David Rios Ferreira and Denae Shanidiin collaborate in a multimedia exhibition at UMFA featuring portals to connect us to lost loved ones and heal communal pain.
David Rios Ferreira and Denae Shanidiin: Transcending Time and Space
March 19–December 4, 2022
Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City
Like colorful ensos or organic ouroboros unfurling around black centers, David Rios Ferreira’s collages are circular and dynamic forms, what he calls “imagined gateways, objects through which we may connect with those we cannot reach on this plane.” Accompanied by writing, photographs, and video by Denae Shanidiin, a Diné and Korean artist and the director of MMIWhoismissing, the exhibition Transcending Time and Space at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City is the pair’s multimedia collaboration inspired by missing and murdered Indigenous people. On view through December 4, 2022 at the museum’s ACME Lab, the work seeks to bridge the past, present, and future to create a meditative and healing experience for all who want to connect with lost loved ones—and bring awareness to the violence that has been and continues to be perpetrated against people of color.
Weaving together organic and mechanical forms, neon colors, and photos of starscapes, Ferreira’s circular compositions harmonize our saturated, convoluted existence halfway between nature and cyberspace, exploring inherited cultural realities. He repurposes historical and pop culture images, bringing what some call high- and low-brow art together, deconstructing the hierarchies that reflect a still-colonized art world. This speaks to his own view of his body as an assemblage of cultural history, especially as a queer artist with Puerto Rican heritage living and processing his identity in the United States.
In Ferreira’s Carnal Knowing, the layering of line and color looks like muscle fiber or cell walls under a microscope, until you get closer and start picking out snippets of cartoons and figures from Central American mythology. Gesture for want, tears for all that is dark superimposes historical etchings over a human figure. “[My work] speaks to the idea that we are repositories of centuries of history,” he explained in his UMFA artist talk on March 18, 2022. “We carry that within our blood, cells, and within our souls. How does that start to manifest and what does that look like in the visual form?”
Shanidiin was born in Fort Defiance on the Navajo Nation, with the painful reality of a family loss, her aunt who was murdered and left behind Shanidiin’s adoptive sister as a three-month-old baby. “I started doing the work because it was so painful and I needed to talk about it. There’s so much erasure here in Salt Lake City and Utah,” Shanidiin says. “When a family member goes missing, it stays in your body and it profoundly influences you every day.”
In her advocacy work, Shanidiin gets new names of missing or murdered Indigenous people from their relatives each day. The overwhelming pain of carrying those names has, she says, in the past made her angry and physically sick. But with ceremonies and her family’s prayers, she’s been able to continue her work and heal the traumas that come with her mission. One photograph, Ha’aa’aah East, part of a series on the cardinal directions, shows a sunrise with the description:
“In a world with many fractures and traumas, ha’aa’aah gives morning light to our prayers. It is when we communicate with the holy people honoring those we have lost to violence, establishing gratitude, and asking for a continuation of blessings. This direction is fundamental to our healing, sustaining our spirits with a new cycle of warmth and life.”
The circular forms in each of the pair’s works—mandalas that reflect psychic healing and the world’s continual orbit around the sun—are soothing and give hope for change through time.
As a viewer, you can get lost tracing lines overlaid onto the photographs and through the intricate layers in Ferreira’s collages, thinking about what kind of cultural accretions have built up in your own mind and body over time—the anger you want to purge and the hope for connecting with what Ferreira calls “nontemporal beings.” These could be ancestors or guardians whose spirits could be layered on our own reality, helping and guiding us through hardship. Reaching out to those we’ve lost using these artists’ work creates a sacred space in the gallery that’s an active memorial and a tool for finding peace.
David Rios Ferreira and Denae Shanidiin: Transcending Time and Space is up through December 4, 2022 at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, located on the University of Utah campus at 410 Campus Center Drive in Salt Lake City.