A Closer Look at “Connecting Lines”

Saturday, March 11, is a proud day for the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation and our 2016 Visual Arts Fellows Brenda Mallory (Cherokee Nation) and Luzene Hill (Eastern Band of Cherokee). The two installation artists open their joint exhibit “Connecting Lines” at the Portland Art Museum bringing unique perspectives on themes of disruption, violence against Native women, survival, renewal and empowerment.

Hill’s “Enate” and Mallory’s “Recurring Chapters in the Book of Inevitable Outcomes” masterfully blend contemporary and past in a multi-layered exploration of history and the resilience and determination to overcome them.

The exhibition’s title “Connecting Lines” is much more than a catchy phrase. As Mallory explains, she and Hill would have at one point been of the same tribe, and would have known their familial connections through a matriarchal line. But because of historical events, such as removal and relocation, their tribal affiliations are instead connected through their fathers. “I, personally, have had to connect with my culture and history though study and books rather than direct cultural knowledge”, says Mallory, “so ‘connecting lines’ is both a noun phrase and a verb phrase for us, as we actively keep and seek connections.”

Hill and Mallory met during their Eiteljorg Fellowships and have a profound admiration for and genuine connection to each other’s work. “When I first saw Brenda’s work I felt an immediate connection,” says Hill. “Her work seemed to be a realization of what I have envisioned as may own art’, she adds. The feeling is mutual: “I know a work is powerful when I look at it and think ‘I wish I had done that!’” Mallory reciprocates.

In “Recurring Chapters in the Book of Inevitable Outcomes” Mallory uses tall shapes resembling charred timbers or skeletal plant stalks surrounded by colorful, lively spore-like forms. The ruin-like floor pieces speak to what was left behind, but the resilience and hope shows in the spore-like forms that scatter across the walls and floor like blowing seeds.

Hill’s “Enate” is an exposition on the numbers of Native American women who are sexually assaulted each year. The 6,956 silk taffeta representations of female figures are dyed with cochineal, a natural red dye developed from the carminic acid that is produced by a specific type of adult female insect in order to protect itself from predators. The figures are grouped in clusters of three, which are attached to a cloak that metaphorically unifies the women into a solid mantle of protection and empowerment.

While their aesthetics are unique and distinct, conceptually the two artists converge in the way they approach issues affecting their environment and communities in a multifaceted way that defies one reading of their works’ intent.

Mallory and Hill individually represent a nation that despite being forcefully divided and having separately evolved in different ways, was able to survive as Cherokee maintaining a common language, traditions and values. “We carry transgenerational trauma in our DNA, but we also carry transgenerational resilience and survival,” states Hill. “This show is about resilience and survival, on both a macro and micro scale.”

“Connecting Lines” opens on March 11, 2017, the Portland Art Museum’s Center for Contemporary Native Art, in Portland, Ore., and can be seen until October 29, 2017.