Visual Art

A New Portland Gallery Puts Activism on Show

The Elisabeth Jones Art Center opened in June with exhibits on Standing Rock, climate change, and land development.

By Talullah Plummer-Blanco July 19, 2018

Yatika Fields's inverted tents form part of The Condor and the Eagle show at Elisabeth Jones Art Center. 

Art and activism come together at Northwest Portland's Elisabeth Jones Art Center, which opened just last month. With five exhibits debuting in June, the political drive is clear. The main show, The Condor and the Eagle: Moving Forward After Standing Rock, brings together 16 artists from across the country to ponder questions about how things have changed since the Dakota Access Pipeline protests of 2016-17, and how to move forward. 

“It shows what you can expect from our art center, I think,” says director John Teply. “Interactive, involved, community work around issues.”

This imperative is at the heart of the new art center, which opened its doors on June 7, and was inspired by benefactor and activist Elisabeth Jones. “She’s this marvelous woman in her 80s,” Teply says. “She’s very strong on social justice issues and she also loves art. This is about working on the issues dear to her heart, and creating an art center around that.”

The Condor and the Eagle includes Ricardo Cate’s "Without Reservations," a satirical cartoon series commenting on mistreatment of native lands, which colorfully lines the walls of the entrance hallway (there’s a double panel illustration depicting Trump falling off a cliff that might find an appreciative audience here). Another piece in the exhibit is Yatika Fields’s "Tent Metaphor," which comprises two tents from Standing Rock, hanging upside down from the wooden crossbeams of the central showroom. In "Building an eye the better to see you," a collaboration between Merritt Johnson and Nicholas Galanin, two wolves with golden hands build both a drone and a beaded camouflage for that drone—a reference to the use of drones at Standing Rock to keep an eye on DAPL workers. Also part of the show: Ken Black Bird’s installation "Water is Forever" and Hickory Edward’s "Canoe," and other works. Taken together, they form an artistic whole and a call to action.

The center is also showing a series of in-house collaborative paintings inspired by interviews from people who were at Standing Rock, and produced by the center in a spontaneous, collaborative exercise. 

"Building an eye the better to see you" is a collaboration between artists Merritt Johnson and Nicholas Galanin.

“I started, and after two hours John looks at his watch and says, ‘OK, now everybody rotate,’” explains assistant art center director Shae Uisna of the process of creating these large-scale works. “So we all got up and moved to another painting station. Ultimately, there were six of us who worked on it together."

Of the other exhibits, the Tree Emergency Response Team is a series of paintings of local trees on land destined for development. “The idea is that the time to start to being active about trees, the time to start loving the tree, is not when the guy with the chainsaw is there,” Teply says. A World Without Ice features “Peaceable Kingdom,” a painting of a polar bear that will be intentionally destroyed this August to raise awareness about the vulnerable species. The gallery also donates a portion of its proceeds from each project to corresponding organizations.

“I don’t know if we can change people’s minds, but what we can do is push people in different directions,” Teply says. “We have to, and as artists we're able to do that, to get people seeing things a little differently. We hope that in the end there will be positive outcomes.”

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