Spirit in the Land opens at the Nasher Museum

In the Nasher Museum of Art’s newly opened “Spirit in the Land” exhibition, artworks by 30 artists question the belief that humanity and nature are distinct entities. The exhibition invites viewers to see nature encapsulating and nurturing humanity. Through a variety of mediums, including but not limited to painting, sculpture, installation and film, it creates a dialogue between cultural practices and traditions and their roots in nature. 

In the upcoming month, the Nasher is hosting multiple events related to the exhibition. 

Two of these events are a Student-Only Exhibition Opening hosted by MUSE, the Nasher’s undergraduate student advisory board, featuring student DJs, free food and drinks from the Nasher Cafe, and Spirit in the Land: An Afternoon with Duke Gardens — an afternoon with both guided tours and hands-on activities at Duke Gardens. The two events will take place Feb. 24, 7-9 p.m. and March 5, 12-4 p.m., respectively.

At its core, this exhibition is about “looking at the natural environment through a cultural lens,” said Nasher Museum Director Trevor Schoonmaker, who organized the exhibition. It ultimately grounds viewers in awe about the power of nature as the source of human culture.

Grappling with the two-way relationship between humans and nature — how nature has nurtured humanity and how mankind has changed nature, often for the worse, the exhibition is hopeful, said Schoonmaker. It serves as a reminder that we are an integral part of this ecosystem, and that nature is “here to provide answers” to prevent the impending ecological doom.

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Artists in the exhibition took inspiration from the influence of eastern North America and Caribbean environs on their personal or cultural identities. 

Informed by First Nations beadwork art, Christi Belcourt’s “This Painting Is a Mirror” gives the impression of beads on fabric but is instead an acrylic painting.  The mention of “mirror” in its title is thought-provoking. As the artist herself wrote, this mirror is one that reflects the innocence and love within us. It is a technicolor statement on the potential of goodness within us and the interconnectivity of the world we dwell in

Alexa Kleinbard’s series “REMEDIES” takes inspiration from herbal medicine her family used. These shaped paintings are framed with flowers and plants. The vibrant color of those plants hints at their healing power. Within the frames are bodies of water under the horizon. As such, the paintings are almost portals to an ecosystem in harmony, underneath which lurks the destructive potential of mankind.

The use of the creative medium is also apparent in María Berrío’s “Joyas Voladoras,” where she uses Japanese paper on linen to conjure up imagery of iridescent hummingbirds. She uses birds in her art to serve as a reminder that “nature is greater than art,” she wrote in the exhibition catalog.

Several artists' works can be interpreted as showing the self intertwined and at one with nature. 

Peter Williams’ self-portrait style “Birdland” features a man immersed by foliages and surrounded by birds, perfectly at peace. Andrea Chung’s “VEX” series shows historical images of Black women from the Caribbean adorn with flora and fauna. In her own words, “I use foliage to protect private moments, to imagine these women reclaiming ownership of their own images.” A similar theme emerges in Meryl McMaster’s “My Destiny is Intertwined with Yours” and Hew Locke’s “Tranquility Hall” and “Mosquito Hall.” 

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Each piece of work in “Spirit in the Land” is unique in modes of expression, emotions and the cultural practices they alluded to. Yet, they are linked by a common thread – the belief that we are inherently connected to the natural ecosystem, which awaits neither conquering nor redemption from mankind, but a sense of kinship and a humble desire to grow with nature in harmony.

Wangechi Mutu, whose works in this exhibition include “MamaRay,” “Flying Root IV,” and “Subterranea Flourish,” wrote in the catalog, “The earth is not ours and never will be. The earth is us and ever will be.”

“Spirit in the Land” is open at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University from Feb. 16 to July 09, 2023. Information about Nasher’s hours and admission can be found here.

Katherine Zhong | Local Arts Editor

Katherine Zhong is a Trinity junior and local arts editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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