Kira Dominguez Hultgren-Re-storying Textiles: “Storytelling drew me to weaving”
As stated by Dominguez Hultgren within her artist statement…Weaving as creative deconstruction could easily sound like a rereading of Penelope waiting for Odysseus, un-weaving by night what she wove in the day. But there is nothing being unwoven in my work. Rather, it is a question of the work itself falling apart, being ripped apart at the seams, sagging under the weight of the many added histories that keep finding a way to be woven in. How much history can one fabric hold? My weavings are motivated by my ancestral and ongoing negotiations of approximate assimilation, synthetic identities, and the excesses that stride beyond categorizations. Chicanx, Punjabi, Hawaiian, Black, White: tensioned generations on display, warped and striped. Parading indigeneity in hand spun weft winding through strands of polyurethane globalization: seducing, choking, colliding, caressing, changing. https://www.kiradominguezhultgren.com/
While these weavings bear the weight of the terms that have been set before them, embedded within them and there may be an appearance of continuity across the fabric, all these materials – wool, zip ties, tubing, coaxial cables – are working against one another. It is therefore important to Hultgren to weave with competing unequal materials to reflect a lived experience of ongoing U.S. colonialism supported by unequal histories. For this textile artist some histories go unheard, unseen, while other histories seemingly become the whole story so there is a preference to piece together those histories which need to be heard but have yet to be said: woven stories from weavers such as Juanita (Asdzáá Tl’ógí; Navajo, 1845-1910) or Luz Jiménez (Mexico, 1897-1965); and woven family stories about living between cultures, ethnicities, and races.
Dominguez Hultgren stated that her work is as much about the competing, disparate woven fabric, as it is about the space in which the work exists. Posts extend the work outward, acting as frame and architecture. Posts mimic the architecture of the gallery while also referencing the indigenous Mapuche vertical post looms on which these fabrics are made. The artist emphasised it is the yet-to-be woven or never-to-be woven parts of these weavings… Spaces, cracks, tears, all point to the possibility of what more there might be, of new terms, new bodies, and new architecture.
This artist’s weavings are motivated by her ancestral and ongoing negotiations of approximate assimilation, synthetic identities, and the excesses that stride beyond categorizations. Chicanx, Punjabi, Hawaiian, Black, White. It was interesting to hear and communicate with this textile artist through the Textile Talks series through my membership with the Surface Design Association, for her to speak about her work and the meaning it had for her directly through the online zoom lecture. The artist explained the theoretical underpinnings which holds her textile work together. I could relate with this sense of re-storying narratives but from within a therapeutic space…of individuals using the space to reconstruct their own narratives, who they are, to unlearn knowledge systems and to make known their own stories which have been unseen and unheard for many years. This space represents the embodied experience of the individual in therapy, of the capacity to express to give a tangible or visible form to feelings and thinking. I liked this understanding of mis-storied and misaligned identities which are wrapped up within the warp and the weft, of the balance and tension between the materials to hold the narrative in place within the space, of reconstituting and altering the narrative through the therapy process which can then be visually represented through the layering of materials with the layering of experiencing and meaning. This idea of disruption, challenge, change, and re-imagining narratives sits well with therapy and what happens within such bodies within these spaces. This idea of completion is the antithesis of therapy as we are so often unfinished in process, of disrupting the warp and weft, of deliberately leaving weaving split, torn, and ripped with spaces unfilled to challenge the continuity of unhealthy narratives, assigned identities which continue to harm, label, abuse, dismiss, avoid, and discriminate.
Kira Dominguez Hultgren weaves together histories of tangled intrusions nourished on the global confusion of the word Indian. Beginning with two Navajo weavings (artists unknown) from around 1876 and two Punjabi head-coverings embroidered by her greataunt Dalip Kaur around 1923, Dominguez Hultgren mines with material hyperbole (hyperbolic tension on gallery-sized looms) the historical narratives that surround these two “Indian” archives. Indian, in this context, becomes synonymous with exoticism, with Edward Said’s orientalism, a theory which understands Indian to be a binary opposition to American or British, a term by which the Euro-American colonizer understands their own self and nationhood as, “that which the Indian is not.” https://www.kiradominguezhultgren.com/
What does it mean to form an identity or nation in the negative, in distinction to what one is not? This is the question which motivates Dominguez Hultgren to weave through photographic documentation of two Navajo weavings from around 1876 in her work, “In the Negative.” These weavings were used as symbols of U.S. patriotism in exhibition catalogues, and centennial and bicentennial celebrations across the U.S., since the visual imagery in the weavings are a U.S. flag and the number 100. Yet, through her research at the Palace of the Governors Photo Archive (Santa Fe, New Mexico), Dominguez Hultgren follows what she believes to be intruding counter-narratives structurally embedded into these Navajo weavings. While the U.S. may have been forming a national identity through “Indian” weaving, Dominguez Hultgren sees as an artist intentionally weaving nearly invisible zigzag lines that not only cut perpendicular to the horizontal red-and-white stripes of the flag, but leave the flag structurally vulnerable, quite literally in tatters, even if visibly whole. Rather than submitting to a binary distinction of Indian versus American, colonizer versus colonized, Dominguez Hultgren sees transmuting binary red and white stripes, vertical warp, and horizontal weft lines into a slantwise deconstruction of the flag. The viewer must turn their gaze to read this flag, to read this historical narrative, at varying 45-degree angles, an angle which in fabric terminology is known as “the bias.” Perhaps rather than a symbol of nation, the Navajo weaver gives us in our own flag, a study of biases, a study of prejudice, in which one people group is defined at the expense of another. http://minnesotastreetproject.com/exhibitions/1275-minnesota-st/intrusions-kira-dominguez-hultgren
As I heard this artist communicate her relationship with her materials and weaving, of the materials telling her what they need and where they need to go… I could continue to relate and respond readily as the used, reused, repurposed, and found materials I use appear to replicate some of this creative process, of a maker interacting with her materials, of the interactivity of the context which can be read through the textiles surface imagery, structure, and materials as mediums for communication. I therefore mediate meaning through the relationship with materials in creative process, of expressing embodied knowledge of context through print and weave to give a tangible or visible form to an idea, quality, or feeling through and within the materials in use.
Through a chance meeting with the weaving collective called Ruca Mallín and Mary Coronado while in Patagonia changed the trajectory of weaving for Dominguez Hultgren. Through their oral stories, personal histories, inventions, reinventions, and material techniques, the language of Mapuche weaving got stuck within and through the artist. Dominguez Hultgren acknowledged that these stories, this weaving, does not belong to anyone rather it was about herself waking up the weaving that was already inside of us to amplify our own story, her mother’s, the story of Mapuche weaving, however it wanted to be amplified.
The focus of the work and research of Dominguez Hultgren is materializing a history of weaving through weaving. The biggest influence for her work is the textile artists Mary Coronado (Mapuche/Argentina), Juanita (Asdzáá Tl’ógí, Navajo, 1845–1910), Consuelo Jiménez Underwood (U.S.), Melissa Cody (Navajo), Olga de Amaral (Colombia), Nadia Myre (Algonquin/Anishinabeg/Canada), Luz Jiménez (Mexico, 1897–1965), Dalip Kaur Bains (India, 1910–1992). Dominguez Hultgren relies upon photographic documentation of weavings and use formal and rhetorical analytical strategies when studying this documentation, drawing from disciplines such as Craft Theory, Critical Studies, Indigenous Studies, and Anthropology. Dominguez Hultgren will use a formal analysis to understand the structure, material, and colour choices. Dominguez Hultgren sees the weavings as artworks and rhetorical devices, a way of speaking that is recorded in the weaving as discrete, observable actions.
The weaving shows her how it was made and, as such, it is as though she is watching a documentation of an artist at work. Dominguez Hultgren stated that through each made decision she can watch these decisions emerge, a story, an argument, a plea, a celebration also emerges, to hear the artists speak through their weaving. Dominguez Hultgren emphasised that she weaves to keep the conversation with them going and to bring that conversation to larger contemporary art audiences.
Dominguez Hultgren also transmutes vertical and horizontal lines slantwise, turning crosses into Xs, following and cutting into the personal and historical biases by which not only these Navajo textiles are understood, but also two Punjabi head-coverings embroidered by her great-aunt and passed down to her from her grandmother. These embroidered head-coverings or shawls are called phulkaris, meaning flower-work, since the entire cloth is often covered in geometric-shaped flower embroidery. This art form comes from pre-partition Punjab, a region which stretches across the border of what is today Pakistan and India. Like this region, phulkari embroidery is also partitioned, broken up into many parts that look like a uniform whole. Motifs that at first glance appear to be one single floral design morph into and out of one another, changing, dropping off, disappearing mid-stitch. Although Gandhi used the handspun cloth upon which this embroidery was done as a symbol of Indian self- sufficiency and revolution against the British empire (this cloth was known as khadi cloth) – phulkari embroidery intrudes into Gandhi’s narrative for India, burying it in colorful orange and pink silk, imported from China. Within this historical setting, phulkari embroidery begs the question: Where is the Indian in this work? Is India buried in the cloth, or once exported to America, does phulkari no longer speak to Punjabi partitions and an artist’s personal design decisions, but instead become a symbol for India as a whole nation, an entire culture, a sub-continent? Through her work “Arose”, Dominguez Hultgren, herself a Punjabi export to America, considers what it means to be Indian and to live in diaspora, (dis)placed like the stitches of her greataunt’s phulkari in straight and biased lines. http://minnesotastreetproject.com/exhibitions/1275-minnesota-st/intrusions-kira-dominguez-hultgren
As Dominguez Hultgren emphasised the essence of creative process is to read textiles in your body and to read textiles through experience to embed and communicate the context in which you make within that inhabited space. This seems to resonant with the material need to communicate my identity and the hidden identities of so many others within the therapy space, to make known what has not been seen, to honour their courage to repair to change to become more visible in their own right and on their own terms, to materialise such communication of shared experience.
The San Jose Museum of Textiles appeared to be an ideal platform from which to communicate this artist’s most recent work, to understand her history, of the unapologetic frames of artwork which piece together the artist’s construction of identity as held together in non-neutral spaces.