Saturday, April 20, 2024

Melissa Cody: Navajo weaver beyond infinity and back

Patricia Leigh Brown, A Millennial Weaver Carries a Centuries-Old Craft Forward, NYTimes, April 18, 2024.

Spiders are weavers. The Navajo artist and weaver Melissa Cody knows this palpably. As she sits cross-legged on sheepskins at her loom, on one of the wooden platforms that boost her higher as her stack of monumental tapestries grows, the sacred knowledge of Spider Woman and Spider Man, who brought the gift of looms and weaving to the Diné, or Navajo, is right there in her studio with her.

It also infuses “Melissa Cody: Webbed Skies,” the first major solo exhibition of the artist’s work, which is on view at MoMA PS1 through Sept. 9. in a co-production with the São Paulo Museum of Art in Brazil (known as MASP).

Re-weaving, re-mixing, re-creating:

“Hundreds of years ago, Navajo weaving played with illusion, creating 3-D effects with the overlapping and overlay of motifs,” said Ann Lane Hedlund, a cultural anthropologist and retired curator who works with artists. “Melissa has taken that to a new realm.”

She has mastered a slow art in a fast world.

Cody’s vibrant Germantown Revival color palette emerged from a dark era: the devastating 1863-1866 U.S. government campaign to annihilate the Diné by burning villages, killing herds and removing more than 10,000 Navajo from their homelands. In a forced march, the Navajo walked for hundreds of miles to Bosque Redondo at Fort Sumner, in present-day New Mexico, where they were incarcerated. There, in a creative act of resistance, women unraveled government-issued synthetically dyed wool blankets made in Germantown, Pa., and rewove them in their own designs, surmounting trauma and loss through sheer perseverance and beauty.

Precision and reflection:

She credits her mother, whose loom was in the living room, with “instilling independence in what I created.”

“She taught me a heightened, technically precise level of work, without a lot of negative space and every inch filled with geometric patterning,” she explained. “When I asked her about colors and if she liked them, she’d say, ‘Do you like them? What do you think about it?’ So there was a lot of self-reflection.”

Cody’s years perfecting traditional techniques gave her the confidence to experiment and create more personal work. “It’s ‘What emotion am I trying to convey?’” she said. “What’s the thesis behind it?”

Some of her most ambitious pieces have been responses to personal crises.

Local order and global vision:

To a non-weaver, one of the most extraordinary aspects of Navajo weaving is its largely spontaneous quality, accomplished with nary a sketch. “We’re graphing it out in a mental image — maybe a texture out in nature or the feel of a city, or a color, and then replicating it in woven form,” Cody said. “It’s a slow-moving fluidity, with everything calculated down to each individual string.” A large-scale weaving takes six months or more to complete.

Her mother visits frequently to help out, following her daughter’s lead as they lay the warp strings out on the floor. The studio is definitely a family affair, the loom built by her brother Kevin and the platforms by her partner, Giovanni McDonald Sanchez.

There's more at the link, including wonderful photos.

No comments:

Post a Comment