Donna Karan On Hand As Nomad Two Worlds Exhibit Opens In Los Angeles
In our modern, high-speed culture, we lose track sometimes of what came before. How do we bridge the gap between how we live now and the ways that indigenous people have lived on this planet for millennia? A new exhibit in Santa Monica, California showcases art as a form of communication. Nomad: Two Worlds opened last night at Pier 59 Studios West in Santa Monica with a presentation that combined art with strong messages about what we lose when we forget our collective past.
The exhibit was created by photographer Russell James and is a collaborative art project with indigenous artists. The idea first took shape as an art exhibition in New York in 1999 and evolved into the first Nomad Two Worlds Collaborative Art Opening in New York City in 2009, a blend of art, music, film, education and community outreach. The new exhibit showcases James' photographs which have been turned into giant art canvas for indigenous artists to tell their own story on.
What results is an artistic conversation as the signs and symbols painted onto the photograph enhance and add to the story. Aboriginal art has become highly prized and collectible in recent years in part perhaps because it is both mystical and highly sophisticated, combining abstract designs with a powerful emotional force. The photographs include both Australian landscape scenes as well as human images offering a variety of ways for the aboriginal artists to tell their own stories.
Present at the opening of the exhibit were several speakers who gave background not just to the exhibit but to the overall issue of how to protect and preserve the indigenous cultures that can often seem so close to disappearing under the bulldozer of progress. The exhibit isn't just one of looking at art, it's about really trying to understand other ways of thinking and being. The event last night began with a singing of the paintings. Aboriginal art is more than just an experience on canvas, it is stories, dreams, history and more. The story can also be sung (and sounded on a didgeridoo). Through February 28, the "singing of the paintings" will take place daily from 4pm - 5pm by some of some of Nomad's artists.
From Western Australia Dr. Richard Walley, OAM, who is of Nyoongar heritage, came to speak to the assembled crowd about his life as an artist and advocate for his own people and culture. Using a simple hand exercise, he demonstrated a core facet of both the paintings and his culture, which is that something simple can also be quite complex. He spoke of the differences between the culture of his people and the later Australian settlers and about the struggle to hold on to what remains of the aboriginal culture. The biggest challenge and the greatest mandate is to keep the culture alive, not just through study and archives but through the education of the youth. As Dr. Walley pointed out, the last to arrive are often the first to destroy. Plants, animals, languages and traditions have been erased new, more aggressive groups came in.
This issue isn't just one that affects Australia, it's equally visible in the U.S. UCLA professor Jessica Cattelino spoke on her work with the Seminole people in Florida and how they are trying to hold on to their traditions while dealing with the modern dilemma of best managing casino revenues. Graywolf, head curator of the Chumash Indian Museum and a powerful advocate for American Indian causes, spoke poignantly about the history of the land beneath our feet in Southern California. In an area where nearly everyone seems to be from somewhere else it's easy to forget that this was all once native land, all taken. His words were a reminder that the struggle goes on. Reservations are some of the poorest land in all of North America, the place that the natives call Turtle Island. Graywolf spoke specifically of his work in raising money for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota which has an unemployment rate of 85% and has suffered greatly during this brutally cold winter as many struggled to heat their homes. Grappling with strong emotions, Graywolf said that he was particularly moved to have the opportunity to come and tell this story and also by the fact that before the exhibit opened he was asked to participate in a welcoming ceremony for the exhibit. The symbolic gesture was another type of artistic and spiritual conversation, this one between two cultures separated by an ocean but facing similar challenges.
It is, as Donna Karan put it, about connecting the dots. Luxist has been following the work of Karan's Urban Zen foundation since 2008. In the last few years Karan has been on a spiritual journey, a quest for the inner dress, how to hold body, mind and spirit together in a chaotic world. Her Urban Zen initiative has three charges: to preserve the past, help the present through wellness and protect the future by helping children. Karan, a lifelong yoga enthusiast, has been on a mission to bring more holistic views of health and healing out into the open, incorporating aromatherapy, Reiki and other practices into healthcare that addresses the needs of both patients and practitioners. As her business and her passions have taken her around the world, she's also seen the ways that culture is changing. She spoke of the odd experience of seeing her DKNY stores pop up in foreign countries and the overall flattening of a world once full of vibrant and diverse groups of people. Karan has a particular affection for Bali which she sees as having been able to maintain its unique and beautiful culture.
Karan has shown over the years that commerce and philanthropy can exist in the same space. This exhibit also contains a retail space where prints of the artwork, hand-carved didgeridoos and textiles printed with designs inspired by the art. Although the aim is commercial, the pieces are also a touchstone to take with you to serve as a reminder that we are all indigenous people and all, as Dr. Walley put it "one under the one sun."
The exhibit runs February 23rd - March 2nd 2011, Pier 59 Studios West, 2415 Michigan Ave. Santa Monica (Park at Bergamot Station). It is free and open to the public from 10 am to 5 pm daily. More information on special events is available at the Nomad Two Worlds website.
Additionally, a special project between Nomad Two Worlds and the artisans of Haiti will be announced, several Haitian pieces are previewed at the exhibit. it also features a music and video collaboration between Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas (a Shoshone Native American) and a young Indigenous Australian music artist Corey Webster. Music and audio-visual presentations run on several large screens in the gallery, and integrate the Indigenous sounds, songs and stories of the collaborative artists. The image of Taboo shown above at the far right was done by artist Jamie Okuma.