
“Branded” simply shows the word Indian branded into white paper. Clarke said being labeled a Native American artist narrows viewers’ expectations of his work.
A small three-walled room within the exhibit is dedicated to the personally expressive mixed media work of Catherine Nelson-Rodriguez that dates from 1984 to 2010. Nelson-Rodriguez is a self-taught artist who combines paint and written word to share her reflections and life experiences.
“The Gallery” illustrates the isolation Nelson-Rodriguez feels as people look at her work. The mixed-media painting shows a gallery busy with visitors and Nelson-Rodriguez curled up in a black ball in the center.
Raymond Lafferty painted “The Spiritual Battle for Mesa Grande” specifically for the exhibit. The abstract expressionist series captures the uncertainty the Mesa Grande Band faces due to proposed land acquisition of tribal grounds by the Santa Ysabel Band.
To create the paintings, Lafferty dropped paint-filled eggs onto canvases, sprayed the canvases with water, let the paint dry, then hand finished the paintings and added hundreds of small dots to represent each member of the Mesa Grande Band. The process allows wind and water to influence the work. “I had to trust the nature of the canvas,” Lafferty said.
Defying Expectations: Contemporary Native American Art, will be on display through Dec. 12.