Sarah Sense ‘Power Lines’ at Bruce Silverstein Gallery NYC

Bruce Silverstein Gallery will present the first New York gallery exhibition for Native artist, curator, writer, and activist, Sarah Sense, September 22 through November 5, 2022. Power Lines features two-dimensional photo-weavings and three-dimensional photo-baskets. Sense employs traditional weaving techniques from her Chitimacha and Choctaw family for this exhibition, combining photography and craft rich with historical significance and personal meaning.

The visually layered imagery is both created and appropriated, incorporating subjects and themes that Sarah Sense has explored over her career, including her two personas, ‘the Cowgirl and the Indian Princess,’ landscape photography, representations of American historical figures relevant to Native histories, stereotypical depictions of Natives in Hollywood, and maps from world-renowned archives. 

Power Lines shares a multi-faceted story; it is one of historical marginalization including the destruction and loss of land through colonization and the disappearance of culture and traditions through forced assimilation. However, it is also an uplifting testament to Native resistance and resilience, celebrating Chitimacha and Choctaw weaving and furthering Sense’s connection to her family and Native heritage. 

Each work in this exhibition includes historical maps of North America re-imagined, relevant manuscripts, and colonial letters to the British monarchy, many from the collection of the British Library, where Sarah Sense is a Fellow. The maps illustrate the everchanging borders, or Power Lines, that supported the claiming of Native lands regularly used as warfare against Native communities throughout America’s history.

Woven into Sense’s work are her two personas, ‘the Cowgirl and the Indian Princess.’  These recurring figures in the artist’s work comment on American popular culture’s Native interpretations in film, decoration, fashion, and education since the late 19th century. Sense associates these personas with her duality of being raised by a Native mother and a non-Native father.

The landscape photography is from her recent waterways journey through Louisiana and Texas while also visiting archives to view maps relating to the ancestral land of the Chitimacha. The research and photographs include the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River, Bayou Teche, New Orleans Delta, Sabine River, and Avery Island. Other landscapes are from near the artist’s home, California Redwood Coast.

Sarah Sense, Black Oak, 2022, Woven archival inkjet prints on Hahnemuhle bamboo paper, rice paper, beeswax, artist tape
Sarah Sense, Black Oak, 2022, Woven archival inkjet prints on Hahnemuhle bamboo paper, rice paper, beeswax, artist tape

In her own words

The Cowgirl and Indian Princess play with these complicated feelings, becoming more emotionally evoking when woven into Hollywood film posters. Weaving such identity politics through ancestral land then ties the figures to place,” Sarah Sense has said. “Adding the maps through the landscapes and figures suggests memory bound to blood and water but manipulated with popular culture’s interpretation of Native identity.”

About the artist

Sarah Sense was raised in Sacramento, California. Her maternal grandmother is Choctaw from Oklahoma, and her maternal grandfather is Chitimacha from Louisiana. From her grandmother, she gained a love of baskets and an interest in practicing basket weaving herself. With the blessing of the Chairman of the Chitimacha Tribe, Sense began practicing her variation of the traditional method during graduate school at Parsons the New School for Design in 2004.

While Director and Curator of the American Indian Community House in New York, Sense cataloged the AICH’s thirty-year history, inspiring her search for Indigenous art internationally. She has since traveled across North America, Central America, South America, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe to learn more about the art of Indigenous communities. Landscape photography from her travels is an integral part of her weaving.

Her works will be featured in numerous exhibitions this fall, including More Than: Expanding Artist Identities from the American West, Tucson Museum of Art, Arizona, curated by Christine Brindza; Transformative Power: Indigenous Feminism, Vicki Myhren Gallery, University of Denver, Colorado, curated by Daina Warren; Reclaiming Identity, Trout Museum of Art, Appleton, Wisconsin, curated by Bruce Silverstein Gallery artist Dakota Mace; Terra Firma, New Museum Los Gatos, California, curated by Marianne McGrath, and Chiefs, Clans and Kin, Art of the Five Civilized Tribes, Choctaw Cultural Center and Tulsa Living Arts, Oklahoma, Curated by Laura Clark.

The artist will also feature a unique commissioned work in the upcoming exhibition Speaking with Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography, Amon Carter Museum of Art, Texas, Curated by John Rohrbach and Will Wilson. 

Power Lines open Thursday, September 22, with a reception for the artist from 6 – 8 pm. Bruce Silverstein Gallery is located at 529 West 20th Street, 3rd Floor; New York, NY 10011. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 AM – 6 PM.

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