15 June 2011

Review | Teri Greeves: Storied Beads

Sunboy's Women, ©2011 Teri Greeves
Storied Beads marks Teri Greeves’ first solo exhibition in Santa Fe in over three years. The Kiowa-Comanche-Italian bead artist has been busy — traveling nationwide, teaching, showing in major group exhibitions, and beading. Her new series, unveiled at the show, takes beadwork to a completely new level.

Hung in Shiprock’s main gallery hall, the works are immense. Five new, monumental beaded appliqué pieces are mounted on shimmering raw silk and luminescent vinyl. The tallest piece looms at 80” high.

The trend in beadwork is to use the smallest possible beads — to achieve fine detail and to display the beader’s technical prowess. However, an ongoing challenge for bead artists is to have their audience not just admire the technical skill in a piece but go beyond to see the composition, palette, and most importantly the content. Beadwork is an art medium loaded with historical implications; however, it’s still an art medium.

By blasting past expectations, Greeves carves a new space for expression. In these new works, she uses pony beads, large-scale beads that can be a centimeter or more width. These oversized beads, in glass, crystal, brass, and wood, coupled with mother-of-pearl disks showcase the reflective, translucent, textured, or glittering surfaces of the individual beads — approaching almost a mosaic quality, which is beautifully offset by the raw silk. While beadwork is most often seen in motion — on personal adornment, dance or ceremonial regalia, moving rattle or fan handles — the glittering quality of the cut-beads and crystals are activated when the viewer walks along, bringing the piece to life. In Sunboy's Women, Swarovski crystals flicker in the starry night sky.

Detail of Wa-Ho: The First Song After the Flood
Stars are a perfect allegory for the Kiowa oral history that inspired these works. The stories reflect unchanging truths, standing outside of daily timeframes, and serves as navigational guides like stars. “This is how our histories are passed on to us: through the vibrations of sound spoken from one individual to another,” writes Greeves in her artist’s statement. “It is also the basis of much conflict between how we see history and how history is written and read by non-Natives.” The subject matter in the show is highly specific. Greeves truly wants people to know and understand the stories, so she included lengthy artist’s statements for each work. The gallery has posted her statements in toto on their website; however, the staff at Shiprock is so gracious and outgoing, you would feel completely welcome reading the entire statements in the gallery at your leisure.

The centerpiece of the show is Sunboy's Women, a 72” x 72” diptych mounted on blue and red raw silk, the colors worn by Kiowa gourd dancers. Sun Boy or Half-Boy are cultural heroes that were born from an earth woman who fell in love with the Sun. She died trying to return to the earth from the sky world, so the orphaned Sun Boy was raised by Spider Woman, an adoptive grandmother. The figures of the two women are portrayed side by side—young and old—encased in a giant handprint, dividing in half like Sun Boy.

The figures in the show are women, each portrayed representational but faceless, giving them a timeless or universal quality. Greeves’ figurative style calls to mind the work of Virginia Stroud, a Muscogee-Cherokee artist who was adopted Kiowa and who helped revive ledger painting in the 1960s and 1970s. Text is also a key feature of the works, graffiti-esque text in the thought bubble above NDN GRRRL! and the embellished script of a lullaby in Wa-Ho: The First Song After the Flood.

detail of Wa-Ho: The First Song After the Flood
The haunting She Loved Her People struck me the most. A lone, faceless female figure stands on a burgundy background, brandishing a sword.  Curliqued script proclaims that “She loved/her people.” Strategically sewn darker beads create an illusion of shadow on the figure, and mother-of-people discs stand in for elk’s teeth on the yoke of her dress, composed of sparkling cut midnight blue beads. Greeves explains how a 16-year-old Cheyenne girl witnessed Custer’s massacre of her people, including most of her relatives, at the Washita River. The girl saw Custer slice through the belly of a pregnant woman, dismembering her unborn child. This survivor joined a war party, traveled north to Little Big Horn. She fought in that battle and ultimately found Custer. She slit him open from naval to neck with his own sword. Today the German silver trailers that Southern Plains women wear at their waist commemorates this girl’s bravery.

The juxtaposition of feminine grace and bloodshed might seem incongruent, especially expressed through the “delicate” medium of beadwork. However, this and other works are about family and the willingness to stand up and fight for family. The young Cheyenne girl’s act of resistance restores some harmony and balance in the face of atrocities. So therefore the depiction of the girl is with grace and respect. The oral histories, although not necessarily “pretty”, bind together generations of an extended families and tribes. Greeves is offering the public a window into the encompassing and protecting web of stories and relations that help shape her tribe and her own family.

Storied Beads will be on exhibit through June 30, 2011 at Shiprock Santa Fe, Old Santa Fe Trail, 2nd Floor on the Plaza.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope "the collectors" can recognize the important conceptual leap Teri has made with this work. I'm nervous for artists when they do this b/c it can be risky financially when "the collectors" want what they are used to (i.e. the safe stuff). Teri's doing what her ancestors before her did, and what all great artists do by providing important commentary and reflection about the world around her.