Pow wows contain multiple elements of beauty, from colorful beadwork and fringe to the sounds of jingle dress cones, and Mississippi Choctaw and Cherokee artist Jeffrey Gibson is using pow wow regalia raw materials that make dance regalia at a new Gibson’s Oklahoma City exhibition, titled Speak to Me, which is on display at the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center through June 11, 2017.
The collection, which covers a three-year period of mixed media and sculptures by Gibson, blends ceramics, carved wood, shawl fringe, rolled snuff can lids, tin cones, crow beads and more.
“One of the elements in my work is really about transformation,” Gibson says. “The garment that you wear transforms you. The shape of something that transforms–I think I’ve always been impressed and inspired by it.”
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Gibson says his pow wow regalia-based art influence also comes from his work in the early 1990’s as a NAGPRA officer with the Field Museum of Chicago. Tribal elders would meet with him to view sacred items in the collections. Gibson says the elders spoke to the sacred items as if they were living and breathing. “They looked upon them as ancestors.”
Gibson’s formal studies include time at the Art Institute of Chicago; London’s Royal College of Art (the Mississippi Choctaw Nation paid for his studies); and sculpture with Ernest Mirabal in Nambe, New Mexico. Currently, Gibson is an artist-in-residence at Bard College.
“Growing up going to pow wows is something I didn’t do a tremendous amount of,” he says. “My father was in the service, so we moved around quite a bit. When I came back to the U.S., oftentimes that’s where we would see my relatives, was at pow wows. I started thinking about the pow wow as a place where there’s a lot of innovation and invention that represents the individual.
“What I hope my work does is complicate clichéd perceptions of Natives,” Gibson says regarding the pow wow regalia based exhibit, “so that the complexity opens up a more expansive view of what being Native could be.”
In addition to the pow wow regalia sculpture and art pieces at the Speak to Me exhibit, Gibson’s documentary short film One Becomes the Other — in which Native people in traditional regalia discuss Plains beadwork and Dine weaving tools — is available for viewing; and a large-scale photo exhibit by Otoe-Missouria and Kiowa photographer Lester Harragarra gives additional context to Gibson’s work.
Says Gibson,“I think people relate to the work because they also realize that they’re equally as complex.”