Diné artist Monty Little was a rifleman in the Marine Corps for four years. He was deployed to the southeastern part of Asia for a year and then Ar Ramadi, Iraq, for humanitarian work for about seven months.
He was honorably discharged and returned to his home on the Navajo reservation in Fort Yuma, Arizona. The homecoming was bittersweet; while he was happy to be out of harm’s way, he began noticing similarities in topography and architecture between his home in Arizona and the places he traveled through in Iraq. These memories triggered uncomfortable reminders of his time in the military.
He began to explore ways to express his feelings about his experiences. At first, he attempted to navigate the incongruent pathways of surreal poetry, but when that didn’t quench his creative thirst, he turned to painting. Little’s artist statement indicates that he began to “paint and print what he wrote, using each medium as erasure, where unsettling truths reveal personal components and texture is integral, yet disruptive to find his past chaotic.”
“Monty Little’s Fast and Curious Exhibition” is set to open with a reception Friday (Sept. 8), 1-5 p.m., at FaraHNHeight Fine Art Gallery and Performance Space, located at 311 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
Before enlisting in the Marines, Little attended Arizona State University for five semesters studying architecture. His wife urged him to change directions and pursue a degree in creative writing and studio arts at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. There, Little blossomed as a creative exploring the psychological manifestations of stress from the chaos and disorder of the battlefield.
Of his current work, Little’s artist statement expounded, “I visualize my written work of images of war, past/present memories, and employ a disarray of images that interstice uncertainty. Placement is indirect, yet strict, but not predictable — I find clarity to be marginal. Series of instinctual impressions are blanketed upon themselves to hide or unfold emotion and frailness. I use multiple mediums to intertwine shifts in dialects, but try to capture an openness that reflects past and current landscape.”
Little’s exhibition this week at FaraHNHeight Fine Art is a collection of altered Native American elders portraits, appropriated from the American photographer and ethnologist Edward Curtis.
“Contingency Combs Memory” is the series’ title. Little eschews the sepia colors of the original photographs and instead uses silver tones with a swirling template to distort the faces of the subjects.
Little says, “The Curtis portrait series was heavily staged with models and did not accurately capture the identity of the subjects and the struggles of living in two worlds.”
He says his struggle mirrors many Native Americans who leave the reservation and pursue a different life. “You go out into the world forgetting your sacred culture. I have forgotten my native tongue and don’t know many of the traditions of my ancestors. Also, there are the pressures of the new life of not being good enough and the cloud of identity.” Little says he struggles with this paradox and uses his art to find resolution and expression of his turmoil.
Gregory Farah, FaraHNHeight Fine Art gallery director, asked Little to do a show of his work in Taos. The artist said he was so impressed by the collection of contemporary Native American artists Farah has curated for the gallery that his response was an immediate yes.
The FaraHNHeight gallery is a spacious venue with a range of modern and contemporary Native American art, many of which are consignments for purchase. Also, Farah regularly hosts community events in the space, and when an artist signs on with him, he provides “a place to sleep if they need it, a stipend for expenses and a generous commission split, favoring the artist.”
He hopes to give a percentage of future sales at FaraHNHeight to a revolving charity in need. “We as a community feast and famine together. It is important to support each other, develop camaraderie among similar galleries and treat each artist with the respect they deserve and honor their work. I want to make enough money to keep the lights on, but it’s more important to me to make a positive contribution to Taos by an inclusionary rather than exclusionary approach to curating and using the space.”
Farah is a native of Chicago, Illinois, with a degree in history and a master’s degree in business administration. He came to Taos from Chicago with “post-business-school-corporate burnout” and worked as a marketing consultant on the estate of R.C. Gorman, a noteworthy Taos artist who died in 2005. When the job ended, he started looking for space to start his gallery, something he would never have envisioned doing in his previous corporate life in Chicago. He says his education and interest in history, coupled with his business acumen, are a perfect combination to run a gallery in Taos.
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