When I meet painter Jade Leyva at a quiet café on Silver Street, it’s clear she has a lot on her mind. The multimedia arts exhibit she’s been assembling for months—called SEEDS: A Collective Voice—is springing to life amidst public enthusiasm and media buzz. I arrive just as she’s finishing up a meeting with local seed preservationist and activist Isaura Andaluz (with whom she appeared on KUNM’s Women’s Focus radio show on April 20) and order some tea while she runs to her car for more flyers.
When Leyva sits across from me, she exudes an infectious and friendly intensity; she's so excited to talk about the show she’s curating that I don’t have to ask any questions before the words start tumbling out of her. She tells me the exhibit was conceived as a way to advocate for issues that have been on her mind quite a bit. “I started thinking that I would like to get some attention for them, for the seeds, you know, so we can kind of raise awareness, kind of like encourage people to buy organic food, to buy locally,” said Leyva.
Not long ago, the Mexican-born artist began to cultivate her own environmental awareness at home in Placitas. “Last year I started collecting the plants around the place where I live,” she explains, “because the Southwest, I think, needs people to grow more love for the native plants.” Her awakening interest led her to start her own seed bank. “I have, like, two bags this big of all-local seeds,” she says with a laugh, holding her hands several inches apart. She records where she finds the seeds and does research to identify them. The hobby has led her to try her hand at gardening with diverse local flora like yucca and evening primrose. She adores pink penstemon, a wildflower that doesn’t require any water. “You spread it, and it just grows really beautiful. It just lasts all summer. It blooms all the way from the bottom to the top,” she says. Discussing her garden, Leyva’s face lights up: “So beautiful, and those plants are so hardy, you know? No water! Just leave them alone, and they’ll be happy.”
Armed with a love of local seeds and a growing awareness of the political space they occupy in today’s world of GMO activism and Monsanto-themed legislation, Leyva brought her idea for a 30-person art show to husband Tom Frouge, executive director of the nonprofit Avokado Artists. The group is now helping produce the show.
She may have begun with a 30-artist concept, but the project immediately began to snowball: “We put a call out to artists and we have so many entries. People just wanted to be a part of it.” As of this writing, 61 visual artists, five poets, two speakers, one storyteller, two musicians and a video installation are lined up for SEEDS. The artists are both local and national, with a few hailing from as far away as Paris and Mexico City. A “mobile seed story broadcasting station” called SeedBroadcast will be a significant part of the art show’s educational mission. According to Leyva, the educational aspect will aim to inform people of the importance of eating well and supporting local food and growers.
Leyva hopes the public will come out for the show’s opening reception on May 4 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. to enjoy original works by New Mexico-based luminaries like poet laureate Hakim Bellamy, Malpaís Review Publisher Gary Bower and noted Laguna/Santo Domingo storyteller Larry Littlebird. Another highlight is Fidel Gonzalez, a South Valley organic farmer who will speak about his path to becoming a farmer. Music and surprise outbreaks of poetry are expected to create a festival-like atmosphere.
The SEEDS exhibit will be anchored by its visual artworks, which will remain on display through June 8. While a number of the show's works hew to a literal interpretation of the theme and are bound to be crowd-pleasers, others are exceptional in their loveliness or unconventionality. An understated painting of a phoenix germinating inside a seed by Juan Wijngaard, a seated deer-woman modeled in clay by Sandria Cook, and a quilted sculpture in black, white and goldenrod by Mary Rowan Quinn are just a few of the standouts.
“Art is a very powerful voice and a very powerful form of expression,” Leyva declares. “So I think it’s important that what we say through it is a positive message.” She’s certainly doing her part; before we leave the cafe, she’s already seen someone else she knows, and as she hands him a flyer, her passion for the upcoming exhibit pours out of her all over again.