Thursday, July 11, 2013

Stranger in the Desert

Artist, and good friend, Megan Evans came to BoxoHOUSE immediately following a three-month residency in Liverpool, UK where she was hosted by the Liverpool Biennial as part of the Australia Council International Residency Program.  Without taking a breath, Megan dove right into her project which involved exploring the history of original inhabitants in the Desert Region and examining the effects of  being cut off from this rich past on those who do not engage with the story of the land they inhabit. This residency project is part of a larger effort Megan is undertaking in which she examines colonialism and its effect on her personally, and on colonial cultures in general. 

When Megan first asked me about my knowledge of the history around Joshua Tree, I realized that it was very thin. I responded  that there wasn't much material and that it seemed to me that the history of Joshua Tree and the region is very new, largely dating to the granting of 5 acre plots under the Small Tract Act of 1938. My view was that the land had not been inhabited prior to that - a wilderness under the control of the Bureau of Land Management. Megan did some preliminary research and corrected me very soon. There is a host of information and there are people willing to enter into dialog on the subject. My view on habitation of the land is a typical preconception born of ignorance. The original inhabitants of the area moved around depending on season, setting up more temporary encampments. They did not see land occupation in the same way we do - the whole region was their playground.


Megan's research took her to the Agua Caliente Cutlural Museum, conversations and a meeting with Tony Soares, a local ceramicist keeping the traditions of Native American pottery alive, and even to the Marine Corps Base at Twentynine Palms which maintains a curatorial center at which artifacts from the field are cataloged and made available for research. Listening to the rich conversations that ensued, I became much more attuned to Megan's point that by losing touch with the traditions and teachings of original inhabitants of the area, we may have lost our way. So much time is spent now developing new alternative methods for treating the land and ourselves, ways of being that had been discovered centuries ago and then swept aside during the colonization of the West.


Megan Evans, Celtic Stranger 2, 2013



Besides diving into the research, Megan also spent much time in the studio creating work in diverse media as response to the context she was uncovering. Beading, watercolor painting, embroidery and large scale collage all began to emerge around the walls and on the shelf. Megan brought with her a re-creation of her grandmother's Victorian gown, as well as some Celtic items namely a plaid bodice and a sporran, as a nod to her Scottish heritage. She undertook several shoots, creating both stills and video. Wearing the gown, she explored the contrast of Victorian restraint with the expansiveness of the Joshua Tree National Park. The Celtic shoot took place on Celtic Knot for Joshua Tree, Steed Taylor's project from March of this year.

Megan Evans, Stranger in the Desert 4, 2013

Megan engaged with the local community in many ways: working with me on facilitating a Transition Joshua Tree Heart &Soul workshop, attending a Memorial Day concert by local musicians held in the cemetery, posing in the Victorian gown with local stalwarts down at the Joshua Tree Saloon and preparing her work for the wonderful open house we held in mid-June. I'm very thankful to Megan for the contribution she made to both my understanding of the history and context of original inhabitants of my land, and to that of the community at large. No longer a stranger in the desert. Artwork from the residency will be exhibited at BoxoOFFICE in the Fall.

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