Critical Reflections: Nora Naranjo-Morse, Eliza Naranjo-Morse, and Rose Bean Simpson: Trio

Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art<br /> 439 Camino del Monte Sol, Santa Fe

Date July 31, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts


Have you seen it, creeping over downtown rooftops, suspending itself from cottonwood trees-the Adobe Snake That Ate Santa Fe? It's a tubular creature, made of pantyhose, wattle, and clay, and slithers in a nonlinear line the way life does-emerging, traveling in unexpected directions, finally shattering.

Eliza Naranjo-Morse has for years explored this animated line in her drawings. So when Eliza, her mother Nora Naranjo-Morse, and her cousin Rose Bean Simpson were invited to participate in SITE Santa Fe's biennial, they took that concept to a citywide scale with the installation Storyline. And although they pulled all-nighters to pull it off, the trio concurrently opened a show at Chiaroscuro that highlights their individual work.

Multimedia artists from a renowned family of Santa Clara Pueblo potters, the women worked (for the Chiaroscuro show) in clay, an essential medium of Native craft tradition. Their art is therefore connected by snaking threads of bloodline, material, and subject matter. Nora and Rose explore the female figure in clay, while Eliza paints with clay (and other natural materials) on canvas. Eliza works largely in abstraction, Rose in figuration, while Nora straddles both worlds. Eliza and Rose are young emerging stars with a buzz about them; Nora is an established matriarch of sorts.

Eliza's obsession with the line is most apparent in Line Study #2, with its dreamscape of forms that are not quite bending elbows or knees, a continuous rope winding over and through them. Her brushstrokes of gesso and visible pencil marks on raw canvas, erased and smudged in places, speak the language of the unconscious mind. This piece is akin to the memorable work Eliza exhibited in IAIA's Tricultural Myth show last year. However, her other pieces in the Chiaroscuro show seem unresolved compared to the fascinating complexity of her best work.

Nora's newest contributions study society and gender. Off the Board comprises four waist-high chess pieces that are out of the game, where relative positioning, hierarchies, and agendas are no longer relevant. Off the board, a pawn could be a queen. The forms are undeniably phallic, and two appear topped with nipples, suggesting relationships of sexuality and androgyny. The Texture of Her is the headless body of a woman whose identity is communicated through her shape and skin; she resembles the rippling panty-hose interior of Storyline.

While Eliza and Nora work with the unconscious, Rose works on the level of emotion. She sculpts the bodies of women that are somehow altered, dismembered, dislocated. No Victim seems to bear pain stoically as her arm hangs suspended by a rope made of animal skin. The Spirit of Will is a totemic figure with the serene face of a Mayan goddess and the body of an alien, with six stumpy appendages in place of arms. Such identities have an understated poignancy in Rose's hands.

The Chiaroscuro and the SITE Santa Fe shows further establish the presence of these Native women in Santa Fe's contemporary art world, and perhaps beyond. These are artists to watch, who promise great evolutions ahead.