by Ezrah Jean Black
“The singularly remarkable thing about Ken Gonzales-Day’s re-creation of his breakthrough 1993-96 photographic project, “Bone-Grass Boy: The Secret Banks of the Conejos River,” is the infinitely expansive temporal envelope it seems to occupy. This is more than partially by design in that it appropriates literary tropes and motives of 19th century frontier novels to serve a much larger conceptual and cultural conversation. That such a conversation might be no less relevant and possibly even more urgent today, though, could scarcely have been anticipated when the work was being made. Now, against a backdrop of seismic human migration and planetary change, it seems as if the project could have been made 60 years ago or just yesterday.
Conceivably at the time it was made, the work addressed notions of cultural narrative and cultural/social identity, and the oppressiveness of historically predetermined norms and institutionalized ignorance. Today the conversation seems much broader and more fundamental—and the gallery’s installation reinforces this sense. The first gallery is styled as a kind of drawing room, the photographs hung in a gracefully uncluttered salon-style grouping. Selected portraits are set off by themselves, as if they were family and ancestral portraits. Half of these are against walls painted French blue, the others against a faux wallpaper-style mural-map of historic and cultural landmarks of the Conejos River/Rio Grande/Four Corners basin that extends across the Southwest—a region where Meso-American and North American indigenous peoples once crossed and commingled and variously repelled, endured or were nearly exterminated by invading European armies, only to contend finally with the Anglo-American dominant forces of the United States government, whose rapacious appetite for the land’s resources can never be satiated…”
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