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Arts & Culture

Artist Jeffrey Gibson Reflects on 'How Far We've Come'

Native American artist Jeffrey Gibson works in a number of different media, from oil paint to assemblage and photography. And a bit of all of it is part of his exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art, Look How Far We’ve Come!, which is on view through May 21st.  Gibson is, himself, a representative of various groups that are often out of the mainstream - he comes from both Choctaw and Cherokee roots, he’s gay, and he grew up both inside and out of the United States. 

"There's a vulnerability in the work on a personal level," says Gibson. "My hopes is that in sharing it is just to let people know that function is oftentimes an overcompensation for something much more vulnerable underneath."

Gibson's personal cultural experiences reinforces his references to the past and present culture and political movements in his artwork.

"For me the works have always been political," he states. "I'm oftentimes referring to past events, past cultural and political social movements, that there's still many questions surrounding how those things have unfolded. But there has been some level of resolve that I feel we can say is an achievement."

Gibson also displays this sense of ambiguity and complication through multiple materials and techniques from Native American culture such as weaving, beadwork, jingles, and paintings.

"I always try to choose words that are not didactic," he notes. "They're not necessarily accusatory, but they're open-ended enough that the viewer is left to really consider how those words sit."

Jeffrey Gibson Wall Drawing, 2017, Haggerty Museum of Art

Letting the viewer question the meaning of his work is one of the most important aspects of art for Gibson. He wants to portray a future with an esthetic free of labels and conformity. For Gibson, the moment things become predictable or comfortable is when he is unsettled. He insists that his art, culture, and social movements keep a forward momentum.

"We really are cyclical, and those cycles take a tremendous amount of energy to maintain that we don’t go backwards," he says. "This idea of comfort is something I’ve always been a bit distrustful of, because it’s the minute you’re too comfortable that suddenly things start fraying at the edges."

There's more of our conversation in the file below:

Lake Effect's Bonnie North with artist Jeffrey Gibson (part 2).