Counter Mapping at 516 Arts in Albuquerque attempted to reclaim stories and ties to place for underheard populations, with mixed results.
October 16, 2021—January 22, 2022
516 Arts, Albuquerque
Counter Mapping at 516 Arts, which featured map-related artworks by fourteen artists and collectives from across the globe, explored the idea of counter-mapping, an activist practice that decolonizes mainstream cartography to salvage stories and customs of populations that have been scrubbed from the map. The exhibition, co-curated by Viola Arduini and Jim Enote (Zuni Pueblo), landed under the programming umbrella of Desierto Mountain Time, an amorphous transborder collaborative of arts organizations in the Southwest.
A handful of the artists created literal responses to the exhibition—with results that sometimes fell flat—while others abstracted the bar with charismatic video works and installations.
The show kicked off with the atrium installation Upper Air (2021) by Portland, Oregon artist Val Britton. The cloud-like assemblage of differently shaped paper, string, and ink, suspended from the ceiling, creates the illusion of floating continents.
In an adjoining room, Steven Yazzie (Diné) of Denver displayed ^^^^ (BWBY – Black White Blue Yellow), an approximately thirteen-minute four-channel video that was a star of the show. The beguiling 2017 work features rotating images of geological formations of mountain slopes that glitches in parts and melts in others, as well as more organic renderings of clouds, fog, and fireworks.
Upstairs, a trio of deft paintings by Mallery Quetawki (Zuni Pueblo) of Albuquerque juxtaposed Indigenous symbolism and imagery of self-identity against backdrops of crude industrial-scapes.
But in large part, many of the works in the exhibition, especially the two-dimensional and sculptural works that depicted alternative landmasses, began looking similar, as if the large islands were photographed from the same drone or space camera. While the informational placards made the pieces sound sexy and mysterious, the same excitement often didn’t carry over to the work itself.