In an effort to bring awareness to dying and dead languages, one New Mexico artist is looking to her past for inspirations.
Last Friday, the Weyrich Gallery opened a new exhibit titled “Linguicide” from local artist Harriette Tsosie. The inspiration came, she said, from a DNA test she did after rummaging through her grandmother’s belongings. What caught her attention the most was the diary her grandmother kept from 1900 to 1968, she said.
In elegant cursive script, her grandmother documented much of her everyday life, she said.
The journal became the basis for her piece titled “Order and Chaos.” The work represents the long courtship between her grandmother and grandfather that lasted several years.
Tsosie shredded some pages from a diary, interwove some and left some strewn across the canvas of beeswax. Bits and pieces of cursive can be seen throughout.
Encaustic is a wax-based medium, she said. The wax is placed when it is molten hot and then fused with a torch or heat gun, and the process is repeated.
“The layers give work a psychological depth and that is what I was after. You have to look through them, and you have to look underneath, so in a way you’re looking at the past,” Tsosie said.
This eventually led her to wonder what types of languages people speak and the different types of media they used to communicate, she said. With loss of language comes loss of culture, Tsosie said.
Tsosie said she found inspiration through her husband’s, Carl Anthony Tsosie, history as well. Both live on in the Tewa pueblo where the language, Tewa — which has never been written — is in risk of extinction.
“I wanted real content that came out of my life,” Tsosie said. “All of this work is about identity, and for me that’s language, place and genetics. This show is about language.”
Valerie Tibbetts, curator and gallery owner, said the gallery often tries to exhibit works that are different and capture a specific essence, and Tsosie’s work does just that.
Tibbetts said Tsosie’s work clearly demonstrates how language is an aspect of identity.
“This (exhibit) is pretty unique in her way of seeing things,” she said. “Mark making is an innate human impulse, so she’s really interested in that.”
The works incorporate the languages of Tsosie’s elders and their migratory patterns, she said.
Tsosie’s work focuses on the visual aspect of language rather than with words, she said. The exhibit attempts to realize the separation between writing and typing.
“We seem to be abandoning an important source of brain stimulation without fully understanding the ramifications,” she said.
Chris Casey, fine arts and ceramic arts alumnus, said one of his favorite pieces on display was titled, “Braille.” The piece captures a different type of language, but still important, he said.
“The topic of loss of language is very prominent now,” Casey said.
There is a lot of history in the pieces, and it is all aesthetically pleasing, he said. Being in New Mexico, where there is a long history of conquest, makes the work even more interesting, he said.
Harriette Tsosie will discuss her work on April 25 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. The show closes April 27.
Moriah Carty is a culture editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MoriahCarty.
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