For the most part, Western art consists of objects that look pretty and do nothing. The West confines art to a square hanging on the wall. A tractor lives and dies on the cornfield. Art is separated from everyday life, and under no circumstances can these two worlds intersect. Rose B. Simpson, a New Mexico native, opposes this worldview as she finds beauty in the utilitarian. Simpson is responsible for Ground, a new exhibition at the Pomona College Museum of Art. Ground features Native American tools and art, often combined.
As you enter the exhibit, a clay figure should greet you: the head and shoulders of a ceramic man adorned with tribal leatherwear stands in the entryway. Parts of the figure are painted with black, but others are left raw. The artist explains that this represents the internal dissonance and emotional conflict many experience at one point or another. Ceramic pots, grinding stones and axes rest atop the pillars scattered around the room. Simpson argues that there is a special aesthetic quality in useful objects, a quality which depends on the fact that they are used.
Simpson currently holds a spot on the board of directors for the Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute on the Santa Clara Pueblo where she grew up. Last Friday, Simpson gave a talk discussing permaculture, or agricultural strategies based on self-sufficiency, on Pomona’s campus. Many Native groups have already been implementing permaculture for centuries. This serves as another example of a situation where Western culture may benefit from integrating Native ideas and culture. Through sculpture and through activism, Simpson’s work revolves around ensuring cultural survival.
Ground is the sequel to an earlier exhibition, Nuance of Sky: Edgar Heap of Birds Invites Spirit Objects to Join His Art Practice, which also ran at the Museum in 2013. The Museum stated that it hopes to continue featuring indigenous art in future exhibitions.
Ground is open from now through Dec. 17.