Melissa Cody: Webbed Skies
MASP, Art Museum of Sao Paulo
Jan. 21, 2024, 12:00 am
MASP — Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand presents, from October 20, 2023, to January 25, 2024, the exhibition Melissa Cody: Webbed Skies, which occupies the exhibition space on the 1st sublevel of the museum. Curated by Isabella Rjeille, Curator, MASP and Ruba Katrib, Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs, MoMA PS1, the show gathers 26 textile works by the Diné/Navajo artist produced with a traditional Navajo loom. In her work, Cody intertwines symbols and historic patterns from the Navajo weaving with some personal references that range from the landscapes of her birth land, in the state of Arizona, to the pop world of videogames and music. The exhibition also includes a showcase with tools and materials used by Cody in her weaving, as well as documentations of her process, allowing the spectators to expand their knowledge about this ancient technique and its meanings in the Diné cosmovision. Organized by MASP — Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand and MoMA PS1, the exhibition will travel to MoMA PS1 from April 4 to September 2, 2024. The show is supported by Terra Foundation for American Art.
Melissa Cody (No Water Mesa, Navajo Nation, Arizona, United States, 1983) grew up in between the Navajo Nation, in the state of Arizona, and the south of California, where she currently lives. The artist defines herself as a “child from the 1980’s”, growing up with as much influence from the Navajo Culture than from the pixelated universe of the first video games and computers. In the Diné/Navajo cosmovision, weaving is a technology passed on by the women, under the guidance of the sacred figure of Na’ashjéii Asdzáá, the Spider-Woman, placing women as main figures in the maintenance of their communities. Heir of this ancestral knowledge, Cody is part of the fourth generation of artists in her family.
Throughout history, Navajo weaving has had its symbols, colors, materials, and techniques affected by cultural exchanges and commercial trade, as well as processes of forced migration. Through the use of patterns and vibrant colors, Cody’s works are commonly associated with the “Germantown Revival” movement, which arose after the tragic episode known as the “Long Walk” (1863–1866). This forced migration began after a documented campaign of arson, pillage, and the destruction of herds led by US officials, which aimed to expel the Navajo people from their lands. Facing both misery and hunger, the Navajo were forced to walk from Arizona to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. Those who survived the tragic journey were then imprisoned in a military internment camp at Fort Sumner and subjected to inhumane conditions, and then forced into a process of assimilation to the cultural and moral values of the United States.
The incorporation of this specific type of commercial wool, produced in Germantown, Pennsylvania, with vibrant colors obtained by aniline dyes, opened new horizons of experimentation in the midst of a situation of confinement. That way, this practice became essential for the survival and cultural resistance of the Diné/Navajo culture. “The inclusion of this new element was crucial for the continuity and innovation of an ancestral technology, challenging the colonial fiction that insists on linking Indigenous cultures to an immutable idea of “tradition” associated with an idyllic past”, elucidates the curator Isabella Rjeille.
In Navajo tapestry, color, patterns, symbols and materials carry meanings that Cody employs as a way of weaving new narratives with the loom. As the tradition states, each tapestry is conceived directly in the loom, without any previous drawing. Through a skilled use of colors, forms and combinations, Cody creates works of small, medium and large dimensions, challenging the medium itself and creating three-dimensional optical illusions. As the curator Ruba Katrib states “the enormous skill it takes to find symmetry and variation in the completed piece cannot be underestimated. Critical to this practice is the reliance upon memory and mathematical combinations, which underscores how weaving is a technology that has also led to the creation of our digital age, and which Cody responds to in her subject matter”.