A blanket covers a body in a gallery at Washington State History Museum in downtown Tacoma. At least it looks like it.
The human form is just an illusion, a work of art in this year’s “In The Spirit” Native Art Exhibition.
The room, by Pyramid Lake Paiute, Nevada artist Charles Bloomfield stops a visitor in his tracks. Handprints cover the cover. It is called “Remembering the Missing and Murdered”.
Lakewood resident Bloomfield has been involved with “In the Spirit” for 13 years, sometimes as a juror, sometimes as a performer.
The exhibit features 37 works by 26 Aboriginal artists. Some pieces are traditional while others are contemporary, like those at Bloomfield.
The figure under the blanket is both present and missing.
“It must be overwhelming to have a family member missing,” he said Thursday ahead of an opening day reception. “You’ll probably never get answers because they’ll never be found…how do you deal with that?”
Missing and murdered Indigenous women, a crisis ignored for years, are now garnering media and government attention.
Bloomfield’s cover is covered in handprints in the style of Chauvet, France cave paintings that date back 31,000 years. They are based on footprints he collected from native women.
“We yearn to find them, to bring them home to their people, to their land and to their ancestors so that they can be put to rest in a respectful and good way,” Bloomfield said in its statement about of the room.
Not to sell
“In the Spirit” features an annual market festival on August 6th.
The pieces inside the museum, on display until August 29, are not for sale. This, Bloomfield said, allows artists to pursue their visions without needing to make art strictly for commercial purposes.
“Not all artists want to sell stuff,” Bloomfield said. “They might just want to produce a work of art and show it to the world.”
Some of the works are playful, like the two Sasquatch-like figures facing each other in metal by Muckleshoot (Washington) artist Katherine Arquette. She calls it “Brothers and sisters between two rivers”.
Traditional and contemporary
A traditional style cedar crow mask by Tlingit (Alaska) artist James Johnson looks across the gallery from a contemporary mask by Yup’ik (Alaska) artist Jennifer Angaiak Wood.
The masks are emblematic of the show, which oscillates between long-established traditional styles and contemporary visions.
A bentwood box by Seneca (New York) artist Linley Logan combines the two with its blend of cedar and glass.
The ability to be as forward-thinking as any other artist is appealing to Bloomfield and other Indigenous artists, he said.
“Because you can experiment,” he said. “You can try really different things. Everything you do does not enter. I’ve done things that are more controversial than that that weren’t considered.
This year’s show, as in previous years, was judged by a trio of Aboriginal performers. They named Bloomfield’s play Best in Show on Thursday night.
If you are going to
▪ When: Until August 29.
▪ Where: Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave. Tacoma.
▪ Information/prices: Check out the WSHM website: washingtonhistory.org/exhibit/in-the-spirit-contemporary-native-arts-2021/
▪ Marketplace : Saturday, August 6 at WSHM Square, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. washingtonhistory.org/event/in-the-spirit-festival/