Caitlin Mitchell // Courtesy of the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College.
Jeffrey Gibson. PEOPLE LIKE US, 2018. Custom-printed polyester satin and neoprene, cotton, silk Ikat velvet, wool, repurposed quilt, tapestry, and vestment, with glass, plastic, and stone beads, nickel and brass studs, brass grommets, cultured pearls, nylon ribbon, and artificial sinew on canvas, suspended from tipi poles with rawhide ties, 85 x 74 x 5 in. Courtesy of the artist; Roberts Projects, Los Angeles; Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; and Kavi Gupta, Chicago.
This Is the Day is a twinkling, harmonica-laden synth-pop song by British post-punk band, The The. It also provides the title for an exhibition of work by queer Native American artist Jeffrey Gibson. Jeffrey Gibson: This Is the Day
, on view at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art beginning July 14, presents work by Gibson made in the past five years.
Gibson finds inspiration from sources as diverse as ‘80s and ‘90s songs by bands like The The and gender-bending singers like Boy George and George Michael, writings from thinkers like James Baldwin and Simone de Beauvoir, and contemporary pop culture figures like Beyoncé.
The works in the exhibition are as multi-layered as Gibson’s sources. His stunning garments, elaborately beaded wall hangings emblazoned with uplifting phrases, abstract canvases with geometric patterns, and magical realist video about a trans woman’s life on a Native American reservation convey powerful affirmations of the unique identities we all carry and embody.
Many of the works in This Is the Day relate to fashion and dress. Gibson is inspired by powwow regalia and performance, contemporary couture, and even drag and ball culture. This especially shines through in a series of seven garments made from a range of materials that include repurposed quilts, custom fabrics printed with text and images of Gibson’s sculptures, plastic beads, and jingles.
Gibson deliberately made these garments – which can be worn — larger than life, with ambiguous gender identification. “I rarely see my body represented in popular culture,” says Gibson. “But my practice is where I call the shots, and I am trying to make the world I envision.” The garments are powerful assertions of inclusivity.
Although many works in the exhibition allude to ongoing struggles of queer people and people of color—the weight and vulnerability of marginalized bodies and the continued oppression of indigenous groups in the US—many of Gibson’s sources are practices and subcultures that grew out of resistance.
His garments draw from powwow regalia, which developed in the 19th century as a way to celebrate tribal histories and practices, which were under threat. The garments also reference drag and ball culture, which are associated with the resilience, and celebration, of queer communities.
Jeffrey Gibson. LOOK HOW FAR WE'VE COME!, 2016. Glass beads, tin jingles, copper cones, steel, nickel, and brass studs, nylon fringe, artificial sinew, and acrylic paint on wool blanket, mounted on canvas, 69 x 73 x 7 in. (175.3 x 185.4 x 17.8 cm). Courtesy of the artist; Roberts Projects, Los Angeles; Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; and Kavi Gupta, Chicago. © Jeffrey Gibson.
In this way, the exhibition is suffused with a sense of hope, and possibility for the future. It seems to say, look how far we’ve come, and how far we will go together.
Visit the exhibition on view at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin from July 14 through September 29, and mark your calendar for the following programs and celebrations:
Artist Talk with Jeffrey Gibson
, Friday, July 12 at 6pm
B Scene: A Love Supreme
on Saturday, July 26 from 6-10pm with performances by Trés Ouis, Masculine Pain, Louisianna Purchase, and Workout! with Erica Nix