I wrote about Jeffrey Gibson at Forbes.com in January of 2022. The Mississippi Choctaw-Cherokee artist was the focus of an exhibition at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum outside Boston, “Jeffrey Gibson: INFINITE INDIGENOUS QUEER LOVE.”
Since then, I’ve been seeing his work pop up everywhere.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto has commissioned Jeffrey Gibson to create a new site-specific installation, I AM YOUR RELATIVE, in conjunction with the Toronto Biennial of Art.
The work is vibrant and friendly in character and open to change over time. The brightly colored stages can be moved and reconfigured for spontaneous gatherings and organized performances within the Museum. Cut-out shapes allow views into, and out of, the semi-private enclosures these arrangements create. The shapes reflect the formal language that Gibson uses in his paintings, beadwork, and patterns and are in configurations that seem like symbols for communication.
Posters, textiles, and stickers designed by Gibson adorn surfaces throughout the space. This visual archive, which prioritizes Indigenous, Black, Brown, and queer voices, speaks to strategies of storytelling and place-making and to what histories are remembered and how.
The presentation is on view through July 31, 2022.
Later this spring, SITE Santa Fe in Santa Fe, NM will present a new solo exhibition of Jeffrey Gibson artwork, “Jeffrey Gibson: The Body Electric,” from May 6, 2022, through September 11, 2022. The exhibition is a comprehensive survey of Gibson’s multi-decade practice highlighting his purposeful use of material, provocative language and collaborative community-rooted performances.
“The Body Electric” features a selection of paintings, sculptures, commissioned community-engaged performances, and video installations, as well as a newly commissioned mural, THE LAND IS SPEAKING ARE YOU LISTENING (2022), activating SITE Santa Fe’s front lobby and main galleries.
I even saw his work in the lobby of the 21c Museum Hotel in Cincinnati.
With simultaneous exhibitions of new and existing work at prestigious institutions across the continent, Jeffrey Gibson stands as one of the most in demand contemporary artists working in America today, and, of course, one of the most in demand contemporary Native American artists working today. His work obliterates any boundaries between the two.
“I’m excited to see more Native artists exhibiting, showing up in collections (and) being written about than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime,” Jeffrey Gibson told me about how he’s seen the profile of contemporary Native American art rise in his lifetime. The artist turns 50 this year. “That is very exciting for me, but I will say, in our home communities–so for me, Oklahoma and Mississippi–there’s so much there that has not changed: dependency on the government, social issues, psychological health and physical mental health issues.”
The ancestral roots of Gibson’s nation are in Mississippi; his people were removed from the Southeast during the 19th century and sent to live on reservations in Oklahoma along with tens of thousands of Indigenous people from across what became the United States of America.
In 2021, I was fortunate enough to make two visits to Oklahoma. For the first I traveled to Tulsa on the 100th anniversary of the Greenwood race massacre. The second took me to Oklahoma City and the opening of the First Americans Museum. Both trips opened my eyes to how, when it comes to trauma per square mile, Oklahoma may rank first in country.
Indian wars. The Trail of Tears. Reservations. Greenwood. Even in contemporary times, the Oklahoma City Bombing. For a state with only 4 million residents few people nationally think of outside college football season, Oklahoma has seen tragedy by the gallon.
If you looked long enough, I suppose you could say the same about most places in America, a nation founded on tragedy, founded on stolen land, built through slave labor, persisting on force inside and outside its borders, requiring inequality to operate as designed.
Gibson lives in Hudson, NY, was born in Colorado, but spent time in Oklahoma growing up. I asked him what he thought about the state.
“I love Oklahoma. There’s so many positive, good things that I remember about visiting there as a child,” he told me. “Right now, there’s a lot of exciting things happening in Tulsa, Oklahoma City to do with the arts. So I’ve always known there’s these pockets where there is there is like a real progressive kind of mindset, but I think Oklahoma as a state has a very neglected history. When I talk to people about Oklahoma history, people are completely unfamiliar with how Oklahoma was formed, no awareness of the land grabs and the Dawes Rolls. I think it’s still a history that still needs to be unpacked.”
As with Mississippi, and the rest of the nation.
“In my experience with the Choctaw Nation in Mississippi, I was working with a self-identified trans Choctaw a woman on the reservation, we shot a video together, people talked–it’s a very small community–and she lost her employment and hasn’t regained it,” Jeffrey Gibson said of how some Native people have begun emulating the homophobia of white culture. “In Oklahoma (home of the Cherokee Nation), as much as I love my family, to me it’s still a very conservative southern state. I personally don’t feel comfortable there.”
I look forward to returning to Oklahoma and keeping the words of Jeffrey Gibson in mind. Due to its history, Oklahoma is a hotbed of Native American art. I look forward to seeing more of Gibson’s artwork in my travels. I hope you do to.