Arts + Culture

Fowler Museum exhibition features paintings exploring Zuni cultural landscapes

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Middle Place

“Halona: Idiwana’a (The Middle Place),” a 2006 work by Geddy Epaloose, is one of the 25 works presented in “A:shiwi A:wan Ulohnanne: The Zuni World.”

“A:shiwi A:wan Ulohnanne: The Zuni World” presents a collection of 25 map art paintings by 10 Zuni artists. The maps were commissioned by the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, in New Mexico, between 2006 and 2013.

The exhibition, which opens at the Fowler Museum at UCLA on September 13, is intended to raise awareness about Zuni cultural landscapes by using art as a way to map the world of the Zuni, American Indians who have long resided in the Southwest.

Jim Enote, director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and the exhibition’s curator, was originally inspired by something his mother said. Studying a conventional map of her ancestral homeland, Enote’s mother, a Zuni elder, asked him, “Where are we?”

That pointed question made Enote think about different ways of mapping that could more meaningfully illustrate Zuni sensibilities of place.

“In the face of modernity and globalization, Zunis and other indigenous peoples are struggling to maintain a relationship with cultural landscapes,” Enote said. “I believe in addition to conventional maps we need new ways to represent our world, it is time to proceed beyond the map.”

The Zuni's ancestors traveled through much of the Colorado Plateau, settling in various places over the course of thousands of years, and eventually arriving at Halona: Idiwana’a, or “the middle place,” the Zuni's physical and spiritual center. Subsequently, government agencies and others used Western cartographic methods to map and rename places the Zuni still consider their world.

The Zuni — who settled in present-day New Mexico and Arizona — never lost their attachment to the places that made up the Zuni world, no matter how distant or peripheral. They maintained these connections through complex oral traditions that functioned as verbal maps, guiding listeners through both physical and cultural worlds.

Infused with knowledge from this rich history, the Zuni Map Art displays how Zuni people see their own history, their ancestral migrations and the parts of nature that sustain them. The maps are intended to spark conversations and guide viewers through the cosmology of the Zuni world.  

“K’yawakwayina:we (Waterways),” by Edward Wemytewa (2006).

“The Zuni understand meanings within these maps while others may not,” Enote said. “The latter group is confronted with an unfamiliar world view, an unfamiliar system of knowledge sharing, and an appreciation that we live in a world with many ways of knowing.” 

The exhibition features works by established Zuni painters Ronnie Cachini, Duane Dishta and Edward Wemytewa. It also features several emerging Zuni artists: Keith Edaakie, Geddy Epaloose, Larson Gasper, Ermalinda Pooacha-Eli, Kenneth Seowtewa, Levon Loncassion and Joey Zunie. Most are self-taught artists who employ a variety of mediums in their map art paintings, including oil on canvas, watercolor on paper, acrylic on canvas and digital painting.

The Fowler Museum at UCLA is one of the country’s most respected institutions devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas. The Fowler is open Wednesdays through Sundays, from noon to 5 p.m.; and on Thursdays, from noon until 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The Fowler Museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $12 in Lot 4. For more information, call 310-825-4361. 

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