Essay: New Mexico Is a Haven for Indigenous and Xicano Artists | #50StatesofArt
The Creators Project, 01/21/2017
Kade L. Twist
As part of 50 States of Art, The Creators Project is inviting artists to contribute first person accounts of what it is like to live and create in their communities. Kade L. Twistis an interdisciplinary artist working with video, sound, interactive media, text, and installation environments in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I’m a Cherokee raised in Bakersfield, California, with a natural inclination toward a brand of cynicism that often emerges from places where oil, agriculture and construction industries dominate. So, there are things about Santa Fe that I won’t mention. Everyone already knows about the commercialism, affluent old people, new agers, and the relentless commodification of Indigenous cultures from all directions, so why be redundant?
Beneath the noise and veneer of entitled Southwest Living, there’s actually something extraordinary about this place. It is at once an American Indian and Xicano community with a ski town, good food, art and cultural programing. At its heart, Santa Fe is much browner than visitors may imagine. There’s all the stuff that I promised not to talk about, but it’s still a brown place grounded in brown values. So things are slow. People are respectful. There are stories for everything.
Physical layers of competing histories and social, cultural, and political identities have been constructed on top of each other for 500 years, so there is a visual tension built upon the land that mirrors the historic and contemporary tensions of the land itself. And when you add the legacy of the Manhattan Project and the resulting military industrial complex to the mix, things get interesting. The place is absolutely loaded with complexity and contested space.
In this regard, it has been a good home for my art practice and Postcommodity’s studio (Postcommodity is the interdisciplinary artist collected I founded ten years ago in Phoenix). There’s something about living and working in a town filled with brown people that brings solace. And Santa Fe is a hub for Indigenous and Xicano thinkers, writers and artists, so it’s actually much more than solace, it’s community self-determination. There is legitimate power wielded by Indigenous and Xicano leaders that helps empower discourses toward relevancy and honesty. Perhaps, that’s what I appreciate the most. It’s an easy place for brown people to be honest. And as a result, there are dialogues that happen in Santa Fe that simply don’t happen anywhere else. My gallery, David Richard Gallery, exemplifies this fact. It’s one of the most diverse galleries I’ve come across, and their commitment to facilitating Indigenous and Xicano discourses in doaligue with Caucasian discourses is incredibly unique for this region. It’s also one of the last galleries still standing in Santa Fe that regularly exhibit conceptual work, new media and installation, so it’s unique in that regard as well.
And for Postcommodity, I couldn’t imagine a better place to make work. Both of my fellow Postcommodity collaborators are from the region. Cristóbal Martínez came of age in Alcalde, and Raven Chacon in Albuquerque. They are deeply connected with the region, the oral histories and nuances. Both come from Northern New Mexico mestizo and Indigenous families. There is a place-based knowledge system and localized criticality that they bring to the table through their families and relationships that informs much of the work we have produced here. It keeps even the most irrational ideas grounded, and enables us to turn loose and push boundaries and embrace the irrational and complex.
No place is perfect. But, I do know that Santa Fe is a place where I can disappear into my work and be incredibly productive. It’s isolated from the noise of the artworld, and the velocity of large cities. It’s easy to avoid distractions. It’s affordable, so project budgets stretch a long ways. And, if I want to take time off I can be on the mountain snowboarding, or fishing the Pecos within 45 minutes. It could be way worse!