Jeffrey Gibson: Culture, Materials, Identity and Trade

Lowery Stokes Sims, Hyperallergic, October 11, 2020

The essay, “Jeffrey Gibson: Culture, Materials, Identity and Trade” by Lowery Stokes Sims appeared in the catalogue for This Is the Day, and it is reprinted by permission of the author and the Wellin Museum of Art. The exhibition is curated by Tracy L. Adler.


The Situation At Hand:

Over the last decade Jeffrey Gibson has moved from creating lyrical, abstracted acrylic landscape paintings with beaded and sculpted paint elements to a dizzingly multi-varied practice, which by his own description interfaces with the rubrics of fashion, gender and ethnicity. As Bansie Vasvani notes, this production “embod[ies] [Gibson’s] vision of a continually expanding vocabulary that combines traditional Native American imagery with contemporary forms.” In the process he finds his work being perceived through a critical and theoretical lens that not only accommodates more habitual interpretations through the lens of cultural determinism but also positions his work on the slippery slope between “fine art” and “craft,” between plastic integrity and material versatility.


Gibson’s evolution is all the more remarkable given the greater acceptance of what would be considered craft-based work over the last two decades. The ethos of making now permeates contemporary practice in what amounts to a post-Warholian moment where handwork has found a new context. Gibson therefore joins a roster of “cross-over” artists including Sheila Hicks, Alilghero e Boetti, El Anautsui, Joyce J. Scott, William and Stephen Ladd, Xenobia Bailey, Simone Leigh, Liza Lou, who have expanded the plastic vocabulary of the so-called fine arts. They have not only turned the spotlight onto techniques that are timeless and rich in scope but have also rebranded notions of culturally-specific production. It is in this last aspect that Gibson’s evolution is provocative, if personally redemptive. The work in this exhibition includes beaded figures, tapestries and repurposed boxing bags, ceramics, and ritual apparel that have been created since 2014. If 2011 can be considered a watershed moment in Gibson’s career — when he “nearly g[ave] up making art altogether … feeling misunderstood as an artist and struggling to establish a personal language that describes [his] experience without compromising it,” then the work in this exhibition “document[s] this journey of establishing [his]own forward-looking voice influenced by all that has come before [him].”


In the early 2000s Gibson was creating “fantastical landscapes using layers of intensely colored marks, glossy and transparent pours, and his signature pigmented silicone.” These landscapes have been described as comprising a “narrative of emergence into a utopian state, which will lead, inevitably, to corruption and collapse.” As he noted in 2006

Utopia was important for me to envision and relates to my being Native American and having grown up solely in a Western consumer culture. My desire to act out the role of an explorer depicting an inviting landscape, via painting and specimen retrieval, was a reaction to Native tribes’ being consistently described as part of a nostalgic and romantic vision of pre-colonized Indian life. The aesthetic of these paintings and sculptures came from turn-of-the-century Iroquois whimsies, contemporary and historic powwow regalia, cultural adornment of non-Western cultures, techno rave and club culture, and earlier utopian models.

His self- assumed persona of the tourist/ explorer is evident in Gibson’s engagement of multiple media in this recent work: ironing boards, iron kettles, punching bags, deer hide, wool blankets, acrylic paint, glass beads, tin and copper, yarn, beads, artificial sinew, tin jingles, cowrie shells, drift wood, ribbon, arrowheads and precious stones. While Gibson’s materials and color “reference the dance regalia of inter-tribal Native American powwows and other ceremonial garments, drawn from the artist’s part Cherokee and Choctaw background,” critic Felicia Feaster notes that Gibson’s work can also “conjure up associations with Jenny Holzer’s text-based sculptures and the wild ornamentation and excess of performance artist Nick Cave.” One critic likened the messages in the tapestries and on boxing bags to LED signage.


In the tapestries or wall pieces, the cloaks and figures and resuscitated boxing bags he both presents actual beading episodes as well as approximates the surface effects by applying metal studs in grid formations or appliqueing beaded shapes onto the surfaces of wool blankets, or canvas. As seen in tapestries such as “AMAZING GRACE” and “TO MY NATION” (both 2017) the compositions can evoke the psychedelic effects of those of Navajo “eye-dazzler” weavings which developed in the 1890s with the arrival in various trading posts of brightly colored yarns from mills in industrial towns in the north eastern United States, particularly Germantown, Pennsylvania. In “AMAZING GRACE” bands of jagged patterns are framed by borders with alternating squares with linear elements radiating on diagonals from a central square form and diagonally rendered jagged lines. In “TO MY NATION” vertical diamond shapes of several layers alternate with hourglass forms with bands of mastaba shapes to produce a vibrating visual play between background and figure and in turn flanked by radiating hexagons with bands of color. “I HAVE STRENGTH LEFT” (2017) is a variation on the strictly rectangular orientation of the patterning with the curvilinear framing of the turquoise and blue right rectangles that resembles the rings of a section of a tree trunk.


The geometric patterns in these works seem to be the resolution of the “flaps” and bands of black and white stripes that had begun to overtake the more organic shapes in his paintings circa 2010.  In “THE DEVIL AND GOD MEET IN CHURCH,” (2017) there are diamond shapes in different configurations of blue, yellow, red, green and white, and in “IN SUCH TIMES CLOWNS BECOME WITNESSES,” (2017) the segments of black and white checkerboard patterns alternating with segments with rows of black/white right triangles as seen in “TRUST AND BELIEVE” (2017). The titles have various connotations. Some are quotations from music lyrics (“NEVER CAN SAY GOODBY — YOU MAKE ME FEEL,” [2016]which unites the Jackson Five with Sylvester), other platitudes about love and relationships (“I DON’T BELONG TO YOU — YOU DON’T BELONG TO ME”) (2016) and others “speak to narratives of resilience and endurance.”


Exhibition installation view of Jeffrey Gibson: This Is the Day at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, September 8–December 9, 2018


Gibson’s deployment of song lyrics of the 1980s and ’90s, and quotations from writers such as Nelson Algren, Raymond Carver and E.E. Cummings and the formats of “image-and-text Conceptualism” are not meant to be “didactic,” or “necessarily accusatory.” Rather he wants their meaning to be “open-ended enough” so that “the viewer is left to really consider how those words sit.” Gibson has found references to the historical struggles of Native Americans in these contemporary lyrics, and our own familiarity of the lyrics/ titles and our comprehension of who sang them — and why— does provide routes to interpretations that engage our emphatic experience of them. Raymond Herrera, however, would reinforce notions of the primacy of craftsmanship in Gibson’s work when he suggests that Gibson “does not compose images purposely because he is more interested in the elements that make them up.” In this state the art he creates can become whatever the viewer perceives: text, objects, anything. He makes “elements of sheer potential,” and freezes them in a moment.


We might comprehend a formal as well as conceptual relationship between the tapestries and capes such as “ALL FOR ONE, ONE FOR ALL (2015),” “HOLD ME NOW,” and “LOOK HOW FAR WE’VE COME” (both 2016). These works with their cascading fringes of metal jingles and flowing yarn virtually “pulsate with a yearning to be animated.” This “blend of confrontation and pageantry” is reinforced by what Felicia Feaster describes as a “sense of movement and performance, as if these objects … are costumes waiting for a dancer to inhabit them.” One literally hears an affinity with Nick Cave’s elaborate sound suits — which while also usually exhibited on manikins — have been created to be danced or performed. As Gibson has noted:

I looked to the outfits of dancers at powwows and realized that they are expressions of their own identity as dancers, individuals and representations of their families and cultures … I thought this was so powerful.

This “sense of action” and “physicality” can also be experienced through Gibson’s beaded and decorated punching bags. The message in “POWER, POWER, POWER” (2017) is that of a pan-ethnic affirmation for white, black, yellow and red peoples. On the other hand “LOVE IS THE DRUG” (2017) is festooned with an almost overwhelmingly accumulation of heart charms of all sizes and character — open shaped, engraved, locket form, pendants, silver/ gold/ brass/ copper colored tones — that in its confluence justifies the compulsive nuance of the title.


If we turn to Gibson’s beaded figures they might, as noted by critic Brandy McDowell, invite more obviously Native American associations such as the kachinas of the Hopi tribe. “But upon closer inspection, the colorful forms also pay homage to the iconic terracotta warriors of ancient China, the outlandish style of London-based gay icon and performance artist Leigh Bowery and the avant-garde aesthetics and philosophy of Afrofuturism.” Gibson responds, “they’re probably more Chinese warriors and Afrofuturism more than anything, but they really are a mash-up of intertribal aesthetics.” In a new group of garments created for this exhibition, Gibson continues this mash-up of Chinese, African, Native and couture influences, combining them with helmets that evoke militaristic and hierarchical markers from any number of cultures. Gibson’s sense of color and pattern combinations are particularly evident and as seen in “LIKE A HAMMER” (2016) they can form the centerpieces for Gibson’s various installation projects.


Into this mix we can consider Gibson’s ceramic work, a medium that of late has become the genre du jour that painters and sculptors have found to expand the scope of their oeuvre. Ever since the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York City organized a ground-breaking exhibition of Makers and Modelers: Works in Ceramics in 2007, and Michelle Grabner curated an unprecedented representation of ceramics in the 2015 Whitney Biennial there has been a steady growth of the presence of this medium on the global art scene. And this can be observed in the production of artists as varied as Anish Kapoor, Lynda Benglis, while at the same time the work of long-time ceramicists and potters such as Ken Price, Grayson Perry, Arlene Schechtet and Nicole Cherobini have garnered a new audience in these turns of events.


Christopher Green notes that Gibson’s ceramics find their reference points in effigy pots “from the Mississippian culture, a civilization ancestral to the Choctaw, and he is interested in the alternative history this culture represents.” As seen in “Amphibian,” “Fearless,” and “Stutter,” the ceramics produced in 2015 are extremely visceral reflecting the mere working of the clay with his fingers. Green finds a “violence to these figures; their eyes weep and holes in their heads open up like visceral orifices, suggesting puncture wounds and bullet holes.”

The violence recalls another history, that of colonial conquest, which the United States still fails to fully recognize. Gibson, who has worked with collections of Native art at institutions including the Field Museum in Chicago, was once told how to recognize when the hole in a hide shirt was made by a bullet. He says these figures come from a traumatic place, yet are cathartic.

His ceramics of 2016 introduce shapes that are more “pot-like” as well as more color as seen with the red container drizzled with black in “Another Tongue” or in the red drizzled with black, blue/green and white on “I Should Know Better.” By 2017 Gibson features found ceramic tchotchkes that re collaged and congealed to thrown or hand-built ceramic elements. Among this group “Untitled ceramic collage 3” is notable as a more improvisational grouping than that created by Viola Frey, and a more three-dimensional version of the mash-up ceramic dinnerware of Vika Mitrichenka. All this shares the conceptual landscape of the Japanese aesthetic wabi-sabi, i.e. finding “beauty in the damaged or imperfect.”


Exhibition installation view of Jeffrey Gibson: This Is the Day at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, September 8–December 9, 2018


But while indulging in all this technical and plastic promiscuity, Gibson has not totally forsaken painting. In 2012 he showed a series of geometric designs on ironing boards, achieving a witty marriage of modernist vocabulary with cultural artifact (feminist object) with warrior associations (board as shield). In this exhibition a series of acrylic and graphic on canvases executed in 2017 feature brightly colored combinations of geometric forms. But these are not static compositions of different color shapes. “Between Rabbit and Fox” shows overlapping colors areas that splay out in a kaleidoscopic array from a central shape that seems humanoid. The reds, oranges and yellow are punctuated with greens and purples and evoke a dancer in full regalia. “Red Sky” is a slightly more subdued version of this play of triangular shapes in a similar palette, but Gibson uses darker hues of the various colors to suggest the play of light across the space. “Canyon,” “Dusk,” and “Dawn” show combination of diamond shapes, zigzags, triangles and horizontal bands seen in the tapestries.


A previous incarnation of these geometric shapes painted on raw hide came out his cathartic rejection of stretched canvases, and that eventually led to his “thinking about paintings in relationship to textiles, op art, pattern and decoration, and then to paintings seen through a decorative lens.” He began to consider if there was a difference “between a stretched piece of canvas with an image painted on it and a hand-painted textile?” As he notes at that point, “All those lines blurred and I worked from that blurred perspective.” Gibson has also been exploring comparable visual effects in weavings such as “BELIEVE! BELIEVE!” (2017) and “DON’T MAKE ME OVER,” (2017) in which there is a visual interplay between the diagonal weft elements and the horizontal/ vertical elements of rectangles and framing segments. A visual continuity with the tapestries is seen in the beaded bands of black and white rectangles at the bottom of each composition. Curator Marshall N. Price described these works as indicating Gibson’s exploration of “both the problematic legacies of his own heritage and the problematic legacy of modernism” through the lens of geometric abstraction …. [which] has a long tradition in Native American art history as well.”


Sources and Inspiration

 Gibson’s multi-platformed creativity not only indicates the creative and economic environment in which he has been able to thrive and achieve recognition, but it also raises questions around issues of cultural authenticity and aesthetic currency and how he has had to navigate them over the last decade and a half. He had an international upbringing in a military family and spent time in Colorado, Germany, and Korea outside of a specific native culture. After the aforementioned stint at the Field Museum in Chicago (where he worked with various Native groups on enforcement of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act), Gibson received a Creative Capitol grant (2005) to travel to his family’s land in Oklahoma and grants from Art Matters and the Harpo Foundation in 2010 and 2011 Oregon, and South Dakota to meet with Native artists and “observe their craft and culture.” Through these encounters he found a sense of community and identity, as he embraced “the small, everyday gestures that over time make up community, and without which we quickly lose it.”


As a result in addition to his Choctaw and Cherokee heritage, Gibson finds inspiration and influences in “the aesthetic histories of many different tribes and specific artists,” and “how that work has been collected and exhibited.” He finds that his perspective is also impacted by the quotidian experiences that mark his life: be they “political conversations,… queer culture,… music culture,… fashion,… education,… people older and wiser than [him]self, and … people younger than [him]self.” Describing himself as a “tourist” in life, Gibson notes, “There’s a big advantage to not understanding what you’re looking at, and then there’s this transition as you begin to understand and suddenly it’s difficult to see it as something else. That’s something that definitely interests me with the possibilities of what I work with.” Among those possibilities are exhibitions — if not collaborations — with the Native craft persons who nurtured his aesthetic development. As a recipient of a grant from the Harpo Foundation in 2012 for an exhibition at Participant on West Houston Street in New York City, Gibson’s work was shown with “beadwork pieces by Whitney Minthorn and Frankie Skye Hawk that make reference to Gibson’s paintings; a personal account of the trading of one skateboard for another, made with David Rowland; drums made by GenderQueer artist and dancer Jesse McMann-Sparvier; and a quilt by Mary Felicia, hand-painted by Gibson; German silver engravings by JhonDuane Goes In Center and Booger Masks by Roger Cain that join sculptural works made by Gibson.” While Gibson himself would not necessarily engage in making such traditional objects, the inclusion of their makers in this exhibition was an acknowledgement on his part of what “he learned about the materials and processes that inform them, the belief systems that motivate, define, and imbue these objects with a specific sense of history and power are not necessarily his own.” The website profile sagely noted that Gibson was “[t]reading a fine line between ethnographic installation and [his] personal collaborative investment,” even as his own work “engage[s] with tradition, modernity, cultural specificity and the fluctuations of contemporary material culture.”


Gibson’s point of departure then shifts the focus on notions of authenticity and, as noted above, the corresponding associations of material culture with a specific culture. While his use of specific materials such as hide or sinew would seem to buy into notions of primitivism and pre-technology tribalism, in fact they are materials that have been used by any number of cultures globally and continue to engage artists who are captivated by “natural” materials. That the texture and visual effect of these materials can now be reproduced art artificially only adds to the complexity of our reading of Gibson’s production. (In this regard, Christopher Green reminds us that the tin jingles “originally invented by the Anishinaabe out of snuff box lids, are here sourced from a powwow regalia company which produces them in Taiwan.”) Today Native artists such as Gibson are as likely to source their materials through the powwow circuit, which in turn has its own roster of vendors, who in turn import materials readymade that would have been formally made in community. As Jennifer Held has written: “For Gibson, it’s not about attempting to recreate tribal techniques, patterns, or processes, it’s about channeling the meditative and healing experience achieved in the ritualistic craft process.”


One of the most remarked upon aspects of Gibson’s work is his beaded and bedazzled punching bags. Critics inevitably comment on the pugilistic masculinity of these works, and Gibson himself has noted their cathartic role in the psychology of his creative expression. The lyrics on these sculptures such as Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got No, I Got a Life” “evoke the resilience of Native Americans in the face of hardship and oppression. Akin to trophies, the punching bags convey defiance as they remind viewers of the historical plight of Native Americans, even as their cultural traditions and crafts are co-opted by consumer culture.” The multi cultural references in Gibson’s sources for his pithy and cogent inscriptions indicate his perception of his existence in an “in-between” space by virtual of his grappling with his racial and ethnic identity as well as his self-described queerness.


It is intriguing, therefore, to consider Gibson’s journey from painting to craft-based media as paralleling that of Liz Collins who in 2006 described her own engagement of knitting techniques in the wake of her own sexual realizations using “knit fabrics and garments” to effect a “metaphorical self surgery … using anatomy as a entry point into [her] emotional landscape.” Eleven years later Zachery Small would see in the work of LJ Roberts, participating in a studio exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design, the latest in gendered readings of fiber arts: she was building on the “queer radicalism of lesbian separatists from the 1970s” in her knitted work that that Smalls saw as “literally sputtering with the wild possibilities that queerness affords.” If Robert’s approach was “caught in the undertow of hippie idealism,” then it touched on a frequent theme in critical writing about queerness and craft — that of community.


It was the John Chaich, in collaboration with Todd Oldham, who captured the variety of approaches to queerness in craft in his exhibition and then publication, Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community. This project demonstrated the multi-gendered aspect of craft in contrast to lingering notions of craft as a womanist pursuit. According to Chaich

… handicrafts such as crochet, embroidery, knotting, macramé, quilting, and sewing provide a fitting platform for examining tastes, roles and relationships socialized within and around gay and lesbian cultures, as well as the bodies, cultures and spaces that we shape.

For some of the creators featured in this project “expressing queer ideas through fiber craft is decidedly intentional,” as in the case of fiber artist Jesse Harrod, who feels that “The materials are stand-ins for political ideas, for people, for moment, for gender expressions.” And for others, “the queerness in their work lies closer to the colloquial use of the work of quirky.” Sheila Pepe would reference the original sense of “queer” as “weirdo” and then notes that same sex love “became part of the same thing.”


While the personal aspects of Jeffrey Gibson’s involvement with craft certainly reflects these philosophical positions, in a wider sense it also demonstrates how outside the privilege of Euro-centric, male-dominated values — that have persistently been positioned as the “norm” — the hierarchies of “fine” art and “craft” can be meaningless in the traditional sense. Indeed craft may still be largely considered as existing critically and theoretically in that “in-between” space. Furthermore Manuela Well-Off–Man has observed that in Native Art the modalities of allegory, storytelling, recycling and repurposing are an integral part of traditional fiber work and craft, as opposed to the focus on formalist aspects of fiber arts in modernism. While such compositional impulses might reflect the legacy of Anni Albers at the Bauhaus, as seen in Gibson’s paintings in this exhibition, the formal aspects of “series, sequences, repetition and pattern” — characteristic traditional work — are also to be observed in contemporary discourses around Native Art, and indeed has been a source of inspiration that modernism appropriated from traditional arts worldwide.  In this sense Jeffrey Gibson’s artistic enterprise maneuvers one to consider the fluidity of what is considered materialistically appropriate as well as gendered in contemporary art.


Animus and Commercium/ Spirit and Commerce:

As has been noted earlier in this essay Jeffrey Gibson’s particular deployment of materials is the legacy of hundreds of years of material interchange among cultures on many continents. The implications of that interchange have engaged economists and social historians who have analyzed the dynamics of trade, exchange, purchase, and then production. Contemporary economic and social theory provides a number of imaginative and innovative scenarios for analyzing the movement of goods and skills through out the global community. While it would seem that these phenomena are new to humanity in fact they have defined the consumer instinct of humans as soon as we realized we could trade with each other to get things we couldn’t obtain at hand. Today the difference is that the distance between the origins of materials and techniques and their expression — as seen at the beginning of this essay — is wider and the array of objects wider. But it is not only that different locales are sources for products but also that they may procure the materials that inspired the original forms from distant destinations.


In this context we need to consider that at times the exchange between cultures can be fraught with socio-political implications. Beads are a case in point having played a particular role in the story of the early encounters between Native cultures and Europeans in the Americas. The myth of the purchase of Manhattan, for example, says that the island was purchased by the Dutch from the resident Lenape for a few baubles and beads. This version of the story reinforces the supposed economic savvy, sophistication, and ergo intellectual superiority of Europeans, while casting Native Americans in the position of being naive and not competitive intellectually or economically. And yet four hundred years later Native Americans have coopted the valuative associations of beads and baubles and created visual productions that have served to sustain their sense of culture and — as Jeffrey Gibson’s work has demonstrated — to embody their place in the innovations that have marked the global march to contemporaneity.


This process of exchange has engaged economists and social anthropologists particularly in this age when global exchange is the norm and the rule rather than the exception. As the social-cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai notes: “the circulation of forms produces new and distinct genre experiments, many of which are forced to coexist in uneven and uneasy combinations.” But rather than focusing on notions of authenticity which can potentially strangle those “genre experiments,” Appadurai notes that “we need to move decisively beyond existing models of creolization, hybridity, fusion, syncretism, and the like, which have largely been about mixture at the level of content. Instead, we need to probe the cohabitation of forms… because they actually produce new contexts through their peculiar inflection of each other.” In fact Gibson challenges the notion of a de facto tribal trademarking of certain styles, patterns, use of materials by different Native communities as well as the strictures of cultural expression that have long be deployed to declare and establish hierarchies in the geo-political order. And as noted earlier in this essay, that hierarchical assignment of value has had implications with regard to production by women and outliers such as queer creators, which are being dismantled by visionary and talented creators globally who are impacting institutional and market practices in the art world.


Exhibition installation view of Jeffrey Gibson: This Is the Day at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, September 8–December 9, 2018



But beyond economic theory of the exchange of goods, Gibson’s work is also subsumed within the dynamics of sanctioning in the art world which can generally be described as consensus, but within the loftier realms of aesthetic taste can be indicative of what the economist John Maynard Keyes proposed as the “instincts, emotions and proclivities” that “influence and guide human behavior and thus determined consumer confidence.” These phenomena describe the workings of the “animal spirit” in economics, a concept “drawn from the Latin spiritus animales which may be interpreted as the spirit (or fluid) that drives human thought, feeling, and action.” If dreams are barometers of those instincts then it would come as no surprise that Gibson has alluded to the function of dreams in his work and in particular those of animal spirits that he sees as “guides in his work.” These are particularly embodied by the large caped figures, which he thinks of as “embodiments of these ancestral forms that he imagines have walked the Earth for hundreds of years.”


Today there is widespread recognition of the morass that western capitalism has put the world. It is as if the Keynesian animal spirits are in need of reorientation. We can see a co-tangency with Keynes’s ideas if we appreciate that Gibson is responding to “a spontaneous urge to action … rather than “an exact calculation of benefits to come,” in his response to his dreams/ visions. Arjun Appardurai would amplify this notion in his analysis of the dynamics of the movement of objects through nations and markets — a phenomenon that plays so directly and impactfully on the work of artists such as Gibson. For Apparadurai, the “work of the imagination” and the” circulation of forms” by means of “the negotiation and mutual tensions” between the parties involved in that circulation of forms and materials. “It is this negotiation which creates the complex containers which further shape the actual contents of local practice.” So it could be argued that Jeffrey Gibson is playing into a zeitgeist where a response to the psychic power of his work inspired the consumer confidence that results in market and institutional response and recognition.

This notion of locality — or community as noted earlier in this essay — is ascribed to Gibson in H.C Arnold feature on Gibson’s project of repurposing a blade of a wind turbine into a public sculpture for the 2017 Desert X festival in Coachella Valley. Arnold observes

Referencing the various communities of Palm Springs, [Gibson] bends the pronouns around, reminding us how identities shift according to who is talking. Regardless of which community is speaking, there is no denying the collective we.” “We” is about diversity. It’s a pronoun that demands the sharing of both similarities and differences in that every collective is made out of individuals. And in the contemporary rise of the us” versus them” mentality, Gibson reminds us that we need to be saying we” a lot more.

And Jennifer Held would hold Gibson up as an example of this concept in actuality when she observes that “the nurturing community that Gibson has created among his assistants in his Hudson, NY studio is the truest testament to his artistic goals. It is a communal environment of teaching and learning, and generally the best example of an artist/assistant relationship I’ve experienced yet.”


So in conclusion, the career of Jeffrey Gibson is a bellwether for a type of creativity that allows the empirical to be propelled by the intuitive. While he might not consider himself specifically involved in shamanism, art emanating from that perspective is rapidly gaining currency even in the hyperkinetic commerce of the art world. As writer Tess Thackera wrote in her posting on the subject, the subject even invaded the 2017 Venice Biennale where curator Christine Macel designated one section of the Biennale as the “Pavilion of Shamans.” But this trend is beyond ersatz new age or tribal simulacrum. Artists are engaging technology and augmented reality to enhance the viewer’s sense of transcendence as exhibitions in numerous mainstream venues have “pivoted away from an examination of the contemporary technologies that consume our lives, and toward forms of collectivity, self-care, shamanic rites, and an earnest interest in the sacred and ineffable”: all within the purview of the market. Thackera also records the opinion of the Chicano performance artist and provocateur Guillermo Gómez-Peña, who opines that, “The basic answers to our survival might lie precisely in the very indigenous communities that the corporate global project is rapidly destroying.” There lies the urgency and extreme cogency of Jeffrey Gibson’s evolution into an artistic, cultural, and economic force to be reckoned with in our contemporary context.





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