Dream weaving: Jeffrey Gibson fuses traditional folklore with contemporary art

Dream weaving: Jeffrey Gibson fuses traditional folklore with contemporary art

It’s not often that contemporary Native American art gets a significant showing in the art scene. New York City’s Marc Straus gallery, located in the Lower East Side, is currently staging ‘New Work by Native American Artist Jeffrey Gibson’, which casts its folkloric traditions in a modern light.

Half Choctaw, half Cherokee and born to parents who grew up on reservations, Jeffrey Gibson spent his childhood years on army bases from Fort Bragg to Seoul, Korea. But after obtaining a Masters degree from the Royal College of Art and spending a stint in Santa Fe, Gibson began to turn out a distinctive oeuvre of sculpture, painting and more, that merges traditional Native American craft traditions with contemporary art - social and political commentary included.

On view are 15 examples that draw on Gibson’s ancestry. From beaded wall hangings which reference Navaho blankets to a bevy of deer hides emblazoned with his paintings, the works go beyond just being simply decorative. For example, with regards to the beaded quilt wall hanging ‘American History’, the artist says, ‘it represents a historical garment, but speaks of my ancestry while finding identity and freedom.’

A series of intricately beaded punching bags refer to the cathartic nature of the sport. ‘The turquoise beaded Sharecropper encapsulates the poverty of my grandparents,’ relates Gibson.  ‘Their plight, struggle and endurance is not to be forgotten,’ he adds.

Gibson’s quixotic works can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the National Gallery of Canada and the Smithsonian, but he recently garnered further creds in the haute museum world in yet another way. In a gallery panel held this over the weekend, Glenn Adamson, Museum of Arts and Design director said, ‘Jeffrey’s new work confirms his ability to marry the tradition of craft created by a marginal culture with a dynamic sense of exchange of ideas.’

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