The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art has transformed SMoCA Lounge into a gallery with the exhibition, “And It’s Built on the Sacred,” on view through Oct. 17.
A full-room installation by local artist Jacob A. Meders (Mechoopda/Maidu), according to a press release, Meders used found objects and painted traditional markings of Indigenous people on them to reconsider “how meaning can be layered and reclaimed in these commodities.”
By layering imagery and significance in the found objects, he raises questions about what is considered holy or sacred and how easily expendable the sacred can be, which stems back to the history of Western European civilizations taking the sacred sites of Indigenous people and building their own religious structures on them.
Temples, missions and churches were constructed on sacred sites during the expansion of Western colonialism, which forced Indigenous people to leave the land of their ancestors, the release said
In 1978 , however, the release noted the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed to remove prohibitions on Indigenous people of the U.S. from practicing their traditional religion or cultural practices. This suppression and the trauma it caused have had a long-lasting effect on Indigenous people, many of whom used the Christian religion to mask or hide their traditional ways of believing.
“Building on, replacing and destroying what is sacred has been the gentrification of Indigenous land,” said Meders in a prepared statement. “To know what is sacred and to understand what is sacred would be to respect and honor what is sacred. Clearing the land with appropriation and commodification is the crafted tools of cultural dismissal and destruction.”
“And It’s Built on the Sacred,” a mixed-media installation, is a reflection on what is described as sacred and holy and prompts a dialogue about novelties and the handling of unwanted Euro-American religious objects, the release said.
“SMoCA acknowledges that the land we are on is the unceded, sacred land of Indigenous peoples and we honor those who are connected to this land,” said Julie Ganas, curator of engagement and digital initiatives and curator of the exhibition, in a prepared statement.
“Working with Jacob on this exhibition imbued a renewed energy within the Museum and has transformed the gallery into a space for reflection. It was an enormous pleasure for us to work closely with Jacob to bring this meaningful and profound exhibition to life to share with the community.”
At the center of the installation lies a circular floor created from dirt that Meders sculpted by hand. Hidden beneath the dirt is a triangular pattern created using willow — the primary material used for basket weaving by the people of Mechoopda from Chico, California, where Meders is originally from, noted the release.
The earth floor brings sacred land into the gallery and represents a space for healing, gathering and reflecting. Suspended around the dirt floor are Mexican blankets that Meders uses as his canvas for painting traditional Indigenous patterns significant to the Mechoopda peoples.
In all the components layered throughout the exhibition, Meders wants visitors to reflect on important questions around the sacred and holy; acknowledge the problematic history behind the objects; combine all the components of the installation “re-Indigenize” or reclaim the gallery as a sacred space — layering old and new histories, detailed the release.
A master printmaker, Meders also created an edition of signed and numbered prints for the public to take home with them to continue ruminating on the exhibition and the questions posed.
“Although we continue to adapt to the shifting environment, we remain committed to working with the community of hugely talented artists based in Arizona,” said Jennifer McCabe, SMoCA director and chief curator, in a prepared statement.
“We transformed our temporarily underutilized multi-purpose space into a gallery, and by doing so are cultivating connections in new and profound ways. Currently SMoCA features work by four Arizona-based artists, alongside two artists of national and international prominence.”
“And It’s Built on the Sacred” is organized by Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and curated by Julie Ganas, curator of engagement and digital initiatives. Through its partnership with the city of Scottsdale, the nonprofit Scottsdale Arts (formerly known as Scottsdale Cultural Council) creates diverse, inspired arts experiences and educational opportunities for community engagement with the arts, the release added.
See: SMoCA.org; SMoCA@ScottsdaleArts.org.