Exhibition Melds Contemporary Art with Traditional Craft
Great Basin artists challenge the concept of Native American artwork.
STORY BY TERI VANCE
PHOTOS BY CATHLEEN ALLISON
Melissa Melero-Moose draws upon her roots growing up as a Paiute on the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony for her work as a mixed-medium painter. But her work is not a relic of days past.
“I would describe myself as a contemporary Native American artist inspired by the Great Basin,” she says. “It’s my interpretation of landscape, which can end up looking somewhat abstract.”
While making a living as an artist can be difficult in any genre, Melissa says she—and other artists like her—found roadblocks particular to her style.
“There weren’t any venues in this area to show our work,” she says. “The opportunities never really came up.”
So, collaborating with local artist Ben Aleck, Pyramid Lake Paiute and previous director of the Pyramid Lake Museum, they created their own opportunities.
After co-curating the “Under One Sky” exhibit at the Nevada State Museum in 2001 and the 2012 Nevada Museum of Art exhibit, “The Way We Live,” they created the Great Basin Native Artists in 2014 to promote artists in the region. The group is on display at the Carson City Visitors Bureau through June 19.
“This exhibition allows the Carson City Visitors Bureau to become an informational and cultural venue—the first stop for tourists to see the contemporary impact our own residents and neighbors have on today’s art scene,” says Mark Salinas, the city’s arts and culture coordinator. “It’s an exciting opportunity to see how Native tribes translate their traditions and heritage into contemporary works.”
Ben, a professionally trained artist who has traveled much of the country, is now looking closer to home for inspiration.
“I’m reaching back to my roots,” says Ben, who lives at Pyramid Lake. “Where I’m at now, I want to use my art to do Great Basin images.”
Ben weaves traditional arts into his contemporary images.
“I use willow to frame out some of the work I’m doing,” he said. “That comes directly from the basket weavers. It’s really soothing to go out to gather it. It’s a whole process to make sure it’s done right — when to gather it, how to clean it.”
His art reflects mostly environmental and cultural issues, all reflecting the central theme he’s learned through his life of travel and meeting new people.
“I’ve learned that when it comes down to it, we’re all human beings,” he says.
The more their artwork is seen, Melissa says, the more people will begin to understand its nuances and complexity.
“Native American art has a certain stereotype,” Melissa says. “People think of geometrics with baskets and Southwestern art.”
However, the stereotype isn’t practical.
“There are more than 500 tribes in the U.S. and each tribe has its own aesthetic,” she says. “The Great Basin Native Artists showcases our region specifically.”
Her work and the work of the group, she says, serves to broaden the definition of Native American artwork to extend beyond the traditional arts and crafts.
“I grew up with a lot of artists in and around my family,” Melissa says. “They were bead workers and regalia makers. They were inspiring all the same, I just use a different medium.”
The group is open to artists of all mediums including visual arts, performing arts, literary arts, digital and video arts, arts and crafts, photography, sculpture, beadwork, and basketry.
Great Basin Native Artists featured in the show are Melissa Melero-Moose, Ben Aleck, Topaz Jones, Jack Malotte, and Topah Spoonhunter.
If You Go
WHAT: Great Basin Native Artists exhibit
WHEN: Through June 19
WHERE: Carson City Visitors Bureau
716 N. Carson St.
Carson City, NV 89701
Learn more about GBNA
Visit greatbasinnativeartists.com for more information about the Great Basin Native Artists.