Portland artist Mei Selvage has been invited to participate in an Intercontinental Biennial of Indigenous and Millennial Arts exhibition in Piura, Peru. The Chinese native will travel there from Oct.10 to 20.
She met Jorge Ivan Cevallos, the founder and director of the exhibit, while attending a First Friday event at the Portland Public Library last year. Bruce Brown, curator emeritus at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, had encouraged her to attend the exhibit opening. Cevallos, also known as Crazy Horse, was with the exhibit as it traveled from Toronto, Canada, and Jessheim, Norway, before stopping in the Port City. It showed in Chicago this year.
“I am collaborating with Jorge on an art installation related to inter-connection,” she said of the work, entitled Five Elements, five works on 12-inch x 12-inch canvases in acrylic that depict space, earth, wind, fire and air. “In addition, I plan to interview some indigenous artists when I am in Peru. They are doing some really amazing artwork, but they’re little known to the English-speaking world. I would like to help them and be a cultural bridge.”
Inty Ñan, or Path of the Sun, as the conference and exhibit is known this year, is co-sponsored by The Indigenous School of the Arts Community of Learning and Foundation in Ecuador and the Cossio Del Pomar Arts Association in Peru. The philosophy behind it is rooted in the belief that the “vast traditions of the millenarian (or thousand year) cultures make up one of the most valuable living heritages of humanity,” according to the call for submissions. “Despite being of inestimable social value, it is one of the riches most rapidly disappearing, due to such factors as general extinction and failure to create new talent, disloyal appropriation, imposition of foreign uses and customs, and intolerance and alienation.”
In creating the biennial, Cevallos wanted art to be inspired by the millenarian culture, and came up with the idea of a combined exhibit and arts performance, which began conservatively in 2004 with a pilot project on a small scale, meant to set up n Native America Musical Opera, named Ayahuashca, by the Canadian-Ecuadorian musician and composer David West.
“We could have started at once on the international biennial, but considering its implications, we decided to give it a try first,” said Cevallos. “We officially invited artists in 2006, with the first edición, that took place in Quito, Ecuador.” The biennial exhibit, now in its sixth incarnation, is “like a festival, with art exhibitions, cooking displays, workshops, performance artists, craft food, and a medicine fair,” said Selvage, who hopes with Cevallos that the traveling gallery will return to Maine in the future, but that is uncertain.
“We are looking for a partner and sponsorship to go back to Portland. We would love to, and also we know that the Portland community will appreciate our visit,” Cevallos said. “We would like to do it in the summer of 2018, but it is still just a dream.”
American artists Scott Hill-Oneida, a painter, and Roy Kady, a Navajo weaver with join Selvage in Peru. The Portland-based painter was born in Sichuan, China. She moved to Missoula, Mont., in 1997, to attend the state university there where she studied business administration, graduated, and was hired by IBM. She moved to Portland in 2010. Currently working as a research director at Gartner, Selvage is the inventor of more than 30 patents.
Selvage and Cevallos are working on a collaboration project. Her paintings provide the inspiration for his poetry. The title of their installation is “Thread by Thread, We Connect,” which comes from a Chinese phase. The concept is about the “interconnectedness” for indigence people all over the world.
“Even though we don't often see and feel these connections, they exist nevertheless. It is also a Buddhist concept,” Selvage said. “As far as the art work goes, I made a Chinese accordion book including my ink painting. The covers are traditional Chinese fabric, and I add a strip of Peru fabric, which you gave to me. The top circle uses Peru fabric, too. I still need to stitch a mudra using red threads to match with the threads connecting the top and the bottom part.”
Selvage’s work encourages Cevallos to invite more artists like her who are incorporating their native culture and heritage into their creations.
“We have not yet had the chance to expand the invitation to many more Native American artists, due to the lack of money to make sure that their work will go all the way to South America,” Cevallos said. “As we all know, the United States has an enormous diversity of Native Nations, full of talent in all the fields of the arts. We wish at some point to find the sponsorship to make this happen. Meanwhile we hope to keep visiting this beautiful country with the Travelling Gallery.”
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