The past few months have turned the fabric of daily life upside down overnight, but art has emerged as a vital way to connect people through new platforms. Despite the hardships resulting from an economic crisis and a fractured gig economy, Native artists still have stories of resilience and creativity in our communities.
We first spoke to National Artist Fellow Rose Simpson (Santa Clara Pueblo) back in March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was becoming a reality. At the time, Simpson was the visiting artist at Anderson Ranch Arts Center, where she was creating works for a show in New York. She was forced to abandon her work and head home as shutdowns across the country swept us into unpredictable circumstances.
Simpson quickly started receiving more cancellations for speaking engagements and notices of postponed exhibitions. Grateful to be at a point in her career that is more stable, she was quick to recognize the impact on others. “The ones that are going to be hurting are the ones that don’t have privilege and access,” Simpson said. “We have a responsibility to prioritize a different population; to preserve access to sustainable knowledge for future generations,” she added.
As an artist, you tell your own very personal truth. That is where your work is the strongest. You tell your own story, and from that humanity, we can make lasting social change because in order to change anything, we all need to find our humanity.
― Rose B. Simpson (Santa Clara Pueblo)
At the beginning of the shutdown, it was more challenging to get supplies for her work. She had to consider creative alternatives to solve engineering problems, asking herself, “how can I use what I have that still esthetically meets my needs to finish this piece?” Like many artists, much of her public-facing work shifted to an online platform because of COVID-19. When we connected with her again at the end of June, Simpson told us that she had recently held a virtual exhibition and had successfully sold pieces at the Jessica Silverman Gallery in San Francisco, California. She has also been presenting in virtual panel discussions.
Before the pandemic, Simpson regularly traveled for lectures and exhibitions but has embraced the shutdowns as an opportunity to slow down, be at home with her daughter, plant a sustainable garden, and reduce her carbon footprint. Art on a virtual platform has made it more challenging for artists like Simpson to engage an audience. Yet, in some cases work/life balance has improved, art is more accessible to a broader public than ever before, and new works are emerging despite the crisis of this moment.
While she remains busy with work from home, connecting with curators across the country, and applying for grants, she still wrestles with the uncertainty that the future holds. “I need to also prepare myself for the possibility that these things I’m planning for might not ever happen,” she remarked.
If you would like to learn more about the art of Rose B. Simpson, visit her website for more information and future events.
Rose Simpson comes from a long line of Santa Clara Pueblo potters and artists whose works have defined new standards of Native pottery. She creates life-size clay and mixed-media sculptures, clay faces, and other figures combined with welded steel.
Rose and her daughter have been taking advantage of more time at home to explore, grow a garden for subsistence, and work on a home improvement project to build a roof. (Photos courtesy of the artist.)