MacArthur Fellows Program

Jeffrey Gibson

Visual Artist | Class of 2019

Melding indigenous North American materials and forms with those of Western contemporary art to create a new hybrid visual vocabulary and prompting a shift in how Native American art is perceived and historicized.

Title
Visual Artist
Affiliation
Studio Arts Program, Bard College
Location
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
Age
47
Published September 25, 2019

About Jeffrey's Work

Jeffrey Gibson is a multidisciplinary artist and craftsperson merging traditional Native American materials and forms with those of Western contemporary art to create a new hybrid visual vocabulary. Gibson, a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and of Cherokee descent, is forging a multifarious practice that redresses the exclusion and erasure of indigenous art traditions from the history of Western art as it explores the complexity and fluidity of identity.

Gibson’s pieces range from garments and sculptural objects to paintings and video and often involve intricately detailed and technically demanding handwork using materials such as beads, metal jingles, fringe, and elk hide. Mixed with references from popular culture, queer iconography, and contemporary political issues, the materials take on a different meaning while also calling into question the line distinguishing contemporary art from traditional modes of cultural production. For example, Gibson transforms the punching bag—a common symbol of male heterosexual norms—into anthropomorphic sculptures ornamented with brightly colored beads and fringe skirts that evoke fashion, play with camp sensibilities, and speak to shifting gender identities. Many of the bags include text, pithy phrases, or song lyrics, such as “From a whisper to a scream” or “I put a spell on you,” that speak to societal hopes and anxieties and serve as springboards for viewers’ associations. In a series of oversized, tunic-like garments created between 2014 and 2018, Gibson derives the basic form from nineteenth-century ceremonial Ghost Dance shirts, which were believed to deflect bullets. They are constructed from fabric custom printed with original photographs and newspaper headlines, some of which refer to the continued marginalization of Native Americans through the destruction of sacred lands at Standing Rock and Big Ears National Monument.

Gibson’s painting practice foregrounds affinities between patterns, colors, and materials long used in Native American art and those characteristic of contemporary Western and global art traditions. His investigations of color relationships and use of the grid as a structuring device engage with the history of geometric abstraction, but the pieces also recall weaving and use materials (such as elk hide canvasses, sinew, and beads) found in indigenous art. In resisting preconceived notions about what the work of a Native American artist should look like, Gibson is prompting a shift in how Native American art is perceived and historicized.

Biography

Jeffrey Gibson received a BFA (1995) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MA (1998) from the Royal College of Art. Gibson’s work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at such institutions as the Denver Art Museum, the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, among others. Gibson is also represented in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the National Gallery of Canada, among others. Currently, he is an artist-in-residence in the Studio Arts Program at Bard College. Gibson is Choctaw-Cherokee and is a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Select News Coverage of Jeffrey Gibson
September 25, 2019
Jeffrey Gibson, Visual Artist | 2019 MacArthur Fellow
Melding indigenous North American materials and forms with those of Western contemporary art to create a new hybrid visual vocabulary.

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Please credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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