Braided Roots / Trenzando raíces: Betsabeé Romero
13 September – 2 December 2018
Opening Reception: Thursday, September 13, 6 – 9 pm
Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero is known internationally for her large-scale public works and unconventional approaches to trace-making. Her work incorporates materials and techniques from vernacular tradition and popular arts as modes of cultural resistance and as forms of festive celebration. Romero engages themes ranging from the megalopolis of Mexico City to pollution, border culture, migration, and movement in contemporary life by recycling mass produced objects—such as cars and tires—that act as cultural vehicles, capitalizing on their material and metaphoric import. She enacts anti-modern gestures (through collective handmade labour techniques, for instance) that operate against the mechanization of industrial processes to decolonize materials, such as rubber or chewing gum. Romero is interested in how the mixing of cultural influences can be a form of dialogue in post-colonial contexts, particularly in the Americas. Conjuring the global-ancestral to explore the borders between the local and transnational, the individual and social, and the elitist and popular, Romero’s work can be viewed as symbolic action that enlists culture as the receptacle of deep-time, reinvesting in knowledge that is slow and cyclical.
Braided Roots / Trenzando raíces is shaped by the experiences, encounters, and exchanges Romero experienced during her initial research visit to Toronto and New Credit in May 2017 as well as further research developed over the past year—particularly in the aftermath of the Mexico City earthquake—into Canada and its mining practices in the Americas. The site-specific work is developed through workshops with the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and experimentation with materials and techniques in the sculpture studio at the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) at York University through the L.L. Odette Sculptor-in-Residency Program.*
The exhibition uses the AGYU’s three gallery spaces as a structuring device to engage entangled relationships of land, culture, and communication. It looks at these relationships through the lens of shared symbols, materials, and traditions that overlap and persist in Indigenous cultures across the Americas. Comprised of five monumental works—in cast-bronze, carved-wood, cut-vinyl, tractor-tire rubber, deer-hide, feathers, and video—the exhibition performs as a kind of cultural ouroboros, folding back on itself as it comes full circle. Bookended by a post-apocalyptic landscape of “lost” marker trees pointing in all directions and an invitation to commune under a Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent; the Aztec god of wind and learning) reinterpreted as a series of inter-connected plumes suspended from the ceiling, Braided Roots / Trenzando raíces weaves together a sophisticated story of strength, solidarity, and wisdom.
– Emelie Chhangur
Our indigenous origins tell us of the vital moments in this physical life, not only do our origins tell us where we started, but where we have also explored in life and what were the flux of influence that weigh in and change our ways or what moves us to adapt our ways of living in this human existence.
In creation stories of global indigenous groups; thematically revolve around a higher reflection on the state of energy and balance of natural law. We often talk about the indigenous creation story as more than just physical, but also reflective in spiritual (energy) realms. When one limits their thinking that only physical human focus is all that is required for life we are only seeing half-truths, and only accepting half of the truth tends to make things more complex. Socially humans have mirrored the complex that everything will revolve around the human physical need, and that we can create “time” and push the boundaries of natural balance at will. As if the physical human is superior over all else within the world, this intellectual thought often sets on a course of chaos. Human nature is to create a measurement of structure for life and to have rules to a game that only humans believe in—but environment and all external influences in the universe don’t play the same game. So the indigenous perspective aims to keep true to the higher understanding we will always be reflective to what our environment is, holistic and systems thinking, we are a product of the cause and effect. The existence of universal laws that will always govern us, we become conduits of natural law—“stewards to the land”—is our purpose and often thought of as our obligation.
So in the discourse of the global changes and social changes—we are bound to be so consumed by our human structures, rules, and games, that we still blindly uphold the judgement of human difference in this made up game. You do wrong, you then are labeled. You don’t live by the expectation set on you as a child, you are damaged. We have complicated the essence of life, and forgot the pure simple notion is to just live. That is what indigenous roots are—to know you are more than just physical; you are the land, you are the water, you are the stars, you have the blood memory of many past lives that are interconnected—you are spirit (energy). Knowing Truth, is your origin and that is what our braided roots are, we all had civilizations on turtle island that was upheld before the colonial contact and oppression to abide by the rules of a game we didn’t need to play. Indigenous peoples have governance and government – our ways of living were guided by morals and values to know we are not at the top of the pyramid, but we are interconnected to everything around us—so it was to remind ourselves to stay grounded and keep rooted to your origins. Our philosophies, and pedagogies were holistic around energy & environment based driven.
When the human race, set up divisionism, hierarchal status, discriminatory labels, social ranks, race distinctions, economical benchmarks, etc, this is when the chaos of disorder happens. We rewrite the origins of why we exist and become caught in this game of life. All the unjust and untruthful literature becomes what we call interpretive and persuasive “History”. Origins are neither good nor bad, but the birth of energy into a space of existence. This is the meaning of truth, to know that before all else, it exists.
Braided roots—symbolically means so much more that to be united. It honours the truth that collective strands coming together solidify a stronger foundation for you to be grounded, to have the tools of strength and clarity to experience what this life will take you through.
– Cathie Jamieson
*The L.L. Odette Artist-in-Residency Program is an intensive, hands-on production residency that provides upper level students with the opportunity to work with a professional artist to produce elements of the artist’s work and reflects YorkU’s commitment to experiential learning.
Braided Roots / Trenzando raíces is co-curated by Emelie Chhangur (AGYU Interim Director/Curator) and Cathie Jamieson (artist, Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation Band Council Member).
Special thank you to: Jordan Jamieson, Veronica Jamieson, Rachele King, Calvin Jamieson, Laura Jamieson, Kelly Laforme, Jen Sault, Mark Sault, Peter Schuler, and Chief Stacey Laforme for their generosity and for their contribution to the development of this exhibition; to Brandon Vickerd, Kevin Yates, Joel Wengle, and Roch Smith of the Department of Visual Art and Art History and to all the students who participated in this year’s L.L. Odette Artist-in-Residency course; undergraduate visual arts students Malina Sintnicolaas and Ana Ghookassian, who worked for AGYU all summer as Romero’s studio assistants; to professor Joel Ong’s undergraduate students Kimberly Davis and Divya Mehta from the Computational Arts Program at York University for the design and production of the sophisticated circuitry for the work Wind and Lightning Birds; to the Mexican Consulate and AEROMEXICO for their in-kind support of Romero’s travel.