Interview with Kira Dominguez Hultgren

Maria Rosaria Roseo, Arte Morbidia, June 9, 2021

Kira Dominguez Hultgren, a U.S. based textile artist and educator, studied French postcolonial theory and literature at Princeton University and fine arts in Rio Negro, Argentina and she holds a dual MFA/MA degree in Fine Arts and Visual and Critical Studies from California College of the Arts.

Taking as a starting point the analysis and study of Navajo weaving styles and techniques, the artist reflects on the history of colonialism, on the destructive impact which lead to an inevitable, synthetic assimilation and globalization, erasing borders, peoples and cultural identities.

The focus of Hultgren’s artistic research revolves around these themes which are also part of her family history.

Weaving thus becomes a metaphor in which the inevitable intertwining of different materials, the use of threads destined to end up in the background overruled by others, represent the history of many, left unheard, suffocated and substituted by new and rhetorical narratives.

Hultgren uses weaving as a tool for counter-narration, as in her work Across, in which the Hawaiian and Punjabi fabrics used to create the image of the American flag refuse to be made invisible and act from within to reinterpret the object that is the symbol of the American nation.

 https://www.kiradominguezhultgren.com/

 

Kira, where did your passion for weaving come from?

I have always had an interest in narrative, in constructed storytelling, beginning with stories around the dining room table, listening to my parents try to make sense of their family stories of (im)migration, assimilation, miscegenation, survival, and ongoing embodiment of difference.  Although I didn’t learn the physical motions of weaving from my family, I did learn the process of pieced together, embroidered, contradictions-held-in-tension, woven, textile stories from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brother, and cousins.

I am drawn to those artists who use their art practice to perform and disavow, like my family always has, so many different, and seemingly at-odds cultures. Weaving is about strange combinations. Nothing gets blended or blurred; rather the vertical and horizontal material move in opposite directions, working together but also against one another. Each strand holds its own, and yet its positon is contingent on every other strand around it. Weaving is a story held in contradiction, stretched almost to a breaking point, creating space to move through, around, and in the spaces in-between warp and weft.

 

In the context of your personal and professional growth, has there been an event or a person who has played a decisive role in your artistic development?

In the early 2010s, living in Río Negro, Argentina, I fell in with practicing artists – storytellers, sculptors, painters, and many fiber artists. One of these artists, Mary Coronado, a Mapuche-Argentine weaver and activist, mentored me, taught me through a year of weaving together at her loom. Working with Mary, what struck me principally, was the idea that to weave as a tribally-enrolled or unenrolled ethnically indigenous woman, is to perform an identity. She was perceived as “more Mapuche” at her loom, as embodying Mapuche-ness regardless of her spoken language (Spanish) or her familial or cultural upbringing. The Argentine government funded the art collective she helped organize because they were preserving Mapuche identity through teaching and reclaiming Mapuche arts. This tension between performing and preserving a cultural identity is a tension I have lived and will continue to live. As a child of (im)migrant parents, I have seen in one or two generations, cultural touchpoints disappear, reinvent themselves, and doggedly persist. To perform or preserve an identity is not a tension between falsifying and truth-telling, but a both/and strategy to make sense of one’s story in a larger web of historical and contemporary non-neutral circumstances.

Your historical and anthropological research has led you to delve into the history of weaving and the work of many textile artists including Olga de Amaral, Nadia Myre, Luz Jiménez, to name but a few. In what way is their work a source of inspiration for you?

Olga de Amaral’s (b. 1932) work is a study in contradictions. Contemporary with other fiber feminists of the 1960s, having participated in the 1969 seminal group show Wall Hangings at the MOMA, De Amaral has risen to international attention as a textile artist to be reckoned with only in the last few decades. While her medium was seemingly similar to other 1960s artists, her use of fiber was anything but. De Amaral was decidedly ambivalent in her use of textiles and more specifically pre-Columbian weaving, sculpture, and painting processes. It is only now that we even have language to come to terms with De Amaral’s gestures through various media. How do we make art in multicultural, transitional, transnational landscapes caught in a web of colonial violence, yet threaded through with persistent, iridescent human and environmental hope? Perhaps it means creating through one process only to distance ourselves from it through the next: painting over woven strips; weaving again what was painted; flattening unruly fibers, only to have the finished surface become a riot of tucks, turns, and motion.


Nadia Myre (b. 1974) is a Canadian-Algonquin artist who self-critically examines her own use of indigenous rhetoric and making practices. In one of her most famous works, Indian Act (2002), Myre beaded over all fifty-six pages of the Canadian Federal Government’s Indian Act with the help of 230 other people. Myre was celebrated for activating an indigenous way of knowing in this gesture – both in the act of beading and in the collective making. And yet beading was new to her when she began this project. Is her use of beading an activation of indigenous knowledge then since she is Algonquin or a distortion of it? Myre asks these questions in a self-critical exhibition in 2016, Decolonial Skill Share or Doing it Wrong? She reproduces a so-called Indian Canoe Work Basket based on instructions from a European women’s journal from 1861. Throughout the exhibition, Myre performs what she calls a skill-share of Indigenous making practice through satirical material, technique, and history.

Luz Jiménez (1897-1965) was a Mexican artist, model, storyteller, and weaver. Although, she is best known as the symbol of Mexican indigeneity in the paintings and photographs of Jean Charlot, Diego Rivera, Fernando Leal, Tina Modotti, and others of the Mexican modernist school. In a 2000 exhibition co-sponsored by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (Mexico) and the Mexic-Arte Museum (US), the significance of Luz Jiménez on Mexican art was given international attention. Yet, despite this exhibition, her work as an artist remains unacknowledged. She continues to be seen as the “muse and model” for other artists, as stated in the 2000 exhibition title. Instead, how does Jiménez leverage this platform of model and muse, to create her own art practice of performing and preserving Mexican-Nahua indigeneity through weaving, as well as written and embodied storytelling? I am drawn to someone like Jiménez who lived in this tension, who played with her audience’s perceptions of her, and in that play, perhaps found the ways she wanted to tie her story, her people, her history in Milpa Alta, D.F., Mexico to the larger and enduring history of the revolution and Mexican modernist art.

I quote from one of your interview: “Weaving, as it tells, compels some material to sink to the bottom, while other material rises to the surface. Some strands act only as a support, while other strands steals the spotlight. To weave with competing unequal materials is to reflect a lived experience of ongoing U.S. colonialism supported by unequal histories.  Some histories go unheard, unseen, while other histories seemingly become the whole story”.

Can we say that this concept is at the heart of your artistic research?

Absolutely! I arrived at this thesis after beginning an ongoing study and re-weaving of commissioned-by-the-Department of the Interior (U.S. federal government), Navajo-woven U.S. flags during the centennial (1876) and bicentennial (1976).

How are weaving and materials a metaphor for the history of American colonialism?

Loom with Textile, titled by the Smithsonian, is a work woven most likely between 1864-1874 by Navajo leader, Juanita (Asdzáá Tl’ógí)*. This piece has hugely influenced both my making practice, and my understanding of what weaving does and can do. My research around this textile/loom begins with the idea that while the Smithsonian labels this work an unfinished U.S. flag blanket, I question if this piece is intentionally left on the loom to show how the symbol of the flag is an ongoing construction tied to a machine, the loom, that operates to bury the nations and people with whom it comes in contact.

The image of the U.S. flag is built on top of an intersecting, colorful, and yet buried warp. Loom with Textile is an example of Navajo tapestry weaving, which is a weft-faced weave that conceals the warp. Because of this concealment, most mid-19th century Navajo weaving was done on a natural, undyed wool warp. But Juanita draws attention to what tapestry weaving hides. According to anthropologist Ann Hedlund, there are few Navajo weavings on record with a color warp, and none with a warp blocked into multiple color fields. Yet through the use of a color warp, which Juanita leaves unwoven in the middle of the textile, she is able to embed a visible counter-narrative that runs the entire length of the work.

Materializing my reading of Juanita’s piece, I wove Across (2018). This U.S. flag now weaves together two histories: my own story of (im)migration and the story of Juanita (Asdzáá Tl’ógí)’s 1874 weaving. In Across, the red and white stripes conceal the material within. Yet that covered-over material – Hawaiian and Punjabi fabrics, my hair, images of Juanita’s weaving – proliferate above, below, and within those stripes. The material which makes this U.S. flag acts to change it. Like my reading of Juanita’s piece, Across is a woven construction of refusal: materials refuse to be rendered unseen within the symbol of U.S. nation.

*To view the work Loom with Textile by Asdzáá Tl’ógí, go to the following link: https://www.si.edu/object/loom-textile:nmnhanthropology_8345504