First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 81

REVIEWS above Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), detail of Nipton Highway, 2013, archival digital print. Image courtesy of the artist. Kaa Folwell (Santa Clara Pueblo) with her nude body overlaid with an ancestral Mesa Verde pottery design. Romero confidently recognized that Folwell’s heroic pose grounding this work “pushes the envelope” in their efforts to “find a truth.” Julia features Romero’s niece Julia Romero (Cochiti-San Ildefonso) dressed in her regalia and directly facing the camera. The backdrop of the “doll-box” diorama that houses her is painted bright orange, and it, with Julia in the foreground, exudes a dynamic energy. The narrative of this portrait grew out of the artist and her niece’s familial bonds with Cochiti Pueblo and their allusions to childhood role models and objects that represent the specificity of Indigenous worldviews. As such, the model’s great-great-uncle’s drum and her grandmother’s blue corn and baskets line the backdrop of the box, while a wild spinach pattern borders the perimeter. Romero collaborated with Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti) on the border design taken from pottery. 4 Upon turning the corner in the gallery, one sees all three of Romero’s diorama portraits, three Water Memory works (2015), Last Indian Market (2015), and a portrait of a Native man holding a baby in the air while standing on an open road. Named Nipton Highway (2015), this image is sepia-toned and has four sections with vertical borders that connect as a montaged portrait of two brothers from Cochiti Pueblo, Santiago and Paris, on a Joshua Tree highway. The pose signifies the transferal of knowledge between the two, while the paved road in the desert symbolizes ongoing change and reorientation. With the older man wearing a white tank top and jeans, the image takes on a feeling of a family photo. The gritty texture in the image’s background evokes nostalgia of an earlier decade. In this work, Romero uses formal aesthetics to shape the presence of time in a specific way. She conveys “everywhen” through the work’s visual texture and sepia color. She honors this moment by printing this photograph at a heroic scale. The horizontal orientation—a material- ization of a “photoscape”—speaks to the land as all-important and sustaining. Around the corner, the last work in Romero’s exhibition makes a strong impression and connects back to Nipton Highway. It is a portrait named Nikki (2014) that features a Diné woman posed low to the ground, abstractly reenacting a birthing position. Wearing only moccasins, the woman’s body perfor- matively archives the creation of life in a moment of remembrance. An historic Diné blanket with an eye-dazzler pattern creates a backdrop behind and underneath Nikki’s mostly nude body, with her head bowed forward, her braids dangling against her arms. In this work, Romero offers tribute to Indigenous origins and feminine strength in a contemporary vision, through both the birthing pose and the blanket that recalls the Diné people’s legacy of weaving received from the holy being Spiderwoman. This composition represents a collaborative portrait in the exhibition that provides audiences with new possibilities for the visuality of a mother-and-child theme. Overall, this exhibition, Cara Romero | EVERYWHEN: Indigenous Photoscapes, features a portfolio of works that show the artist’s need to portray Native diversity in visual metaphor and her fearlessness in recording new expressions of Indigeneity. With Native portraiture at the core of Romero’s art practice, she creates community through her collab- orative image-making process. This exhibition represents just the beginning of Romero’s photographic journey. In these images made over the past four years, the artist has heavily contributed to upending “expected” appearances of Native peoples by inventing scenes informed by her Chemehuevi worldview, ongoing efforts to visualize the strength and long-estab- lished presence of Indigenous peoples in the Western hemisphere, and collabo- rations with Native models. Thus, Romero’s images, exhibited in a commercial art gallery, gain traction to carry on the work to change and expand public perceptions of Native peoples. Her images bridge visual relationships between global art history, Native histories, recent land crises, international pop culture, and Native peoples’ lived experiences. With Romero’s photographs on view at Peters Projects, her artwork moves within the larger scope of contemporary art. In this field, her collaborative “identity stories,” visualized as digital imagery, simulta- neously fold within and beyond the original repertoire of the sites and people that hold these Indigenous narratives. In sum, Romero’s art practice gives way to a multinational exchange of histories. —Michelle J. Lanteri 4. Cara Romero, Instagram, May 30, 2018, WINTER 2018/19 | 79