The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) will host queer Native American artist Jeffrey Gibson’s first major museum exhibition, “Like A Hammer,” until Sept. 15.
“Like A Hammer will feature works from one of the most important periods of my career so far,” he said in an interview.
The exhibition features about 65 objects, including colorful beaded Everlast punching bags, large and mid-size figures, text-based wall hangings, paintings on both canvas and rawhide, and video. Gibson said the exhibition begins with artwork created after he nearly gave up making art altogether due to feeling misunderstood and struggling to find a personal language which described his experience without compromising it.
For this exhibition, he drew on his Choctaw and Cherokee heritage, Native American visual culture, and his memories as a young adult in the queer club scene. Gibson said his inspiration for the beaded Everlast punching bags came to him after he pursued counseling after facing the weight of oppression.
“Jeffrey Gibson’s work is vibrant and bold, yet its layering conveys ideas that reward close viewing. His distinctive voice and visual language have drawn well-earned accolades,” MMoCA Director Stephen Fleischman said.
Jeffrey Gibson: Like A Hammer reflects on survival, tradition, community and celebrates the preservation of pan-Native American visual culture. The artist often examines the role of colonialism and explores the post-colonial mindset. Gibson also reflects on how the American Indian experience parallels other civil rights movements in the United States.
“This idea of futurism began to enter the work. Many people are familiar with the term Afro-futurism so I wanted to find something conferrable to indigenous people,” he said.
In one colorful beaded text-based hanging, Gibson quotes James Baldwin:
“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.”
Gibson focuses on representations of modernity in indigenous culture. He looks at how Native Americans have reclaimed their aesthetics, whether it’s to make a living or just for ceremony. By painting on rawhide, Gibson said he forces people to pay attention and think about the material used.
“Many times in museum collections you come across fragments of things, and you don’t really know the whole story or where these things come from,” Gibson said.
The exhibition, organized by the Denver Art Museum and curated by Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Native Arts John Lukavic, traveled to the Mississippi Museum of Art and the Seattle Museum of Art before landing at MMoCA.
Gibson gave an artist lecture on Friday, June 7 and the exhibition opened to the public on Saturday, June 8. The museum will host a drop in tour each Saturday in June from 1:00- 1:30 p.m. and a gallery talk led by Melanie Herzog, the Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences and Professor of Art History at Edgewood College.