Jeffrey Gibson: Power Full Because We’re Different

Jeffrey Gibson: Power Full Because We’re Different Jeffrey Gibson’s new commission POWER FULL BECAUSE WE’RE DIFFERENT is an immersive installation that will fill MASS MoCA’s signature, football field-sized Building 5 gallery space. The project will be home to a series of performances by Indigenous creatives from across North America. Gibson is known for creating installations, performances, paintings, and sculpture that elevate and make visible queer and Indigenous communities, among others whose cultural narratives have been historically marginalized.

The artist sees the exhibition as an invitation to other Indigenous and non-Indigenous creatives to contribute to a space where difference is intentionally considered and celebrated. The installation will feature seven newly made garments constructed out of kaleidoscopic patterns, which are adorned with beads, jingles, and found materials. The garments are aspirational, often hanging from the ceiling on tipi poles, as well as existing in photographs and performances of individuals proudly wearing the garments like warriors for hope, equality, and change. These works, which were originally inspired by the regalia used in faith-based ceremonies that included garments worn by members of the Ghost Dance — a pacifist movement that originated with the Northern Paiute and culminated in the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, yet remains active today — ultimately pay homage to the past while signaling the future.

The term “two-spirit” is a further point of inspiration for Gibson. Two-spirit refers to a third gender that is both and neither male nor female. The term and its varying interpretations are embraced by many Indigenous individuals and communities, and encompass sexual, gender, and spiritual identity. POWER FULL BECAUSE WE’RE DIFFERENT will include found footage from the 1990s of Indigenous two-spirit individuals discussing the term and their identities on the streets of the Bay Area. This short documentary will be re-contextualized by video contributions from nearly 30 Indigenous, queer, and two-spirit creative individuals who are working today. The contributors include DJs, drag performers, academics, activists, and others who Jeffrey has personally invited to take part. The videos will be edited together into a large-scale five-channel sound and video installation that will hang from the ceiling and create a club-like atmosphere in the first half of the gallery.

Gibson’s works also take inspiration from the dance floor, harnessing early drag culture and figures, such as Leigh Bowery’s infamous 1988 performance in the window of London’s Anthony d’Offay Gallery. For the performance, Bowery sat in the window of the gallery, which was fitted with a one-way mirror, so all the performer saw was a reflection of themselves, which the audience in the gallery could see through a two-way mirror wall.

Gibson turns the Bowery reference into a multi-color patterned mirrored wall; this serves to reflect the space – including visitors  – and the installation, alike creating a truly immersive experience. The mirror wall will be a large volume that will bisect the space, mirrored with a dense pattern on both sides, based on Gibson’s language of pattern-making. The gallery will then be split into two scenes: dimly lit with video on one side, while the other will be like a burst of sunlight.

Traversing both spaces will be seven 12×12-foot fused glass stages with patterns and text based on Gibson’s paintings and graphic geometric designs. Each of the oversized garments will be suspended from the ceiling above its corresponding dance floor. The stages will also function as platforms for a series of performances that will unfold throughout the 18-month exhibition. For his MASS MoCA project, his intent is a true collaboration, bringing in artists and thinkers to shape the installation and programming to reflect a diverse and active Indigenous community.

Gibson selected this group of performers, writers, and thinkers to create newly commissioned works that will engage with the exhibition’s garments, stages, speakers, and screens. Collaborators include Laura Ortman, Emily Johnson, Martha Redbone, Lou Cornum, Divide and
Dissolve, Demian DinéYazhi, Arielle Twist, Zoon, Raven Chacon, devynn emory, MX Oops, and Black Belt Eagle Scout.

In addition to Gibson’s exhibition, the artist will also create a new mural in collaboration with MASS MoCA and The Rose Kennedy Greenway in Dewey Square, Boston, MA, on view beginning June 1, 2024.

About the Artist:
Jeffrey Gibson (b. 1972, Colorado Springs, CO; lives and works in New York) grew up in major urban centers in the United States, Germany, Korea, and the U.K. A mid-career multidisciplinary artist, he is a citizen of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and half Cherokee, whose practice includes sculpture, painting, printmaking, video, and performance. Gibson earned his Master of Arts in painting at the Royal College of Art, London, in 1998 and his Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1995. His work is in the permanent collections of the Denver Art Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian; National Gallery of Canada; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; the Museum of Modern Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Gibson is a past TED Foundation Fellow and a Joan Mitchell Grant recipient. He is a recipient of the 2019 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He is currently an artist-in-residence at Bard College and lives and works near Hudson, New York. This year, Gibson will represent the United States at the 60th edition of La Biennale di Venezia. He is the first Indigenous artist to represent the United States with a solo presentation in the national pavilion.