Arbitrary Borders: Works by artists of color in Washington’s State Art Collection

Thu, Jan 5, 2023 through Fri, Mar 17, 2023

Arbitrary Borders brings together 35 paintings and sculptures by 19 artists of color. All of the works are a part of Washington’s State Art Collection and will remain at Western, a state university. To ensure continued public access and representation throughout Western’s campus, the works will be installed in public places for students, faculty, and the community to enjoy after the Gallery exhibition.

The new collection concentrates on Black, Indigenous/First Nations, and Latinx artists. African American heritage is shared by Marita Dingus, Violet Fields, Mildred Howard, Earl Miller, Janet Taylor Pickett and Clarissa T. Sligh, while Alfredo Arreguin and Rita Chavez have Mexican backgrounds; Raymon Elozua comes from a Cuban heritage; Eduardo Calderón is from Peru, and numerous Native American cultures are represented by Richard Glazer-Danay (Kahnawake Mohawk), Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne and Arapaho), Edna Jackson (Tlingit), G. Peter Jemison (Seneca, Heron Clan), Armond Lara (Navajo), James Luna (Luiseño, Puyukitchum and Ipai), and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Confederated Salish and Kootenai).

Many of the artists in the exhibition focus on contemporary themes of identity and politics. We find personal narratives and tributes to Indigenous cultures in the work of many of the Native artists. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, for instance, often seeks inspiration in her childhood memories from the Flathead Reservation in Montana; Armond Lara brings together elements of his Navajo and Mexican cultures (“both myself and my works are re-interpretations of Navajo traditions,” he has said), and the concept of ‘orenda’, the traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) belief that every living thing and every part of creation contains a spiritual force is a frequent theme in the work of G. Peter Jemison.

Themes of personal identity and identity expression can be found also in many of the works by Black artists in the exhibition. Janet Taylor Pickett may speak for others also when she affirms: “My Blackness is a declarative statement in my work.” The artists’ bios often reveal personal encounters with oppression and the fight for social justice, including direct involvement in the civil rights movement. Thus, Earl Miller was an active member of a New York based collective of fifteen Black artists, the so-called Spiral Group, formed in response to the 1963 March on Washington and, at age 15, Clarissa T. Sligh was the lead plaintiff in a 1954 school desegregation case in Virginia. Social justice is also addressed by some of the Native artists (Edgar Heap of Birds and James Luna are prominent examples), and Latinx artists (Alfredo Arreguin talks of his struggles with immigrating and feeling out of place in a new country).

If common themes connect the artists, their aesthetic diversity is pronounced. The works vary greatly in style and artistic movements, ranging from representational to abstract to conceptual, and from ceramic and steel sculptures to paintings, photographs, and prints. In addition to celebrating the arrival of a new collection of artworks that better represents the many faces and backgrounds of our community, Arbitrary Borders will spotlight some of the works by artists of color that already exist on campus. These works will extend the exhibition’s discourse, further widening the exhibition’s breadth of diverse perspectives. The works from our existing collection are curated specifically to provide complimentary information for viewers to experience together alongside the new acquisitions.

Washington’s State Art Collection is the oldest and largest statewide public art collections in the nation. It includes more than 5,000 artworks that can be found in 1,300 buildings and campuses across the state of Washington. The Art in Public Places program develops and cares for the Collection as a part of the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA). ArtsWA is a state agency formed by the Washington State Legislature in 1961 to nurture and support the role of the arts in the lives of all Washingtonians.


Artists in the Washington State Art Collection include: Alfredo Arreguin, Eduardo Calderón, Mark Calderon, Rita Chavez, Marita Dingus, Raymon Elozua, Violet Fields, Richard Glazer-Danay, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, Mildred Howard, Manuel Izquierdo, Edna Jackson, G. Peter Jemison, Armond Lara, James Luna, Earl Miller, Janet Taylor Pickett, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, and Clarissa Sligh. Additional works in the WWU Collection are by: Benny Andrews, Lisa Anthony, James Dale, Robert Davidson, Dale De Armond, Raymond Howell, Stan Hunt, Manuel Izquierdo, Jim Johnny, Jim M. Hart Masset, Agnes Nanogak, Henry Napartuk, Susan Point, Charles Roitz, Luis A. Solari, Innukjuakju Pudlat, Shedrich Williames, Don Yeomans, and unknown Inuit artists. 

Exhibition Catalog

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