Pueblo futurism

Marla Allison is the latest Native American artist to visit Bristol for an exhibition at Rainmaker Gallery in Clifton. During the exhibition opening, art lovers were treated to a live interview with Marla and resident curator Jo Prince. Here, we share some highlights of the conversation…

This is your fourth visit to Bristol. What do you think of Bristol and what makes you want to keep coming back?
It is great to be back. Bristol has a cool vibe and a very particular feeling different from other cities. I enjoy the mix of old and new architecture, the diversity of cultures, the hilly terrain, the rain and the unicorns!

You are originally from Laguna Pueblo. Can you share with us a little about Laguna and your Pueblo culture?
I was raised with traditional beliefs and customs in my ancestral family village which is in the western desert landscape of New Mexico. Our traditional life ways of seasonal dances, sacred ceremonies, New Mexican food, Pueblo clothing and Laguna pottery, continue to this day.

As an artist of mixed heritage, how do your cultures influence your paintings?
My paintings often reflect the histories, landscapes and cultures of my people as well as life outside the reservation. I am creating a unique style of painting, which I call “Pueblo Futurism”. I draw on my own culture’s traditional Pueblo pottery designs and several different abstract styles found in art history, such as cubism and futurism.

Four of the paintings in this exhibition feature young Hopi women. What is your connection to Hopi?
We have a lot of family there (on the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona). My maternal grandmother was Hopi. She was born and raised on Second Mesa until the age of 16. She often took me and my younger brother to the dances at Hopi. It has always been a part of my life and my identity.

How did the pandemic affect you as a painter?
When the pandemic hit I had just begun a commission to paint murals on the walls of a hotel guest room at the Nativo Lodge in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Each room has been painted by a different Native American artist. The commission took four weeks in total – I was locked down in the hotel painting clouds.
Otherwise, I was painting in my Santa Fe home studio. This was a transformational time for me as an artist. I looked out through the windows, which began to appear in the paintings, but I also looked inwards, digging deeper and dealing with loss which resulted in a very personal painting of crying flowers, titled Flowers to Soothe Your Sorrow.

Several of your most recent paintings have been increasingly abstract and free flowing. Is this a direction that you see your work progressing towards in the future?
Yes, I recently took a class in cold wax oil painting with Cherokee artist Sallyann Paschall. The process of experimenting with texture and form without necessity was liberating and sparked a desire to create more abstract compositions.

You are not the only female force of nature to emerge from Laguna Pueblo. Tell us about your aunt, Deb Haaland, and what her trailblazing achievements mean to you, your tribe and to Indigenous people across North America…
My aunt is an incredible woman and an extraordinary role-model. She has forged a political career as a single mother and is now the first Indigenous Cabinet Secretary in the history of the United States. For the most part, this is huge for the people of Laguna, especially the women. It gives them a bigger voice and makes them feel heard and fierce. Many artists of different tribes have been inspired to paint portraits of my Aunt Deb. I hope that more Native people are also inspired to enter politics and effect meaningful change in the world.

Finally, the new Martin Scorsese movie Killers of The Flower Moon premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. What other Native American films would you recommend?
Two films that I enjoyed are the 2001 Inuit movie Fast Runner and the music documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, released in 2017. There is also a film called, Grab (2011) about the tradition of Grab Day in our community of Laguna.

For more information about Rainmaker Gallery and the exhibition, visit: rainmakerart.co.uk; 140 Whiteladies Road, Clifton, Bristol BS8 2RS