Don't miss the chance to see Shaped by the Loom: Weaving Worlds in the American Southwest at the Bard Graduate Centre to explore the world of Navajo weaving. This dynamic gallery and online experience presents never-before-seen textiles created by Diné artists. These historic blankets, garments, and rugs from the American Museum of Natural History are situated alongside contemporary works by Diné weavers and visual artists, such as Barbara Teller Ornelas and Lynda Teller Pete. Shaped by the Loom highlights seasonal cycles that guide the harvesting of dye plants, the cosmologies that inform a weaver’s work, and the songs, stories, and prayers that are woven into every piece. The items in the exhibition will be accompanied by artist interviews, interactive storytelling, and stunning panoramic views of the Navajo Nation. Shaped by the Loom elevates the voices of Indigenous artists and makers to express the cultural legacy and continued vibrancy of weaving traditions in the American Southwest.
Image: Darby Raymond-Overstreet (Diné), The Passage, July 2019. Scanned Navajo textiles, canvas print, pine, wool. Courtesy of the artist. Image above: purchased by Uriah S. Hollister, 1911. Courtesy of the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History.
To know Navajo weaving, one must also understand the network of relationships that sustains a larger world, or ecosystem, of craft production in the American Southwest. This world includes the sheep, the seasonal cycles that guide the harvesting of dye plants, the individual and communal rhythms of making, the cosmologies that inform a weaver’s work, and the songs, stories, and prayers that are woven into every rug. With this in mind, Shaped by the Loom places Indigenous aesthetics and ways of knowing at the center of Navajo textile production, highlighting the localised and land-based knowledge systems that guide the process behind the finished product. Rather than reifying the object, this perspective foregrounds the active and generative practices that shape and animate this art form. Just as the Navajo language is powerfully verb-oriented, weaving metaphors are equally action-oriented, reflecting the connection between mind, body, and material inherent to the making process.
Image: Unidentified Diné)Navajo artist, Chief's Phase 2 blanket, before 1911. Purchased by Uriah S. Hollister, 1911. Wool, tapestry weave. Courtesy of the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of History, 50.1/4425.
By exploring the various modes and contexts of intercultural influence, adaptation, and exchange in the region, we also examine the trans-historical conditions for change in this particular medium, and how it is intertwined with materials, objects, and social practices that articulate both cultural and regional identities. With a focus on Navajo textiles, comparisons are made with Pueblo and Hispanic weaving traditions to show regional variation in—and transmission of—motifs, materials, techniques, and technologies.
Image: Roselyn Washburn, Diné/Navajo dye chart, 2019. Dried plants, wool, ink and paper. Courtesy of John McCulloch, Teec Nos Pos Trading Post. Image courtesy of Bruce White.
Shaped by the Loom brings into dialogue multiple aspects of process, including the tangible and the intangible, the visual and the tacit. It strives to de-formalise Navajo weaving in order to shift analysis away from the development of periods, designs, and styles toward an alternative framework—one that emphasises Native agency and experience in the history of textile production. As a result, we re-center weaving as a cultural practice, a mode of engagement with the natural world, and a system of Indigenous knowledge production and transmission, in addition to acknowledging its predominantly non-Native economic and institutional history. Striving to bring specificity to the documentation and interpretation of AMNH’s historic collection, this innovative digital project elevates the voices of contemporary Native artists and makers to express the cultural legacy and continued vibrancy of weaving traditions in the American Southwest. It takes many voices to tell this story, bringing different cultures of knowledge production into conversation and highlighting the diversity of perspectives embedded within these narratives. Through concepts of relationality, land-based literacies, and embodied ways of knowing, as well as interactive storytelling, dye and fibre analysis, and a variety of media, Shaped by the Loom will advance and enrich discourses relating to Native American textile art, craft history and theory, and issues of cultural preservation and heritage.
Shaped by the Loom: Weaving Worlds in the American Southwest is on at the Bard Graduate Centre until 9 July 2023.