Illuminating Identity

How Rose B. Simpson Sculpts a Literature of Survivance, Humor, & Tragic Wisdom

Lilly Barrientos

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Illuminating Identity

How Rose B. Simpson Sculpts a Literature of Survivance, Humor, & Tragic Wisdom

Lilly Barrientos

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Introduction

Rose Bean Simpson (born 1983) is an artist who blends traditional clay material linked to her Pueblo culture with manufactured or repurposed objects. Her first mid-career retrospective, LIT: The Works of Rose B. Simpson at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico, features key artworks documenting pivotal moments of the artist’s life, including her introduction to motherhood. Notable for being Simpson’s first mother-daughter portrait, her first sculpture post-labor, and one of the first artworks displayed when entering the exhibition, Genesis (2017) holds key insights into Simpson as an artist and an individual (Figure 1).

I originally completed this analysis of Simpson’s sculptures for a graduate course on contemporary Native American artists, and in it, I strived for a nuanced, intimate interpretation of how the artist blends aesthetics and materials while taking the multitudes of her identity into consideration.[1] I initially referenced several of Simpson’s portraits, I mostly limit my analysis in this paper to Genesis for brevity. Any additionally cited works are briefly mentioned as necessary to support broader claims. This version also emphasizes how Simpson shares not only her hybrid identity, but the pains associated with her lived experience as a Native, queer woman of color, to connect with viewers in transformative ways.

Born to parents and fellow artists Roxanne Swentzell—a ceramicist of Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico—and Patrick Simpson—a metal and wood worker of Anglo heritage—Simpson has extensive knowledge of both Indigenous and Western traditions and aesthetics. Her parents fostered her own deep love for both organic and inorganic media, contributing to her eclectic visual language. Mixing organic clay with human-made, mechanical steel parts, Simpson’s works are, as the artist describes, “honest” representations of herself.[2]

Figure 1. Rose B. Simpson, Genesis, 2017, Ceramic, steel, & leather. Image courtesy of Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art, © Rose B. Simpson.

Survivance

Scholars generally define survivance as a way of reclaiming continuous Indigenous presence and sharing the traumatic consequences of colonization with one’s communities. Vizenor asserts that “…survivance… is more than survival, more than endurance or mere response; the stories of survivance are an active presence.”[3] Indigenous creators present their active presence simply by sharing their authentic lived experiences with the public, reminding non-Native audiences that Indigenous cultures and peoples are still present. In Simpson’s works, survivance comes across in her continuation, blending, and expansion of conventional Pueblo materials, traditions, and aesthetics, as seen in the artist’s first mother-daughter portrait, Genesis.

Figure 2. Rose B. Simpson, Genesis (detail), 2017, Ceramic, steel, & leather. Collection of the artist. Photograph courtesy of the author.

Genesis depicts the artist holding her then-newborn daughter. The mother stands with her feet firmly planted on the ground, dressed only in a black and white leather sash on her hips, which covers her genital area. Her chest is covered by her broad, strong arms, holding the babe in a protective, loving embrace. She is sanctified by a repurposed halo atop her head, and a closer look reveals the halo is actually a car part (Figure 2). More specifically, the halo is a repurposed clutch plate from a vehicle’s automatic transmission, signaling Simpson’s active presence in both a traditional and modern context.[4]

Raised by a mother who was part of Santa Clara Pueblo’s long tradition of female potters and ceramicists, Simpson honors that tradition by continuing to use clay as the main material in most of her works. She also honors the worldviews that inform how Puebloans see themselves in relation to nature, time, and one another. Rooted in Tewa mythology, many Puebloans understand all living beings as connected to a creation figure referred to as “mother.”

The only mother-daughter portraits by Simpson exhibited at the Wheelwright Museum, Genesis and Cairn (2018), balance the artist’s cultural roots with her contemporary roles as an artist and mother. Referring to vertically-piled stones, cairns are about maintaining balance—something that became more complicated for Simpson after the birth of her first child. Genesis was the first dual portrait Simpson completed with her newborn strapped to her body and making the sculpture demonstrated to her that success as a mother would come by embracing unity.[7] By the time she completed Cairn out of her 

signature clay, Simpson had come to see herself and her daughter as synonymous with cairns, signaling that balance continues to empower their relationship (Figure 3). In her new role, Simpson believes finding balance requires not only unity, but also taking responsibility for oneself.[8]

Being raised off-the-grid with her parents and brother, Simpson developed an intimate relationship with clay rooted in her Pueblo culture.[9] She advocates for clay as a universal tool for transcendental communication that holds the power to communicate empathy for living materials, including for ourselves.[10] The clay comes from the earth—the “earth mother” in the Santa Clara tradition—and can reach individuals in distinct ways. Simpson sees the earth as our closest relative and a natural source for transcending superficial barriers. She writes, “[Earth] is the thing to which we are all indigenous.”[11] Following Simpson’s views, the Genesis mother, made almost exclusively out of clay and deified by the steel halo on her head, embodies the Tewa understanding of the “earth mother,” encouraging open communication between the earth and the people who inhabit it.

In Genesis, the dichotomy between the feminized, maternal clay with Tewa cultural links and the tough, manufactured Western car parts reflect Simpson’s active presence as a multi-faceted individual with varied interests. In Genesis and Cairn, themes of new beginnings, balance and motherhood signal to the Simpson’s position as a guide and role model, not only to her daughter, but to her audience. Concerned with the continued marginalization of Indigenous folk, the artist sometimes expresses her frustrations through parody.

Humor (Irony)

The contrasting elements in Simpson’s works—like the soft, organic clay combined with the tough, repurposed metal—evoke humorous irony as they do survivance. They subvert the expectations of widely Western audiences with little to no knowledge of Indigenous experiences and traditions. The humor in Simpson’s sculptures comes from the way she parodies the “original ‘reality’”—in this case, the colonial aesthetics forced upon colonized communities that attempt to erase Indigenous peoples’ presence.

Figure 3. Rose B. Simpson, Cairn, 2018, Ceramic & mixed media. Image courtesy of Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art, © Rose B. Simpson.

Pre-contact Native American stories included the trickster character that represents hybridity and is capable of challenging social norms by provoking critical thought through irony.[13] Considering how Simpson uses her art fully embrace her own dual identity as a mixed-race woman, one could say she takes on the role of the trickster as an artist. Blending the aesthetics which define her past with her present, Simpson pokes fun at the idea that Indigenous people are stuck in the past, particularly the stereotype that all Native Americans still travel by horse.[14] She watched her mother and father work with heavy machinery—defying misogynistic stereotypes—and learn to do things themselves when she was growing up. Raised without strict gender binaries, Simpson had the freedom to develop a deep love for machinery. In her art works, her incorporation of manufactured car parts with clay reminds viewers of her continued presence in the 21st century as well as that of other Native Americans.

Figures 4 & 5. Simone Martini & Lippo Memmi, Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus, 1333, Tempera on wood, gold background. On view at Galleria degli Uffizi. Images courtesy of https://library-artstor-org.du.idm.oclc.org/asset/29488950.

Simpson’s multiple influences also include a broad art historical background. When analyzing Simpson’ strategic use of irony, it is worth noting how the clutch plate in Genesis closely resembles an abstracted, stripped-down halo simplified to its basic circular form with a spiked pattern mimicking rays of holy light (Figure 4 and 5). As Simpson is surely well-aware, one common “original reality” for representing haloes relies on precious materials like gold to emphasize the holiness and heavenly status of the wearer, and popular annunciation scenes of Christ’s birth feature a haloed Virgin Mary.[15]

Familiar with Western and Native American art history, Simpson likely concluded that Western audiences would be acquainted with the halo in Christian imagery when she adopted it. But she challenges the norms of Western aesthetics by presenting the same iconography in her own context, with materials reflective of her personal ideologies. Knowingly or not, the artist softens the sting of her aesthetic rewriting with ironic humor, likely amusing non-Native audiences with her version of a halo. Underneath the humor, however, lies the critical observation that Simpson values natural and repurposed materials over precious metals valued by Anglo Europeans because, as an Indigenous woman, the colonizer’s “original reality” was never intended for people like her. Indeed, Simpson still grapples with the symptoms of colonial trauma, heightened as she stepped into motherhood.

Tragic Wisdom

The clutch plate in the halo in Genesis is responsible for “[transferring] rotational power from the engine to the wheels,” making it an essential mechanism in any automatic vehicle. Transmitting torque from the motor to the car’s tires, Simpson gives new meaning to the clutch plate’s traditional function, suggesting that her halo represents the transfer of knowledge from the older generation to the younger one. In contrast, Christian haloes in Western art typically serve as visual cues to the most important and sacred figures in the scene. But the mother figure in Genesis does not emanate holy light like these icons; instead, she is sanctified with a recycled, human-made tool, originally created to achieve forward momentum—a tool essential for progress.

According to Pueblo worldviews, generational knowledge is passed on to the community through individual and universal connections to the “earth mother,” or clay. Pueblo pottery-making is also knowledge passed through the matriarchal line in the community, and thus the role of the Genesis mother is not just to care for the child but to teach her. Symbolized by the usual function of the clutch plate—creating momentum for cars to move forward—the

mother figure is responsible for encouraging her child’s developmental skills and giving the child the tools to grow and, eventually, go. Further suggested by the sculpture’s Biblical title, Genesis, the portrait documents Simpson entering a new stage in her life as a mother—the main source for her child’s development and advancement. But the unconventional material also points to the unique perspective Simpson will offer her daughter, and her audience, which is a perspective historically and tragically forced upon her by colonization.

The Genesis mother looks out at a world that has left identifying marks on her—some she might have wanted and some not. Her distant gaze betrays the anxiety felt for the future of her child, not uncommon among new mothers. In broader terms, the mother figure may represent the Santa Clara creation figure, with “mother” linked to clay’s role as the “mother clay” or “earth mother.” The knowledge the mother has acquired can be read as tragic wisdom. There is no way for her to return to the trajectory that generations of Indigenous people were derailed from due to colonization. The mother and child carry similar symbols engraved on their clay “flesh,” although the older, experienced mother figure notably bears more marks than the newborn child (Figure 6 and 7).

Carved onto their clay bodies, the marks on the Genesis figures can be read as identifiers for onlookers, alluding to the real-life violence faced by people of color and Native American women and girls. The ongoing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement, helping communities organize against the disproportionate violence against Native American women, attests to this violence.[17] Native American women are murdered at almost three times the rate of non-Hispanic white women. They are also two times more likely to experience sexual violence.[18] With this in mind, the Genesis mother’s embrace becomes a powerful reminder of her protective instinct over the child, who, although newly born, is already marked.

These etched symbols that stand for identity markers accumulated throughout different stages of one’s life and as signs of the larger issues of violence are not the only meanings that have bearing on the child’s identity as she grows. In the mother’s case, for example, the markings can be linked to Simpson’s real-life tattoos that hold private and evolving meanings for the artist. She has made reference to her tattoos in other works, including Special (2015), completed in collaboration with her child’s father and fellow graffiti artist, Watermelon7 (Figure 8). She considers the symbols on her skin to be indicators of her “honest self,” or abstracted manifestations of her most intimate self. Considering the artist’s views on tattoos as sources of empowerment, it is likely that the Genesis figures maintain agency in at least some of the symbols they display to the world. Still, desired or not, such visible identity markers, much like tattoos, can be stigmatizing.

Finally, Simpson’s exploration of tragic wisdom can be seen in the aesthetics of the clay sculptures in LIT, evident in the red earth tones and repurposed objects used in artworks like Genesis. Simpson actively challenges the problematic aesthetics of what she refers to as “post-colonial stress disorder” or the intergenerational trauma of colonialism in Indigenous communities.[20] One therapeutic way Simpson confronts how post-colonial stress disorder has impacted her is by turning to the empowered aesthetics of Indigenous futurism, imagining science-fiction futures where Indigenous peoples and cultures thrive.[21]

Vizenor discusses Indigenous trauma in his book Fugitive Poses (1998) and argues that trauma and pain are experienced differently by each individual, even within the same community. This argument challenges the misconception of the “native victim”—an umbrella-term that essentializes Indigenous trauma and mostly succeeds in

Figures 6 & 7. Rose B. Simpson, Genesis (detail), 2017, Ceramic, steel, & leather. Collection of the artist. Photograph courtesy of the author.

further erasing individuals’ experiences.[22] Simpson creates herself over and over again, using materials representative of the past and the future, to reflect herself in the present.[23] But she remains conscious of the future she wants to leave for her daughter, which she must balance with her personal journey in the present and the apocalyptic dystopia many Indigenous people see themselves currently surviving.

Figure 8. Rose B. Simpson, Special, 2015, Ceramic & mixed media. Image courtesy of Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art, © Rose B. Simpson.

Indigenous individuals and communities have a complex relationship with dystopian landscapes and post-apocalyptic narratives. Some artists, like Will Wilson, tackle Indigenous apocalyptic themes by reminding audiences that Indigenous communities have already experienced an apocalypse of their way of life as a direct result of In contrast, Simpson sees this apocalypse as a potential opportunity for all of humanity to experience what she experienced as a child: going completely off the grid and surviving on nothing but natural resources and learned experiences.[25] Relying on the transcendent, Indigenous qualities of clay, Simpson’s works have the potential to foster universal understanding through their tragic wisdom.

Conclusion

Whether expressing survivance, humor, or tragic wisdom, Rose Bean Simpson portrays her intimate experiences as a Native woman in ways that resonate with broader audiences. She reclaims her blended identity by presenting her “honest self” in her work and putting her art and life journey on display for all the world to see and gain understanding. Presenting these experiences through materials she associates with universality; Simpson’s self-portraits offer unity in place of singularity. Independent of each other, materials like engine parts and clay seem too different to ever exist in harmony. Simpson’s perspective, informed by her cultural roots, rural upbringing, her journey into motherhood, and artistic sensibilities, brings the disparate together and enables her to honor her past, present, and future.

Notes

[1]If interested in seeing the original version of this essay, contact the author at lilly.barrientos@du.edu.

[2] Simpson (the artist) used this term in an email message to the author, May 22, 2019.

[3] Gerald Vizenor, Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence / Gerald Vizenor, Abraham Lincoln Lecture Series (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998), 15.

[4] Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, LIT: The Works of Rose B. Simpson (Santa Fe: Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 2019), 40.

[5] Edward P. Dozier, The Pueblo Indians of North America, ed. by George Spindler and Louise Spindler (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970), 204.

[6] Betty LeFree, Santa Clara Pottery Today, first edition (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975), 9.

[7] LIT, 40.

[8] 65.

[9] Rose Bean Simpson, “Finding Source,” Studio Potter 41, no. 2 (2013), https://search-proquest-com.du.idm.oclc.org/docview/1473713099?accountid=14608, 30.

[10] “Artist – Rose B. Simpson,” YouTube video, from December 15, 2011, posted by “buffalothunderart,” May 10, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzncl9P7W2I.

[11] Simpson, 32.

[12] Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms / Linda Hutcheon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000, 1985), 49.

[13] Allan J. Ryan, “The Trickster Shift,” in The Trickster Shift: Humor and Irony in Contemporary Native Art, 3-12, (Vancouver: UBC Press and University of Washington Press, 1999), 199. See this source for more information on humor in Indigenous studies and information on the trickster figure as a tool for reorienting the Western paradigm; Sara Morgan Rowe, “Native Humor in the Museum,” in “The Trickster Critique: How Parody in Contemporary Native American Art Challenges Authenticity and Authority within Mainstream Museums,” Master’s thesis, University of California Riverside, 2017, 56-86. See this source for a deeper analysis of parody and humor in Indigenous studies.

[14] “Rose Simpson: The Ultimate Risk – being true to yourself,” YouTube video, from June 13, 2016, posted by “creativemorningsHQ,” March 18, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sT8tgfDGQMw&t=715s.

[15] For instance, in annunciation scenes in the style of 14th century Italian artists Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi. Martini and Memmi’s Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus (1333) depicts Mary on a gold ground with a halo that the artists punched and tooled into the gold leaf.

[16] “The Design of the Cars Clutch,” Autobutler, March 18, 2015, https://www.autobutler.co.uk/wiki/what-does-the-clutch-do.

[17] For more information on the ongoing crisis and educational resources, visit mmiwresources.carrd.co and follow #mmiw on social media to stay informed.

[18] National Congress of American Indians, Research Policy Update: Violence Against American Indian Women and Girls (February 2018), distributed by NCAI Policy Research Center, https://www.ncai.org/policy-research-center/research-data/prc-publications/VAWA_Data_Brief__FINAL_2_1_2018.pdf.

[19] Simpson (artist), email message to author, May 22, 2019.

[20] Simpson, email message to author, May 22, 2019.

[21] Grace L. Dillon, “Imagining Indigenous Futurisms,” in Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, ed. by Grace L. Dillon, 1-12, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012. I use the general definition that Dillon introduces in her text, stating that Indigenous futurism has become a way for Indigenous creators to imagine an alternate world in an alternate time-space. See this source for an overview of Indigenous futurism.

[22] Vizenor, Fugitive Poses, 96.

[23] Museum panel, May 19, 2019.

[24] See Will Wilson’s (Diné) Auto-Immune Response series (2004) on his website, willwilson.photoshelter.com.

[25] “LIT: The Work of Rose B. Simpson,” posted by “Wheelwright Museum,” May 10, 2019.

Bibliography

“Artist – Rose B. Simpson.” YouTube video, from December 15, 2011. Posted by “buffalothunderart.” May 10, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzncl9P7W2I.

Birchfield, D.L. “Pueblos.” Countries and their Culture. https://www.everyculture.com/multi/Pa-Sp/Pueblos.html.

Bond, Sarah E. “Why We Need to Start Seeing the Classical World in Color.” Hyperallergic. June 07, 2017. Accessed May 31, 2019. https://hyperallergic.com/383776/.

Dillon, Grace L. “Imagining Indigenous Futurisms.” In Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction. Edited by Grace L. Dillon, 1-12. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012.

Dozier, Edward P. The Pueblo Indians of North America. Edited by George Spindler and Louise Spindler. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston (C1970), 1970.

“Glossary of Terms.” In The Eyes of the Pot: A Journey into the World of Native American Pottery. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.eyesofthepot.com/glossary.htm.

Hill, W.W. “Pottery.” In An Ethnography of Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Edited by Charles Henry Lange. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1982. 83-90.

Hill, W.W. “Status of Women.” In An Ethnography of Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Edited by Charles Henry Lange. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1982. 169-170.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-century Art Forms / Linda Hutcheon. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

King, Charles S. Spoken Through Clay: Native Pottery of the Southwest. NM: Museum Of New Mexico Press, 2017.

“LIT: The Work of Rose B. Simpson.” YouTube video, from April 22, 2019. Posted by “Wheelwright Museum.” May 10, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbMIqIgu5FA&feature=youtu.be.

Madsen, Deborah L. “Tragic Wisdom and Survivance: In Conversation with Remarkable Native Americans.” Edited by J. Rostkowski. Albany: SUNY Press. Accessed May 5, 2019. https://archive-ouverte.unige.ch/unige:877882.

“Mothers & Daughters: Stories in Clay.” Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc. Accessed May 10, 2019. http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/8aa/8aa356.htm.

Naranjo, Tessie. “Pottery Making in a Changing World: Santa Clara Pueblo.” Expedition 36, no. 1 (1994): 44, 44-50.

“Rose Simpson: The Ultimate Risk – being true to yourself.” YouTube video, from CreativeMornings Santa Fe in April 2016. Posted by “CreativeMornings HQ.” May 10, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sT8tgfDGQMw&feature=youtu.be.

Rowe, Sara Morgan. “Native Humor in the Museum.” In “The Trickster Critique: How Parody in Contemporary Native American Art Challenges Authenticity and Authority Within Mainstream Museums.” Master’s thesis, University of California Riverside, 2017. 56-86.

Ryan, Allan J. “The Trickster Shift.” In The Trickster Shift: Humor and Irony in Contemporary Native Art, 3-12. Vancouver, Toronto, and Seattle: UBC Press and University of Washington Press, 1999.

Sanchez, Casey. “Auto-body Experience: Rose B. Simpson and Her El Camino.” Santa Fe New Mexican, September 03, 2016. Accessed May 5, 2019, https://www.santafenewmexican.com/pasatiempo/art/auto-body-experience-rose-b-simpson-and-her-el-camino/article_8707be00-c56d-57e4-9e09-8a96df4a81c4.html.

Simpson, Rose Bean. “Finding Source.” Studio Potter 41, no. 2 (2013): 30-33. https://search-proquest-com.du.idm.oclc.org/docview/1473713099?accountid=14608.

Swentzell, Porter, and Yve Chavez. LIT: The Works of Rose B. Simpson. Santa Fe: Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 2019.

“The Design of the Cars Clutch.” Autobutler. March 18, 2015. https://www.autobutler.co.uk/wiki/what-does-the-clutch-do.

Tsinhnahjinnie, Hulleah J. “Visual Sovereignty: A Continuous Aboriginal/Indigenous Landscape.” In Diversity and Dialogue: The Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art 2007. Edited by James H. Nottage, 14-23. Indianapolis, Seattle, and London: Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and University of Washington Press, 2008.

Vigil, Jennifer. “Will Wilson (Diné) Fellowship Artist.” In Diversity and Dialogue: The Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art, 2007. Edited by James E. Nottage, 94-107. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2008.

Vizenor, Gerald. Fugitive Poses: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence / Gerald Vizenor. Abraham Lincoln Lecture Series. Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

Vizenor, Gerald. Native Liberty: Natural Reason and Cultural Survivance. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009. Accessed May 2, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. Museum docent tour of exhibition, Klah Gallery, Santa Fe, 19 May 2019. “LIT: The Works of Rose B. Simpson,” November 4, 2018 – October 6, 2019.

Introduction

Rose Bean Simpson (born 1983) is an artist who blends traditional clay material linked to her Pueblo culture with manufactured or repurposed objects. Her first mid-career retrospective, LIT: The Works of Rose B. Simpson at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico, features key artworks documenting pivotal moments of the artist’s life, including her introduction to motherhood. Notable for being Simpson’s first mother-daughter portrait, her first sculpture post-labor, and one of the first artworks displayed when entering the exhibition, Genesis (2017) holds key insights into Simpson as an artist and an individual (Figure 1).

I originally completed this analysis of Simpson’s sculptures for a graduate course on contemporary Native American artists, and in it, I strived for a nuanced, intimate interpretation of how the artist blends aesthetics and materials while taking the multitudes of her identity into consideration.[1] I initially referenced several of Simpson’s portraits, I mostly limit my analysis in this paper to Genesis for brevity. Any additionally cited works are briefly mentioned as necessary to support broader claims. This version also emphasizes how Simpson shares not only her hybrid identity, but the pains associated with her lived experience as a Native, queer woman of color, to connect with viewers in transformative ways.

Born to parents and fellow artists Roxanne Swentzell—a ceramicist of Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico—and Patrick Simpson—a metal and wood worker of Anglo heritage—Simpson has extensive knowledge of both Indigenous and Western traditions and aesthetics. Her parents fostered her own deep love for both organic and inorganic media, contributing to her eclectic visual language. Mixing organic clay with human-made, mechanical steel parts, Simpson’s works are, as the artist describes, “honest” representations of herself.[2]

Figure 1. Rose B. Simpson, Genesis, 2017, Ceramic, steel, & leather. Image courtesy of Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art, © Rose B. Simpson.

Survivance

Scholars generally define survivance as a way of reclaiming continuous Indigenous presence and sharing the traumatic consequences of colonization with one’s communities. Vizenor asserts that “…survivance… is more than survival, more than endurance or mere response; the stories of survivance are an active presence.”[3] Indigenous creators present their active presence simply by sharing their authentic lived experiences with the public, reminding non-Native audiences that Indigenous cultures and peoples are still present. In Simpson’s works, survivance comes across in her continuation, blending, and expansion of conventional Pueblo materials, traditions, and aesthetics, as seen in the artist’s first mother-daughter portrait, Genesis.