Mending the Sky

By New Orleans Museum of Art

Mending the Sky brings together eleven artists to respond to a world in distress. Created in response to the calamitous events of 2020, the exhibition borrows its title from a Chinese fable in which a rip in the sky causes the earth to split open, bringing floods, fires, famine, and disease—until a goddess takes on the arduous task of mending the broken sky.

Un chemin escarpé / A steep path (2018) by Jamilah SaburNew Orleans Museum of Art

Working across the fields of art, animation, and performance, the artists in Mending the Sky seek to give shape to the aftermath of chaos and calamity. Their art aims to build towards a more equitable future by helping us envision the new world that might rise in the wake of disaster.

After All / Mending the Sky (2018-ongoing) by Beili LiuNew Orleans Museum of Art

Beili Liu’s installation After All / Mending The Sky draws upon the ancient Chinese fable of Nüwa, goddess and creator of mankind. After a rip in the sky brings suffering to her creations, Nüwa mends the sky. The installation links this heroic effort with the humble task of sewing--both endeavors of care and healing.

After All / Mending the Sky (2018-ongoing) by Beili LiuNew Orleans Museum of Art

In the installation, thousands of sewing threads descend from nine suspended, cloud-like forms, as if asking each of us to pick up a needle and get to work…

After All / Mending the Sky (2018-ongoing) by Beili LiuNew Orleans Museum of Art

...showing us that the individual actions of each and every one of us can add up to something transformative.

Mending the Sky Installation view (2020) by VariousNew Orleans Museum of Art

the trace, whether we are attending to it or not (a space for each other’s breathing) (2019) by Firelei BáezNew Orleans Museum of Art

Firelei Báez’s painting pictures a ciguapa—an elusive and cunning creature from Dominican folklore—painted overtop a 1930s-era map of New Orleans made by the Works Progress Administration.

Creating a bridge with her body, the ciguapa bends over an architectural plan of the Illinois Central Railroad Trestle to unite both sides of the tracks.

Crossing historical lines of segregation, this figure evokes the role of this railroad line—which runs between New Orleans and Chicago—in the history of the Great Migration, as well as the contemporary water management crisis unfolding on the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

As the artist has shared about this painting’s main figure, “She is quite literally bridging and forming space for communities to be able to carve out belonging and breathe.”

Braidrage (2017-ongoing) by Baseera KhanNew Orleans Museum of Art

In Braidrage, Baseera Khan scales a rock-climbing wall made from resin casts from the corners of the artist’s own body.

Braidrage (2017-ongoing) by Baseera KhanNew Orleans Museum of Art

Khan activates the installation through performances—captured on video or performed in real time—in which they climb the wall.

Braidrage (2017-ongoing) by Baseera KhanNew Orleans Museum of Art

The endurance and movements required to climb the fragments of their body in Braidrage reflect the constant maneuvering necessary to overcome experiences of trauma, and channel them into new forms of resistance.

Mending the Sky Installation view (2020) by VariousNew Orleans Museum of Art

Lore (2017) by Lorna WilliamsNew Orleans Museum of Art

Lorna Williams creates intricately constructed sculptures that combine unexpected materials drawn from her own life and the world around her.

Her sculptures include materials ranging from hardware tools and bike parts, to root systems, cast teeth, music instruments, and ropes.

This sculpture considers how our ancestral roots help form our identities and ways of being in the world, considering the relationship between the stories we inherit and the mythologies we construct for ourselves.

Un chemin escarpé / A steep path (2018) by Jamilah SaburNew Orleans Museum of Art

Jamilah Sabur’s Un chemin escarpé / A steep path is a five-channel video installation that draws upon metaphysics, geology, and familial ties to reframe the landscape and history of the Caribbean.

Throughout, Sabur embodies a shape-shifting figure that passes through and communes with various sites and geographies.

Un chemin escarpé / A steep path (2018) by Jamilah SaburNew Orleans Museum of Art

In one sequence in the film, the artist navigates an animation of the Vema Fracture Zone, a part of an underwater mountain range that is pushing the continents away from each other to make the Atlantic Ocean larger.

In this phenomenon, Sabur sees the potential for a new planetary literacy, one in which submerged histories come into being and alternate geographies become possible.

Mending the Sky Installation view (2020) by VariousNew Orleans Museum of Art

Encontro das Águas (Meeting of Waters) (2016-18) by Clarissa TossinNew Orleans Museum of Art

Clarissa Tossin’s Where the River Meets the Sea weaves together imagery from the world’s longest rivers: the Nile, the Amazon, the Yangtze, and the Mississippi, combining them into a single flow.

Encontro das Águas (Meeting of Waters) (2016-18) by Clarissa TossinNew Orleans Museum of Art

Tossin combines satellite imagery from the delta regions of each river to consider how these bodies of water connect an entire system of global trade.

Encontro das Águas (Meeting of Waters) (2016-18) by Clarissa TossinNew Orleans Museum of Art

Existing at the intersection between traditional weaving practices and contemporary digital technology, Where the River Meets the Sea brings the warmth and connection of the human hand to our fragmented digital age.

Encontro das Águas (Meeting of Waters) (2016-18) by Clarissa TossinNew Orleans Museum of Art

The weaving asks us to reimagine our relationship to this network of waterways not as sites of exploitation, but instead as sources of global solidarity and strength.

A Sense of Memory (2015) by Ana HernandezNew Orleans Museum of Art

Ana Hernandez created A Sense of Memory from wood she salvaged from the back of a bookcase she found behind the Canal Street Church in New Orleans.

Staining a stark grid atop this piece of found wood panel, she creates a pattern that goes against the wood's natural grain.

Burning symbols for musical repeats into the stained wood, she explores the recurring patterns and rhythms of nature, as well as the role of repetition in our thoughts, memories, and dreams.

Fused into the panel are two glass and metal forms that evoke the human body, contrasting our lived experiences with our inherited knowledge and wisdom, and asking how we might break these patterns to form something new.

Mending the Sky Installation view (2020) by VariousNew Orleans Museum of Art

If you feed a river (2019) by Diedrick BrackensNew Orleans Museum of Art

Diedrick Brackens mines weaving as a potent metaphor for new ways of imagining individual and cultural identity.

If you feed a river features a split and doubled black figure, cut up and then pieced back together, who hovers on the margins of both sides of the weaving, encircled by catfish that swim beneath a broken but mended sun.

Catfish often appear in Brackens’s weavings as ancestral figures or spirit guides. Brackens builds new mythologies around these often ignored creatures, seeing them as metaphors for other marginalized groups.

As the split black figure reaches across the river to unite with their other half, we realize that the form hovering behind them is the river itself, working to bring the broken halves back together.

Burn Out in Shredded Heaven (2018-2019) by Heidi HahnNew Orleans Museum of Art

Heidi Hahn carves out new spaces of being and belonging for the women depicted in her work. Her layered, paraffin wax-infused paintings draw their viewers into intimate, psychologically charged spaces.

She often organizes her figures in poses that faintly recall famous paintings of women from art history, but painted as ethereal outlines—echoes of the often showy, sexualized poses more typical of how women are represented in art.

Emphasizing their interior emotional lives over their external physical forms, these women evade our efforts at full apprehension, engaging in a conversation just between the two of them—one reaching out for the other—whose meaning we cannot know.

Mutegrain (still image, Firefly) (2019) by Thao Nguyen PhanNew Orleans Museum of Art

Thao Nguyen Phan's three channel video Mute Grain tells the story of the death from starvation a young woman named August, who is unable to move on to the next life, and thus becomes a hungry ghost.

Mute Grain (still) (2019) by Thao Nguyen PhanNew Orleans Museum of Art

Combining film and hand-drawn animation, Mute Grain explores the little-discussed 1945 famine in Vietnam, which took place during the Japanese occupation of French Indochina (1940–1945). This famine is believed to have caused the death of more than two million people in the Red River Delta of North Vietnam.

Mute Grain (Still) (2019) by Thao Nguyen PhanNew Orleans Museum of Art

Told from the perspective of two adolescents, Mute Grain weaves oral histories from the time with magical elements borrowed from Vietnamese folk tales and chronicles.

Mutegrain (still) (2019) by Thao Nguyen PhanNew Orleans Museum of Art

Throughout the film, August keeps her human form, appearing between layers of time and space together with her brother, March, who anxiously searches for her.

Mute Grain (2019) by Thao Nguyen PhanNew Orleans Museum of Art

For Phan, food security has emerged as an issue at the center of many crises, causing great struggle and suffering. In today’s global political situation, with famine raging in different parts of the world and hunger on the rise, Mute Grain tells a story of great urgency.

Helen Gillet performance for Mending the Sky (2020) by Helen GilletNew Orleans Museum of Art

Helen Gillet is a singer-songwriter and surrealist-archeologist who explores synthesized sounds, textures, and rhythms using an acoustic cello. For Mending the Sky, Gillet wove together a soundscape using cello, drum machine, sounds in nature, loop pedal, poetry and storytelling.

Across a series of three solo performances, Gillet responded musically to the artists and ideas explored in Mending the Sky. Each of these solo performances took place within the exhibition, and streamed for free across NOMA’s social media channels to offer a wide audience an intimate musical experience at a time when few opportunities for live music existed.

Credits: Story

INTRO SLIDES:
1) Beili Liu
2) Jamilah Sabur

MAIN PANELS:
1) Beili Liu, After All/Mending the Sky, 2018-ongoing, Courtesy of the Artist, © Beili Liu Studio
2) Firelei Baez, the trace, whether we are attending to it or not (a space for each other's breathing), 2019, Museum purchase, Carmen Donaldson fund, 2019.34 © Firelei Báez
3) Baseera Khan, Braidrage, 2020, Videography by Iki Nakagawa, Sound recording by Mike Taylor, Video editor by Marion Hill, Produced by the New Orleans Museum of Art, Collection of the Artist, copyright Baseera Khan
4) Lorna Williams, Lore, 2017, Museum purchase, Carmen Donaldson Fund, 2020.10 © Lorna Williams
5) Jamilah Sabur, Un chemin escarpé / A steep path, 2018, Museum purchase, Carmen Donaldson fund, 2019.35 © Jamilah Sabur
6) Clarissa Tossin, Where the River Meets the Sea, 2020, Museum purchase, Robert P. Gordy Fund, 2020.5 © Clarissa Tossin 2020
7) Ana Hernandez, A Sense of Memory, 2015, Museum purchase, P. Roussel Norman Fund, 2020.11 Copyright © 2015 by Ana Hernandez
8) Diedrick Brackens, If you feed a river, 2019, Museum purchase, Carmen Donaldson Fund, 2019.61 © Diedrick Brackens
9) Heidi Hahn, Burn Out in Shredded Heaven, 2018-2019, Museum purchase with funds provided by Kevie Yang, 2019.60 © Heidi Hahn
10) Thao Nguyen Phan, Mute Grain, 2019, Courtesy of the artist and The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre, Ho Chi Minh City © Thao Nguyen Phan
11) Helen Gillet, Photography by Sesthasak Boonchai.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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