How Rose B. Simpson’s lowrider is an homage to Pueblo potters
December 29, 2019 10:13 PM   Subscribe

While studying automotive science, Rose B. Simpson built a moving piece of art: “Maria,” a black, refurbished 1985 Chevrolet El Camino named for famed Pueblo potter Maria Martinez.

I feel like what we need to do is get into those high art places, and say, “Hey, remember our power is in our hands, and you are powerless if you can’t make, and you can’t create, and you can’t live in this world.” What happens if this all falls apart, and we don’t know how to cook anymore, and we don’t know how to make our own food, we don’t know how to grow our own food. All those things, like true power lies in utilitarian ways of being. And so, I think that’s what I’m trying to do, is kind of enter into those places that still, you know, put high art as the hierarchy, and try and wake people up to their humanity.



Our communities are wrought with a lot of what I call “postcolonial stress disorder.” It’s a manner of going through the world when you’re dealing with the stress of colonization. And a lot of that is alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, things like that. And this daily struggle of being in a world that doesn’t — isn’t necessarily in line with your ancestral ways of being. And so, it sort of jars everyone, and that causes a lot of trauma, and a lot of difficulties. As a child I feel like I was sort of up against a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t have been, that were sort of unhealthy. And it was in the entire community, and everyone is going through that, and we’re all figuring out ways to try and survive it, and not a lot of us don’t survive it. And one of the ways that I found out that I could survive it was to be able to escape, and so, what I realized was my escape was cars. I bought my first car from my mom when I was 12.



Because I didn’t have a lot of money, I worked on my car a lot, and I think it wasn’t just that it broke down a lot, and I had to fix it, but actually in a world where things are incredibly psychologically confusing, and hard to process, that an engine is very calming, because it’s: gear A turns right, gear B turns left, gear C turns right. It’s all very dependable. Even if it’s breaking down all the time, there’s a way to fix it. And I think I projected myself onto my vehicle, and through my life all my vehicles, right? And through understanding that it is fixable, and it is customizable, and you can make it fabulous. And if it does break down, there’s a way to get it running again. It was so much a projection of myself.

And so, long story short, when I came back from Rhode Island, and I had been studying relational aesthetics, I drove through Espanola, and I was like man, talk about relational aesthetics, these low riders, these custom cars are everything they’re talking about, this is performance art. This is like, your house is missing windows, and half burnt down, but you have a nice car in the yard, and that’s survival. Because I understand the psychology of needing a car as a projected source of self-worth. When your life is crumbling, but you can drive through town with a sense of pride, it might just keep you alive.

And I think the reason that it makes sense that [“Maria” is] in a museum exhibition, is because I was trying to stay very true to applying my aesthetic integrity to my personal, psychological investigation. And so, I wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to make it so that she makes it into a museum.” I was like, “I’m going to make it so that it changes me.” If it changes me, and it transforms me, and it makes me just walk with my head a little bit higher today, that was the whole point, right? She is one of a kind, and very, very specific, she has so much heart in it. That car is dripping with my heart.


Rose B. Simpson's artist's page

Bio from Chiaroscuro gallery in New Mexico

Another exhibition of Rose B. Simpson's work
posted by jj's.mama (17 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Forgot to quote this: But the decision to paint “Maria” in the black-on-black style made famous by Martinez? That came one day when Simpson and her mother used the car to harvest corn, beans and squash from their garden. That’s when Simpson realized that the car is a kind of pot.
posted by jj's.mama at 10:15 PM on December 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


New Mexico is my home state and Maria's pottery is legendary and is extraordinary to see in person. This car as an art project is really cool and I appreciate it. Thank you for posting!
posted by hippybear at 10:56 PM on December 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


Oh hell yes! "Our communities are wrought with a lot of what I call “postcolonial stress disorder.” It’s a manner of going through the world when you’re dealing with the stress of colonization. And a lot of that is alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, things like that. And this daily struggle of being in a world that doesn’t — isn’t necessarily in line with your ancestral ways of being. And so, it sort of jars everyone, and that causes a lot of trauma, and a lot of difficulties. As a child I feel like I was sort of up against a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t have been, that were sort of unhealthy. And it was in the entire community, and everyone is going through that, and we’re all figuring out ways to try and survive it, and not a lot of us don’t survive it. And one of the ways that I found out that I could survive it was to be able to escape, and so, what I realized was my escape was cars. I bought my first car from my mom when I was 12."

This is so true. I think one of the things that holds true for every Native friend I have is that we have all found ways to escape. For most of us, that escape twines together the ancestral and the modern. It is art and ceremony and medicine. We work through our trauma with our hands, by creating beauty. We work through the immense grief it is to watch this world destroyed and burned by colonizers. We mourn our relatives - all of them, for everything living thing is our relation. And we hold on to the old ways, and weave them in to the new ways. For our lives are an act of resistance.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:15 PM on December 29, 2019 [8 favorites]


This was a fantastic read, thanks for posting!
posted by Dysk at 12:59 AM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


That is a gorgeous car and a great interview.
posted by PMdixon at 4:26 AM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


This is all kinds of awesome and definitely the kind of thing I love metafilter for bringing to my attention.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 4:42 AM on December 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


I got to see this car in person at the Minneapolis Institute of Art's fantastic Hearts of Our People show earlier this year, and it was one of my favorite parts of one of my all-time favorite exhibits. I had a really complicated, specific reaction to this car beyond the aesthetic. Like, aesthetically, it's really cool and beautiful. But I also thought, unbidden, "this looks like the coolest fucking car in a Mad Max movie." And I got hung up on that, because the Mad Max movies are of course about what happens after a societal structure is destroyed and people figure out how to live in the new paradigm. And those movies are looking from a white Australian point of view, but in a really broad sense, that feels like a valid frame to use to describe the Native experience in North America.

So I think this car is beautiful, rad as hell, and metaphorically really heavy even outside of the (also awesome) connection to Martinez' pottery.

edited to correct the name of the Mpls Institute of Art, whose rebranding stubbornly refuses to take root in my head
posted by COBRA! at 4:50 AM on December 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


This is excellent. Maria Martinez pots are gorgeous and this is such a fascinating way of continuing to explore her art.
posted by PussKillian at 5:46 AM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I saw this at the Frist in Nashville earlier in the year. It is really beautiful.
posted by minsies at 5:59 AM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


I know Rose and saw the car in her studio in the spring. It's gorgeous in person and has a terrific growl- she re-worked the entire engine as well as the exterior. I'm not enough of a car person to remember the specifics of the engine work - but the entire thing is amazing. She went back to school at the local community college to learn about both body work and mechanics after she got her MFA.

Rose and her family are amazing people - navigating between a very traditional puebloan lifeway in some respects - her brother is both the chair of the Indigenous Liberal Studies department at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and a traditional singer and their mother Roxanne Swentzell is a sculptor and the author of a cookbook of traditional native food. While Maria has gotten more attention than Rose's figurative work, the latter is really interesting as well and builds on the same sensitivity - mix of traditional aesthetics and a slightly Mad Maxian point of view.
posted by leslies at 6:25 AM on December 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


The car is beautiful.

The video in the last link ("Another exhibition of Rose B. Simpson's work") is great and very much worth watching. It is the artist in her studio talking about her work, with imagery of her artworks cut in.

But I also thought, unbidden, "this looks like the coolest fucking car in a Mad Max movie."

In the video she talks about her use of post-apocalypse theory and the implications of a post-sustainable world.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:57 AM on December 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the personal perspective, leslies. I caught the bit of extra education too; her bio says she went to RISD for several years, got an MFA, and then completed a course at Northern New Mexico College’s Automotive Science Program with a focus in Auto Body. That's awesome, and a long way from the academic loftiness of RISD. I gotta imagine that program is particularly interesting in the lowrider capital of the world.

I love listening to her talk. Partly because the way she speaks makes me nostalgic for when I lived in northern NM, partly because she's so clear about what she's doing. Her art is remarkable, thanks for sharing it here.

Her website lists representation at two galleries: Chiaroscuro in Santa Fe and Jessica Silverman Gallery in San Francisco. They just closed an exhibition of her work at the San Francisco gallery last week. Damn.
posted by Nelson at 7:09 AM on December 30, 2019


Possibly of interest, and tangentially related, is another art car called Maria del Camino.
posted by adamrice at 7:37 AM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Thank you for putting this together. I saw the car at the Frist as part of the Hearts of Our People exhibit. Looking forward to learning more from all the links.
posted by kokaku at 8:25 AM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


As someone who used to own a 1985 El Camino (two tone gray, not a low rider) named “El Tiburón de las Estradas,” I am really feeling this.
posted by ejs at 10:07 AM on December 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


as a woman and sculptor who is also endlessly working on my skidoo ( finally finally fixed the carb today yay me) I relate to the connection between her ceramic work & automotive work- and the feeling of the comforting logic and art of engine mechanics.
posted by cabin fever at 11:54 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]


This was great, thanks for posting.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:38 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


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