Our Safety, Our Sovereignty
Celebration is a word that encompasses the mood of the November show at Art Center Ukiah. Indigenous people from five counties have spent most of this past year coming together, telling their stories and using the medium of textile art to capture evocative images that they can share with others. The result is a collection of art that sings with color, pride and symbolism.
"Our Safety, Our Sovereignty" is the title chosen by the artists. Safety because of the horrible number of missing and murdered indigenous people in our northcoast area and the resulting level of grief and fear that never goes away. Sovereignty because Native people are actively reclaiming their stolen culture, land and languages after generations of being invisible. Some of the artists chose to depict missing and murdered individuals, while others created art quilts that feature an aspect of their own culture and history that they wanted to celebrate. Others focused on creating quilt squares that represent words from the Pomo and Kashaya languages. These squares were then pieced together to create two larger quilts, one for each language.
The Wellness Center on the Pinoleville Rancheria has been the epicenter of most of the art activity since the beginning of this year. People from twelve tribes have been meeting regularly in the large and welcoming room full of fabric, scissors and cutting mats spread out on huge tables. Inspired by their tradition of coming together to sew ceremonial regalia, the artists shared ideas and supported each other as their projects developed. One of the artists, Eloisa Oropeza, described the dynamic..."We all put our love and suggestions and praises into everyone's work. Each individual piece really belongs to all of us, and I love that."
Corine Pearce, a noted basket maker and teacher from the Little River band of Pomo Indians Redwood Valley, is the primary person who made the sewing gatherings happen. She reached out to the participants, purchased materials and showed up monthly... and then weekly... as the end of the project neared. After letting a tired sigh escape she smiled and admitted that she is very excited to see the whole project come together. "I made three individual quilts plus five language squares," she said after a moment of mental calculating. "I have never done any quilting or fabric art before... I don't even sew skirts! I'm excited to do more sewing and even more excited about my community's response to this project. People have told me that they want to do more of this kind of storytelling through art quilts. A couple of tribes have asked if the quilting group would come to share the process with them."
As part of this project, Corine also created a quilt to honor her murdered relative Nono. In her words "It was really healing to do Nono's quilt... the anniversary of his death is coming up this month and I was never able to get closure since he had a closed casket funeral. Recreating the image of his face has helped me find the closure that I needed."
Eloisa Oropeza, from the Manchester/Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians, did several pieces, on both the topics of safety and sovereignty. She says, "It's important because we need to get a message out to everyone about how we will never stop trying to figure out the issue of missing and murdered people. The person I've chosen to represent is Nicole Smith- she is from my tribe. She is like family... we are all related. It means a lot to me that I was able to do this. We need to continue to support Nicole and her family and get closure for her and all the other missing and murdered people. Representing real people shows that we haven't forgotten about them."
Eloisa's choice for her language quilt was "Yahwi" which means thank you or thankful. Eloisa chose that word because "there is so much to be thankful for." She explains, "My mother was fluent in her language and spoke it all the time, but we didn't learn it. Time ran out before I was able to learn the language, and now all I have is words here and there. I'm so thankful that our young people are learning the language now. I admire them even if they mispronounce some of the words. We have so few elders left to guide us. Sal Martinez is from our tribe and knows so much about our language and culture and I just want to say thank-you to him, as well as to my other teachers."
Monique Sonoquie, a Willits resident from the Tongva and Chumash tribes, says about her participation in the project, "I like to support Native communities in any way that I can. This is an opportunity to work with other Natives on something that is important." Monique describes herself with a wry grin as "not really a quilter... I'm a tacker," but that lack of experience didn't stop her from creating a beautiful quilt that represents the ocean. She elaborates, "I love to gather and eat seaweeds and foods from the ocean. Our oceans and sea life are in trouble because of pollution, so I want to bring awareness through art."
Another newcomer to art quilting is Martina Morgan, from the Kashaya Pomo tribe. After creating both a story quilt and a language square, she says, "I think it's a big achievement to make a story quilt when you don't know how to quilt at all." She continues, "It was very interesting trying to put down a story in one panel. Especially trying to tell the story of native women living in two worlds. I was nervous trying to put everything together, trying to make sure that what I wanted to say was all there. But I was excited every time I got to the next step. I'm in love with the piece and really proud of myself to be able to make something so beautiful. I think I achieved the story I wanted to tell... showing the shadow image of myself in western society with the true Native person I am alongside it. It was a great opportunity for me to learn." Martina's daughter also joined her in making a square for the Kashaya language quilt.
One more first-time quilter is Tanya E. Ruiz, from the Little River band of Pomo Indians Redwood Valley. She attended several sessions and created a language square with fabric that she had stamped with the handprints of her 5-year-old daughter. She says, "I'm the child compared to the older people here working on this project, so I'm enjoying that they are letting me work with them. I'm honored that people from all the tribes are letting me join in on such a big project."
The list of people who worked on the project is long. They are Monique Sonoquie (Tongva and Chumash), Tanya Ruiz (Little River band of Pomo Indians Redwood Valley), Danger Brown (Cloverdale Rancheria), Melody Williams (Sherwood Valley Rancheria), Martina Morgan (Kashaya), Khaymeyanam Morgan (Kashaya), Corine Pearce (Little River band of Pomo Indians Redwood Valley), Meyo Maruffo (Robinson Rancheria), Jennifer Faber (Cloverdale Rancheria), Eloisa Oropeza (Kashia Pomo), Taylor Pennewell (Berry Creek Rancheria), Nicole Whipple (Round Valley), Trelasa Baratta (Middletown Rancheria), Sarah Franklin (Scotts Valley Rancheria), Patricia Franklin (Scotts Valley Rancheria), and Gabe Ray (Scotts Valley Rancheria).
In addition to the people who participated in the art quilting project, there are numerous other artists contributing to the show in other mediums. They are Bonnie Lockhart (Sherwood Valley Rancheria), Eric Wilder (Kashia), Jewlina Acosta (Yokayo Rancheria), Jacqueline Graumann (Little River Band of Pomo Indians Redwood Valley, Wanda Quitiquit (Robinson Rancheria), Kilak Malicay (Robinson Rancheria), Crystal Pagal (Round Valley), Tara Martinez (Little River band of Pomo Indians Redwood Valley).
Art Center Ukiah and all of the participating Native American artists would like to recognize and thank the Pinoleville Pomo Nation for generously sponsoring the show, in addition to providing space at their Wellness Center for the artists to come together and do their work.
The First Friday opening of the "Our Safety, Our Sovereignty" show will be on November 4th from 5-8pm. Live flute music will be provided. Art Center Ukiah is located in the back of the Corner Gallery at 201 S State St in Ukiah.
Art Center Ukiah will also host a free art class on November 12 from 1-4pm. Corine Pearce will teach people to create a collage story square, similar to the story squares in the show but using paper and glue instead of stitched fabric. All materials will be provided. The class is open to all and appropriate for children 10 years of age and older. Participation is limited to 10 students, so please sign up in person at the gallery or phone 707 462-1400 to reserve your place.