VISUAL ARTS REVIEW | Carolyn Lee Anderson’s “Shijéí/My Heart” at All My Relations Gallery leaves you staring


You don’t have to know art to appreciate Carolyn Lee Anderson’s exhibit Shijéí/My Heart: Mixed Media Works. Showing now through May 31 at All My Relations Gallery, it is an intriguing experience regardless. Anderson’s images compel. Her immediacy leaves you staring. No need to know art—anyone can feel this work. Family portraits in more or less existential relief, photographs, paint and drawings in compliment to earthen images. You care about this art because you can tell how strongly the artist cared in creating it.

On her website, you’ll find strong credentials, including exhibits at Twin Cities venues such as All My Relations Arts, Gage Family Art Gallery, and Mill City Museum. Hardly a hat trick. As a curator, Anderson is devoted to American Indian artists, and in 2009 she curated the group self-portrait exhibit Hokah! Ten Years of Art at Ancient Traders Gallery. That year and the next, Carolyn Lee Anderson interned at Minneapolis Institute of Arts working with Associate Curator, Joe Horse Capture on showcasing historic Native American art objects. She co-curated the touring exhibit This is Displacement: Native Artists Consider the Relationship Between Land and Identity. The work was done collaboration with dancer and choreographer Emily Johnson. 

Presently, one does well to step in at All My Relations Gallery and view Shijéí/My Heart. At the gallery, Carolyn Lee Anderson discussed her craft.

Why this medium?
Well, there’s several mediums. I started out drawing as a kid, very young. When I got out of college, [grew] really interested in painting. That was my concentration [as] a student at the U of M. Then, I started learning how to weave. My grandma is a Navajo weaver. And my great grandma and great great grandma. So, she [taught] me how to weave. I wanted to incorporate that into my work, because it was important to carry on with the tradition. I didn’t want to give up painting, either.  Didn’t want to choose one or the other. So, I decided to combine them. The fabric, just sort of, I decided spontaneously to incorporate that as well. It fit in with tradition. Because, there [have been] a lot of seamstresses in my family. My grandma was a master seamstress. That was her job for a while. And [there are] quilters in my family. My mom did a lot of sewing, too. So, it seemed to fit the theme. ‘Cause so much the work is concerned with my lineage. 

What about photography?
Yes. There is a little bit of photography included. Framed photographs of my family. Because, I wanted to show my inspiration for the work. A little bit of background information on what these people are about.  

You’ve been at this for how long?
This exhibit in particular?

Okay. Why?
Over a year ago, I started to think about it. Like, maybe a couple years ago, I started thinking I needed to get back to Navajo weaving. I’d given it up for so many years. And I was feeling guilty about that. But, it takes up so much time, it’s such an involved medium. Then, I had the idea to just combine [mediums]. At the beginning of last year, I started to work [a] piece called “For My Sisters.” Set the loom up and started weaving. There was that piece in particular and I was thinking about my family. Saying a prayer to help us connect with our little sister. Sort of like a prayer to my ancestors and my other sister who had passed away. I felt compelled to tell my story, my family story. I also wanted to learn more about that story. How my history goes back before my time. As a teenager, I grew up in Minnesota. So, I didn’t have a connection to my Navajo heritage.

Where is that?
It’s in the Southwest. 

Kit Carson territory.
Yeah. I grew up feeling detached from my Navajo heritage. Had different problems growing up.  My mom and grandma took me on a trip down to the Southwest. I met some relatives I had never met before in my life. And was, you know, exposed to the culture for the first time, was exposed to the language. That made a really big impression on me. I would say that’s where the first seeds, you know, of this project were sewn during that time. I was 16 on that first trip. So, it’s been percolating in me for a long while. But, it just, it wasn’t ready to come to fruition all those past years. I [eventually] came up with the idea of combining weaving with the painting [to tell] a story. 

Here’s a dumb question.  How do you feel about Shijéí/My Heart being extended a full week?
There’s been a wonderful response. And they have the extra time to come see it. I think it’s really emotionally touching to people. Some of the people cried when they saw [the work] at the opening. That was like the ultimate compliment. Touching people on a very deep level. That meant, that means a lot to me.

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