The Long Road
Group show weaves together science and mythology
By Leigh Hile
Belinda Edwards says she was called to the desert. And though she almost gave up on the move to New Mexico, “A little voice said to me, Don't worry, you're coming,” she says. “I left a job. I sold my house. This is my magical place.”
Edwards, who’s from Santa Barbara, Calif., is one of four artists whose work composes the group exhibit, “Creation / Migration: Stories of the Journey” on display Downtown at the FreeStyle Gallery.
Harriette Tsosie, Betsie Miller-Kusz and Donna Caulton—her three collaborators—share similar histories. All trace migratory paths that led them around the country and the world, eventually to converge in New Mexico. And each, like Edwards, felt drawn here by some powerful force, their spiritual odysseys reflected in literal migrations. The FreeStyle exhibit taps into this theme, mining the connection between journey and identity.
The women combined their efforts to create the centerpiece of the exhibition, a large basket. Miller-Kusz's layer begins the basket with willows from her home, strips of her old paintings and clothesline like her mother and grandmother used. Filling out Tsosie’s section are palm fronds and yucca pods, which respectively represent Florida, where her parents lived the last years of their lives, and New Mexico, where she has settled. Caulton used paintings from the beginning of her career and fishing line, embodying her connection to water. Edwards’ layer finishes the basket with more yucca seeds, symbolizing life, death, rebirth and Mother Earth.
Miller-Kusz says these days, the creative process just flows. “When you get to be at this stage of life—and none of us are saying which stage that is exactly,” she adds slyly, “you just turn the faucet and it just pours right out. You don't need to worry too much about what your voice is anymore.”
“I left a job. I sold my house. This is my magical place.”
Tsosie agrees, saying at her age, she can be who she really is, “not someone's mother, not someone's wife.”
The artists dug deep into their family histories and ancestral origins in an exploration of how the movement and stories of their predecessors have shaped their identities. To map these intricate trails, they unearthed personal memories and oral family histories. They collected artifacts from ancestors. They researched journals, letters and stories in old newspapers. They consulted family trees and genealogy websites. And, perhaps most intriguingly, they used DNA analysis to trace their deeper backgrounds.
The show is grounded in research and hard facts. “We're not just mystical artists floating off into the netherworld,” jokes Miller-Kusz. “We all have that interest in scientific inquiry.” The interplay between legend and reality, between where we come from and where we think we come from, is at the heart of Creation / Migration. “It became a dialogue between myth and science,” explains Tsosie, “And we were interested in where myth and science met and clashed.” Ultimately, she says, maybe we don’t have to choose. “Science is sort of explaining how, and maybe the myths are explaining why.” Both questions—not one or the other—get to the truth of who we are.
“We’re not just mystical artists floating off into the netherworld. We all have that interest in scientific inquiry.”
The revelations about their DNA will continue to inform future incarnations of Creation / Migration—a project which, like the artists’ personal journeys, is an ever-evolving, unfolding process. Edwards, for example, discovered that she has origins in three different regions of Africa. Now she’s learning about artistic traditions in each of those cultures and comparing them to her style, hoping to explore whether her artistic expression is predetermined by genetics.
But on a genetic level, like all humans, there’s little difference between the four women, who share common origins in ancient Mesopotamia. “I think that having our DNA and knowing that we all started in the same place is part of the collaboration,” says Edwards. “We're family, in a sense.” And in a project that so intimately probes the relationship between family and self, past and present, that is everything.
Creation / Migration: Stories of the Journey
Runs through Dec. 14
1114 Central SW
Open Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Monday and Wednesday by appointment
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