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‘Spirit of the Land’ at Orange Coast College celebrates Nevada landscape and Native American heritage

Gallery director Tyler Stallings at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.
Gallery director Tyler Stallings comments on Douglas McCulloh’s photo collage print, a piece made from Google search photos from the Spirit Mountain area on display at the “Spirit of the Land: Artists Honor Avi Kwa Ame” group exhibition at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

On the southernmost tip of Nevada, south of Las Vegas, sits Avi Kwa Ame, the Mojave name for Spirit Mountain. The surrounding land is the place of origin for 10 Yuman-speaking tribes of the Mojave: the Hualapai, Yavapai, Havasupai, Quechan, Maricopa, Pai Pai, Halchidhoma, Cocopah and Kumeyaay, which all consider the land a source of life. The area is also sacred to the Hopi and Chemehuevi Paiute people.

Avi Kwa Ame is celebrated in Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion’s current exhibition, “Spirit of the Land: Artists Honor Avi Kwa Ame,” at Orange Coast College. The traveling group exhibition is organized by the Barrick Museum of Art at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and curated by Kim Garrison, Checko Salgado and Mikayla Whitmore.

“‘Spirit of the Land’ is an exhibition that over 50 artists, writers, musicians and dancers have participated in four-plus different venues at this point,” said Garrison, who is also a faculty resident at Orange Coast College. “All of them are creating a love letter in their own way to place that we all care about.”

The show also celebrates a recent bill introduced in Congress that would permanently protect 443,000 acres of the Avi Kwa Ame area as Nevada’s fourth national monument. Garrison and the other two curators are key activists, and their advocacy through the arts is partly responsible for bringing the proposal forward.

“As the national monument was developing and progressing, Kim wanted to make sure to keep it in people’s thoughts, and so she organized several exhibitions in the Southern Nevada area in the spring,” said Tyler Stallings, director at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion. “Part of the idea was not only to have it in people’s thoughts but also to encouraging community members to engage.”

One way the exhibition cultivates engagement is through an interactive postcard campaign.

Postcards from art on display at "Spirit of the Land: Artists Honor Avi Kwa Ame."
Postcards from art on display at the “Spirit of the Land: Artists Honor Avi Kwa Ame” group exhibition at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. The postcards are being collected with messages to Congress to protect the Avi Kwa Ame land.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I really like that art has the power to engage us … and I really like that it is a safe and welcoming environment to talk about this. This exhibition gave not just artists but members of the communities involved of all kinds the opportunity to participate in telling stories about this place through a community call for postcard art.”

Garrison said they received over 200 entries of postcard art, which are included in the show at the Doyle in a slide show.

The postcards also served another purpose.

“In every venue, those postcards have been made available to the public along with the addresses of all the various representatives for this landscape, and people can write what they want at the postcard station and we will mail it for them,” Garrison said.

Discarded Christmas ornaments make up the Spirit Mountain outline on display at "Spirit of the Land."
Discarded Christmas ornaments make up the Spirit Mountain outline on display at “Spirit of the Land: Artists Honor Avi Kwa Ame.”
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Existing alongside Spirit Mountain is a local place known as Christmas Tree Pass, a holdover from the mining era of the nearby rural town of Searchlight. The work of artist and co-curator Mikayla Whitmore, titled “Sunrise Sunset,” focuses on a tradition that has evolved at the pass.

“Christmas Tree Pass traverses the west side of Spirit Mountain over to the east side. At one time, there used to be a lot of pine trees and people would go cut them down for Christmas trees. This is how it got its name,” said Stallings. “Now there are not many pine trees left there, but the tradition of people going up and decorating the smaller plant life is there, but the thing is they often leave the Christmas stuff there.”

Whitmore photographs the western tradition of decorating the juniper and pinyons with one photo showing a naked shrub in the light of day and the same shrub covered in a tangle of red, silver and gold tinseled garland as the sky darkens.

For found object installation, “Western View of Spirit Mountain Depicted in Holiday Trash,” the holiday decorations left behind were collected and used to create a mural of Avi Kwa Ame.

A collection of discarded Christmas decorations made in the impression of Spirit Mountain.
A collection of discarded Christmas decorations made in the impression of Spirit Mountain in southern Nevada at the traveling show “Spirit of the Land: Artists Honor Avi Kwa Ame” at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I don’t believe that people have knowledge that the area is also a sacred area to 12 different Native American tribes, 10 of which consider it their place of creation or as one tribal elder puts it, their Garden of Eden,” said Garrison. “Of course that is a cultural disconnect. Is there room for both of those uses of that landscape? I think there is if we practice a Leave No Trace policy.”

Concurrent with Spirit of the Land is a group exhibition of Chicana/o/x artists recapturing and reconstituting concepts of nature titled, “For some memory or some land.”

Mx. Burlap in "I am Them, They is I," by artist Jynx Prado, on display at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion.
A life-sized character, Mx. Burlap, appears in “I am Them, They is I,” by artist Jynx Prado, on display at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The show includes work that examines themes of land by Jynx Prado and Jackie Castillo. There are also pieces from Narsiso Martinez, an artist and former farmworker, that examine the agricultural industry.

The two shows work together to tell stories about the land we live on, its fragility and the conflicts over who takes ownership of it.

Garrison said that part of the process of intermingling artists, storytellers, scientists and people from different communities, from rural areas to cities to tribal nations, is the ability to gain different perspectives and consider the different cultural uses of the space.

“A lot of the art is trying to highlight some of the tensions or the issues of area,” Garrison said. “It is not just only a love letter.”

“Spirit of the Land: Artists Honor Avi Kwa Ame” and “For some memory or some land” are open through Dec. 1.

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