Montclair Art Museum to present ‘Color Riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles’

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MONTCLAIR, NJ — Montclair Art Museum will open the exhibition “Color Riot! How Color Changed Navajo Textiles” on Sunday, Sept. 12; the show will run through Jan. 2. Museum members will be invited to an exhibition preview on Saturday, Sept. 11, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Change has always been a hallmark of Navajo — or Dine, which, with an acute accent on the “e,” is how the Navajo refer to themselves — textile design, with weavers’ individualism a running thread. With Dine perspectives and the technical mastery of weavers at the heart of “Color Riot,” this exhibition — featuring 70 bold artworks woven from 1860 to the present­ — celebrates the courage and vision to experiment.   

“The textiles presented in this exhibition are creations of weavers who wove for themselves — they are vibrant and unrestrained in both color and design,” said co-curator Velma Kee Craig, a Dine weaver also featured in the exhibit.

The exhibition at Montclair Art Museum will lead with works from nine highly regarded contemporary weavers, including well-established artists such as D.Y. Begay and Marilou Schultz, as well as those of a newer generation, such as Melissa Cody and Venancio Francis Aragon.

The historical textiles are rooted in the experiences of Navajo people between 1863 and 1868, when the U.S. government forcibly marched more than 10,000 Navajo to Bosque Redondo, an internment camp at Fort Sumner, N.M. In 1868, the survivors signed a treaty as a sovereign nation and returned home to a reservation. During and after this time, Dine weavers incorporated stylistic features from Hispanic textiles, bright aniline dyes and wool yarns mass-produced in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown. With older trading networks disrupted during this “transitional period,” weavers had unprecedented freedom to experiment and turned to new sources of inspiration. It was only after the 1890s that non-native traders in the southwest developed design constraints to appeal to rug buyers’ tastes. 

“Color Riot” was organized by the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz. Laura J. Allen, MAM’s curator of Native American art, coordinated its presentation at the museum. An additional room in the installation, developed with ArtTable fellow Larissa Nez, who is herself Dine, highlights how weaving connects to Dine cultural ideas and other artistic practices, featuring the perspectives of musicians, boundary-pushing artists and wearers of Navajo textiles as heritage and fashion, among others. This room will also include immersive music by composer and pianist Connor Chee, who is Dine, and weaving tools and materials from the Montclair Art Museum collection. The exhibition graphics for Montclair Art Museum were designed by Victor Pascual, who is Dine and Maya.

“Dine weavers have long embraced the great possibilities of abstract design as well as new materials, technologies and visual forms. ‘Color Riot’ honors the aesthetic and technical complexity of works by historical artists whose names did not remain with their creations, and shows how today’s weavers uphold and advance that vision,” Allen said. “I am so pleased that MAM’s visitors will learn about these striking works and their historical contexts from the perspectives of this exhibition’s indigenous co-curators and artists. It has been a fantastic opportunity to facilitate ‘Color Riot’ at Montclair Art Museum to include even more Dine voices, speaking to the powerful roles of weaving in their creativity and cultural understandings.”

Photos from Craig Smith, Courtesy of the Heard Museum

Editor’s note: This press release was updated to reflect a new opening date.