Water is Life
Co-Curated by JayCee Beyale
September 23rd – November 26th, 2022
Participating Artists: JayCee Beyale, Theresa Clowes, Kendall Rose Kippley, Zeke Peña, Nicole Salimbene, and Anna Tsouhlarakis
“Water doesn’t discriminate, but people do. How do we make this a human need rather than a demographic need?” -JayCee Beyale
Our bodies are living organisms and often our best indicators when something is wrong. Our bodies will make us sick, will begin breaking down muscle or bone, and even go into complete shock to make a point that we can’t ignore. Similarly, the planet that we all call home has begun to do the same, and at a frightening pace. Earth has been telling us to slow down, to stop, and to reconsider our actions of “progress” by sending heavy rains, damaging hail, raging winds, and extreme flooding our way. Tornados are no longer contained to a season and whole towns can be wiped out in just minutes from out-of-control fires. The planet is using all of the resources that it has to communicate with us, and yet we just won’t listen. But how can we possibly look at the planet as a home for us all to collectively defend if political discourse overshadows human needs?
This is where the collision of artists and scientists comes in. As more water sources and water supplies become commodified, it is exponentially more important for artists and scientists to team up across cultures and disciplines to make defending our vital resources a priority before they are depleted. If we can look outside the lens of money, politics, and power, there is a chance for a new view of this resource to come to life.
Artists often hold an intrinsic connection to their environment, sensing things before the general public and feeling deep upsets within the community before they are pinpointed by the masses. This intuition pushes artists ahead of the curve and allows them to begin visually integrating data, emotional responses, and calls to action into their work. Abstract thought processes create space to ponder future developments in the world of water and start to think about a world without it. Paired with climate research and personal anecdotes, the power of storytelling becomes a force that can be used to deconstruct the notion of water’s immortality that we hold in this country.
This exhibition brings together artists invested in protecting and educating others about the importance of water to the collective human species. El Paso-born artist Zeke Peña presents an expanded version of his 12-color serigraph The River, exploring the past, present, and future of the Rio Grande River that separates the border of the United States and Mexico. Kendall Rose Kippley brings in text to her large-scale abstract landscapes, challenging viewers with the phrase Don’t Let Me Go among a field of ice. Muralist and co-curator JayCee Beyale will explore Navajo creation stories through color symbolism, iconography, and lands connected to the cardinal directions. In the Hand-Rudy Gallery, educator Theresa Clowes will show a series of new color studies, created by visiting 25 locations along the Colorado River and studying the water, paired with a hand-felted map of the same river. Maryland-based artist Nicole Salimbene will create a solemn space to contemplate your connection to collected waters and Anna Tsouhlarakis will round out the exhibition with a new multi-media installation, telling the story of the Native woman’s gift of water. If we can begin to listen to our planet and see the significance of water as a finite, depleting resource perhaps we can defend it before it is gone.
Opening Night Panel Discussion
September 23rd, 4:00 – 5:30pm, Carsen Theater in Dairy Arts Center
Join exhibiting artists, grass-roots organizers, and scientists from CU Boulder’s Mountain Research Station in a panel discussion about water conservation, collective water use, our spiritual connection to the shared waters of the world, as well as how the art on view speaks to these universal understandings.
This event is free and open to the public, first come first serve as seating is limited
Opening Reception and Artist Panel
we are water invites you to sit at the table/bridge to reflect on your relationship with water. What are the personal, political, historical and sacred relationships you hold with water? In the slow stillness of contemplation, what surfaces and integrates?
Since 2014 I have been creating interactive installations that focus on cultivating an empathic relationship with water by inviting people to witness and/or participate in contemplative practice.
I constructed this installation out of parts of previous sculptures, which I disassembled and reimagined here. It was an exercise in non-attachment to let go of existing work, allowing it to flow into its present form.
The test tubes which line the table/bridge hold water collected from creeks, rivers, lakes and an ocean for previous installations. They also hold the Colorado River, collected this summer as I traveled the path between California and Colorado. In the spirit of reciprocity with the river, I wanted to give back something as I gathered a small sample. What could I possibly give back? How could I show my love and gratitude? To be in relation is to wonder about these questions, and so I decided as a small gesture in the moment to read to the river a blessing by the poet John O’Donohue, “In Praise of Water.” As you sit with the water, perhaps you too will imagine ways to share an act of love with the water within you and around you.
Perhaps, too, you will cross this invisible bridge between the seen and unseen. The three openings in the table are crossed by a woven fabric of receipts bound with wire. They are the material of previous tapestry work, which explores the hidden nature of consumption. They reference the complexity of our habits as consumers, provoking questions around how we hold and behold our responsibility and interdependence on this planet.
Floating above the table, the illuminated canoe shape was created by hand-stitching my photographic negatives. It is part of an earlier work, Knowing Your Water. In juxtaposing the test tubes, signifying science and research, with the photographic negatives, signifying the emotional intimacy of memories, I bring together the ways in which we study our interconnectedness. Both symbolize a way of holding time for examination, a chance to consider and change course before being carried toward our destination.
Nicole Salimbene (b. Trinidad, CO) is a Washington, D.C. based artist working at the intersection of poetics, psychology, environmentalism and contemplative practice. Personal influences originate from her upbringing—born into a Catholic, Italian-American household in Trinidad, Colorado, and raised in a working-class family in Niagara Falls, NY during the time of the Love Canal crisis (an environmental disaster resulting in the first US EPA Superfund). Environmental, spiritual, and political issues from her background circulate in the conceptual and material choices within her work.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado. She has worked in the social service fields in mental health facilities and as a domestic violence crisis counselor. Before embarking on a full-time art practice, she spent many years as an arts administrator in the performing arts, working with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
Her art has been exhibited nationally and internationally and has been reproduced for publications and purchased for private collections. Her work has received recognition from The Art Newspaper, Washington Post, Al Tashkeel, Contemporary Identities International Art Magazine, The Smithsonian Art Museum Blog: Eye Level, and Sculpture Magazine. The Maryland State Arts Council granted her an Individual Artist Award in 2021 and in 2017 for Sculpture/Installation. She was awarded the Tom Rooney Prize in Washington Sculptors Group’s Sculpture Now 2012 exhibit and Second Place for the 2018 Trawick Prize. Additionally, she leads workshops in Opening to Your Creativity: Art as Contemplative Practice in affiliation with various social, spiritual, environmental, and academic communities.
Her Second Story: Blood and Water. 2022
This piece is part of a new body of work delving into the notion of woman as savior and protector. Throughout a lifetime our body is continuously sacrificed for the continuation of existence. While traditional stories speak to roles women play, this work brings the intensity and rawness of motherhood and womanhood to the forefront. These are new myths, new stories of the changing world. Her Second Story: Blood and Water addresses the lack of action around climate change and access to water. While everyone else is being ineffective and futile, even the clouds, the woman takes it upon herself to fix things.
Anna Tsouhlarakis works in sculpture, installation, video, and performance. She received her BA from Dartmouth College with degrees in Native American Studies and Studio Art. She went on to receive her MFA from Yale University in Sculpture. Tsouhlarakis has participated in various art residencies including Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Yaddo, and was the Andrew W. Mellon Artist-in-Residence at Colorado College for the 2019-2020 academic year.
Tsouhlarakis’s work has been part of national and international exhibitions at venues such as NEON Foundation in Athens, Greece; White Frame in Basel, Switzerland; Rush Arts in New York; the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto; the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts; the Heard Museum; and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. She has upcoming exhibitions at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art; Utah Museum of Fine Arts; and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. She is a Creative Capital Award recipient for 2021. Other recent awards include fellowships from the Harpo Foundation, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. Her work appears in several anthologies of Native American art including the recently published Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices from 1950 to Now.
In the fall of 2022, Tsouhlarakis will be part of the National Portrait Gallery’s “Portraiture Now: Kinship” exhibition in Washington, DC and will also have performances throughout the year in the NPG as part of the “IDENTIFY: Performance Art as Portraiture” series.
Tsouhlarakis is Greek, Creek, and an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and lives and works in Colorado.
RECLAIM THE RIVER: Symbols and Satire in The River (Remix)
In the Chihuahuan desert on Turtle Island (North America), we instinctively understand the importance of water but most of us who live in this region are only familiar with faucet water and rain. Over the past several years, I have researched and made work about the River known as Peh-la, Rio Grande or Río Bravo. I’ve focused on the section of this sacred river that runs through what is known today as the Paso Del Norte Region in the Mexico-US borderlands. The significance of the River in our community, culture, and history is obscured by decades of erasure and border militarization. This section of the Middle Rio Grande is often referred to as the “Forgotten Reach,” a section of the River that is completely dry with the exception of seasonal irrigation allotments. It’s also here, yards past the American Dam, that the River begins being used as the line of demarcation for the international boundary.
I’m not a scientist or a hydrologist, but I’m interested in the cultural, social, and historical relationship the communities of the Paso Del Norte region have with the River. This special River has sustained my mother’s family in the Mesilla Valley for generations. But I didn’t grow up with a deep understanding or connection with the River. The history of colonized regions is broken, cloaked in myth, and often erased entirely—and this region has been colonized twice.
During a workshop with students from both El Paso, Texas, in the United States and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, in Mexico, I confirmed what I know from my own experience growing up here: Our youth in this region see the river as a boundary first, then a river. Asking young people about the River uncovers a generational shift because so few of them have any memory of the river. Most of them have only crossed the River on one of the international bridges that connect the two countries. In contrast, elders in the community have significant personal memories that precede the construction of the concrete canal that channelized the River after the signing of the Chamizal Treaty in 1965. Their memories also precede the border wall that in recent years has been violently constructed against the will of our transnational community and to the detriment of Indigenous communities like the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo (Tigua). The lack of knowledge and relationship with the River that increases with each generation leaves a void for the River space to be further occupied and destroyed. What we are experiencing today with a dry riverbed most of the year is not normal, because it wasn’t too long ago the River flowed wild and free.
The River (Remix) is a panoramic comic in two parts that tells a visual story of the River in past, present, and future using images, symbols, and satire—telling a story of the River without words. The story is not objective, not comprehensive, and not linear but focuses instead on key moments in our relationship with the River. Similar to the work of José Guadalupe Posada, Leopoldo Méndez, and the printmakers of Taller de Gráfica Popular (Mexico), this comic uses satire to expose truths about the colonization, exploitation, and militarization of the River. The River (Remix) uses exaggeration and caricatures of calaveras (skulls) to highlight the detrimental changes inflicted on the river like Posada’s Calavera revolucionaria (Revolutionary Calavera, 1910) and Taller de Gráfica Popular’s Calaveras estranguladoras (Strangling Calaveras, 1942). The comic also illustrates actual people, places, and moments, including the sacred site known today as Hueco Tanks; the Indigenous people of Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo (Tigua); Spanish Colonization and Juan de Oñate’s river crossing; the doctrine of Manifest Destiny and American Colonization; the construction of the international border and border militarization; a march and ceremony in protest of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline; and the flood that changed my own family’s history in the region. This brief collection of visual-historical narratives is an attempt to remix truth back into our history, reclaim our shared story with the River, and reconnect to the River that sustains our community.
This statement was originally published as part of “a Library, a Classroom, and the World” in the 2022 Venice Biennial Art exhibition Personal Structures, organized and hosted by the European Cultural Centre in Venice, Italy, which opened on April 23, 2022. Some of these reflections first appeared on August 4, 2021, in the University of New Mexico Art Museum Journal written when I was an artist-in-residence at the Center for Environmental Arts and Humanities.
Zeke Peña is a Xicano storyteller and cartoonist from El Paso, TX. His comics and remixed visual narratives address universal themes of identity, politics, ecology and social justice using a mash-up of political cartoon, border rasquache and Hip Hop culture. He received a degree in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin and is self-taught in the studio. Zeke has received several awards for his book illustrations and his work is in several collections of American and Xicano art. Zeke is currently writing and illustrating a sci-fi adventure picture book set in a futuristic version of the Chihuahuan desert he grew up in.
My artwork explores symbiotic and reciprocal relationships between humans and their environments. These exchanges provide mutual benefits; however, such equitable harmony is arguably out of balance today. In 2009, a group of 28 scientists from around the world came together to create the “planetary boundaries framework,“ which identified nine processes required to maintain life on Earth. Humans have surpassed the safe threshold for four of these boundaries. (1) Rather than dwelling on this ominous danger, my curiosity about the possibility of equivalence drives my creative process.
The Colorado River (2019) lace drawing is a blueprint of the river’s 1,500 miles presented in overlapping five-mile segments. Today, this river rarely flows the entire 1,500 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California. If this drawing were created today (2022), it would be considerably smaller. Color Samples from twenty-five points along the Colorado River continue to articulate essential data about our water supply. A viewer can easily see the undulating color back and forth between flowing water and dry land, highlighting the complicated and strange predicament of having too much water and not enough at the same time. This artwork continues to incorporate ideas about interconnected relationships through material and concepts that address global warming, our human impact, and the possibility of equilibrium and reciprocity with our environment.
Theresa Clowes’ creative work has been exploring environmental relationships for over 25+ years. Her abstract landscapes and public installations transform essential data about global warming and our ecological impact into extensive visual articulations. Clowes holds a BFA from Kansas City Art Institute, an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, and is currently a professor at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. She believes that being an artist does not stray far from being a teacher; they both come from the heart and soul.
As Louis Kahn once said, “The nature of space reflects what it wants to be.” Clowes’ work focuses on the possibility of environmental reciprocity. Rather than dwelling on the ominous dangers, she is inspired by close exchanges that reveal the prospect of equilibrium. Her work incorporates ideas about interconnection and juxtaposition through both material and concept presenting an optimistic visual statement of the potential of living with nature symbiotically.
Theresa Clowes is represented by Walker Fine Art Gallery in Denver, CO, and her most recent public artwork can be seen at 1900 16th Street, Denver, CO. Her work has been exhibited locally at RedLine Arts, Temple Hoyne Buell Theatre, Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, Phillip Steel Gallery, Vertigo Gallery, and nationally in Kansas City, Detroit, Houston, and Portland, Oregon.
This piece tells the story of how the Dine’ (Navajo) people relate to their surroundings. The element of water is a persisting thread binding the Dine’ to their land, plants, insects, and animals, and ensures that the cyclical nature of the land remains in harmony.
Today, the Dine’ people still haul clean water back to their communities. In our creation stories, water is revered for its ability to give life and to take life away–for all growth that is catalyzed, a shadow of damage follows. In our communities, we push through the side of commodification, contamination, and scarcity towards a voice for our water, a voice for our life. Embodied in these images is a conversation about the future.
Within the sacred colors of our cardinal directions–black, turquoise, yellow, and white–the beings who shape our life flow through one another. Water is a life-giving force. Water demands the consideration of our next world, and demands we analyze our roles in a larger cycle. This piece reminds us to consider what, and who, is being left out when we make decisions about water. The animals, insects, and land don’t always need us, but we need them.
Black World – Niʼ Hodiłhił
Sacred Stone – Jet Black
This world consisted of insect beings, Diyin Dineʼé and Mist People
Black Ants – Wo’ia’zhini Dine’è
Bee People – Tsi’s’na’ Dine’è
Wasp People – Na’azozii Dine’è
There was only 1 tree in this world and it was a pine tree – represented the pine tree branch
Blue/Turquoise World – Niʼ Hodootłʼizh
Sacred Stone – Turquoise
This world was occupied by Swallow People (Táshchózhii)
The coyote (mą’ii) was the only animal from the First World and he was first to jump into the Second World.
The Lotus Flower is a symbol and homage to JayCee’s personal Buddhist Practice.
Yellow World – Niʼ Hałtsooí
Sacred Stone – Abalone Shell
Torrey’s Crag-Lily (Echeandia flavescens) – Medicinal plant used by various southwest Indigenous groups in Northern Arizona.
The Blue Bird (Dóliiłchííʼ) was the first to arrive into the Yellow World
The Mountain Lion (Náshdóítsoh) is a symbol of protection and power and is often worn by Navajo Men for those reasons during times of war.
White World – Niʼ Hodisxǫs
Sacred Stone – White Shell
Turkey (Tązhii) is credited with bringing seeds into the current World for the Navajo People to have an abundance of melons, squash, corn and beans. The white tips of his feathers are from the foam created by the waters and his narrow escape from the Third World.
Horned Toad (Na’ashǫ́’ii dich’ízhii or Cheí) Grandfather Horned Toad possesses great spiritual power that enabled him to triumph in a contest with lightning, an incredibly powerful force. The Diné use his songs and prayers for protection from the dangers of the world and the evil intentions.
The Squash Blossom flower is the inspiration for Navajo Squash Blossom Necklaces. Navajo jewelry is a signifier of the Glittering World (Fourth World)
I grew up in the Four Corners area of New Mexico and received my BFA in printmaking from the University of New Mexico. I am now based in Westminster, Colorado, where I continue my work as a founding member of the Creative Nations Arts Collective for Indigenous Artists based at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder. In addition to co-curating exhibitions, producing events including an annual Indigenous Arts Fair, I frequently travel to collaborate with fellow artists and commissioning organizations throughout the Southwest on murals and other projects.
My connection to my aboriginal culture is grounded in my artistic practice. My personal identity, background and pride in who I am and where I come from have always been at the heart of my work.
My career as an artist began with my discovery of street art and graffiti. Using a combination of spray paints and acrylics, I celebrate the fusion of technology with Indigenous culture, primarily in paintings and murals. My work is deeply influenced by music, while the combination of traditional Indigenous ideologies with my Buddhist practice is equally important to my artmaking, through which I strive to illuminate core concepts and convictions: the Laws of Movement, Unity and Impermanence.
Kendall Rose Kippley
There is a veil of logic, reason, and observation that prevents us from connecting emotionally to the deep and true consciousness of nature.
“Don’t Let Me Go”
A direct, intimate and symbolic plea from a vulnerable landscape in collapse. A statement that has the power to elicit an emotional response from anyone who has experienced the shattering emotions of heartbreak, abandonment, and longing.
This piece is intended to move it’s viewer into sympathy through its use of language embedded in the painting of a calving glacier. It’s objective is to connect the irretrievable loss of this frozen environment to the pain of a loved one exiting our life.
I want to be a messenger for our distressed and changing climate by accessing nature’s intrinsic emotional power. By creating more awareness through my work, I hope to encourage a personal understanding of the consequences of climate change so we can salvage and heal what is left of our natural landscape.
Addressed from the Arctic ice, to you.
Kendall Rose Kippley is a contemporary painter and muralist from Denver, Colorado. Her oversized paintings and murals depict abstract, dramatic icescapes. She uses cool, vibrant color palettes to represent melting, calving and shifting glaciers. She is deeply interested in the concept of the sublime in nature, and found that capturing the movement of ice in her paintings has helped her distill these personal awe inspiring moments. Kendall recently returned from Iceland, where it was her intention to submerge herself in the arctic terrain and experience it as close as possible before it completely disappears. After her adventure inside the Vatnajokull glacier, she felt compelled to create large scale work that would capture the magnitude of the ice as it quickly disappears from our earth. Our global society directly depends on the health of these icy environments, and Kendall feels she has a historical obligation and purpose to record them.
She combines representational imagery with gestural brushstrokes, geometric shapes, and intentional color palettes to represent movement, create rhythm, and heighten the sensation of each piece. The formula for developing her work comes from her desire to replicate a natural process while infusing it with human emotion and intuition. Each painting is an experiment in recreating nature while exposing her own.
Kendall creates these landscapes to linger in the moments that make her feel the most alive. It is in those temporary states of uncertainty where she finds beauty. As she continues to excavate her identity through this work, she hopes to emphasize how intertwined we are with the forces that drive our planet and create awareness in order to protect them.
Kendall has been creating these works since her graduation from Colorado State University in 2016, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Art in Painting and studied Natural resources with an emphasis in Geology. Her work has been displayed in several galleries in Colorado. Her body of work surrounding phenomena is featured in Colorado State University’s Journal of Undergraduate Research, and her murals permanently adorn buildings in Denver and Boulder, and expands to surrounding states.