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Film ID  ACE275
Article  The
Title  Desert is no Lady. Women artists of the American South West
Date  1995
Director  Shelley Williams
Production Company  Feline Films
Synopsis  An overview of a number of women artists living and working in Texas and the ways in which their visions are related to the local landscape and Native American culture.
Minutes  51 min
Full synopsis  ACE275.2 (00:00:00 - 00:10:46)
Highway, railway, etc. Pat Mora, poet, describes herself as a native El Pasoan; her mother was born here, her father came over from Chihuahua when he was a small boy. Her work is inspired by the meeting of two cultures, one wealthy and powerful, one struggling to maintain its identity. View across the border into Mexico; Mora VO continues about where she might have been born if her grandparents hadn’t come over at the time of the Mexican Revolution. Mexican family. VO of Sandra Cisneros, writer, saying that it’s schizophrenic for people who can’t see themselves reflected in the dominant culture in which they live. Cisneros: a split between the private language spoken at home in the Mid West, and the public language she was educated in. Cisneros VO over high angle shot of town: moving to the South West enabled her to use both voices, Spanish and English. Cisneros VO continues: street scenes and culturally mixed images. Cisneros says her work borrows from the mixture of phrases from both languages and allows previously invisible (in Texana and North American literature) to speak. Reconstruction with narration over, begins “Dear San Antonio of Padua, Please help me to find a man …”, and continues of shots of buildings, night streets, etc. Wind chimes, house. Luci Tapahonso, poet, driving along desert highway. Her VO says the sources for her writing are here, particularly in the Navajo nation in general. Tapahonso VO continues over shots of desert landscape and features, buildings and people, about use of Navajo language as well as English and the different perceptions of language among Navajo and English-speakers. Tapahonso in car says that Navajos will talk about people having almost the whole atmosphere within them, their activities thus being blessed with, for example, different kinds of wind. What one says is not just personal; it’s like the whole world is talking, and it has to do with honouring language. Shots of streets and people. Tapahonso VO recites poem about connection between people and the world around them, particularly the winds. Shots of children, desert landscapes. Rock paintings. Contemporary paintings showing influence of such work. Emmi Whitehorse, painter, talks about the closeness of Indian art with nature, and the different viewpoint this produces, a different view of the connections between everything, animal and human. Whitehorse at work; her VO says she needs “chaos” while working; moves the paper around continuously so has no fixed idea of what is top and what is bottom; this gives her a “roundness”.

ACE275.3 (00:10:46 - 00:21:50)
Landscapes. VO of Harmony Hammond, painter, talking about the tradition of landscape painting in New Mexico, particularly by incomers. Hammond suggests that most of this is from a traditional “perspective” point of view. Hammond VO says she’s more interested in the quality of feeling of a place. Shots of buildings in the desert. One of Hammond’s works, part painting, part sculpture. Derelict farm buildings. Art works. Hammond VO: her Farm Ghosts series (1993) is about deconstructing ideas from the remnants of objects found at these abandoned farms. Hammond talks about her work The Farmer’s Wife, referring to domestic environment, and interior and exterior spaces. The Farmer’s Wife: Hammond VO on the windmill, the linoleum; “an excavation of memory”. Derelict buildings. Images from Meridel Rubenstein’s photographic Habitat series (c.1992); her VO explains that they’re based on three sites in New Mexico, and that her central themes are home and issues about home. Rubenstein on home and connections or dislocations. More of Rubenstein’s photographs. Her VO suggests that people come from outside with longing for things they’ve been unable to find elsewhere. Buildings and people. Rubenstein VO continues, saying that the world has become more complex, issues more difficult. Example of Rubenstein’s collage work. Her VO says she tries to represent that complexity, a sense of lots of things happening at once, and talks about how layered imagery helped her do this. Other multi-layered images. Aerial view of river. Views of pueblo villages. Landscape. Nina Naranjo Morse, sculptor; her VO describes her activities as she drives along a mountain road, walks through woods, and gathers clay into buckets. Morse outside her home, sieving the clay. VO continues. Morse in her studio talking about how her upbringing made her very conscious of her environment, that the pueblo way of thinking doesn’t compartmentalise things. Sculptures. Morse VO continues: there’s no separate sense of “art” as everything can be “artful”. Photograph of Morse’s mother. Morse VO continues: remembers being with her mother at a museum, and seeing a group of women looking at her and her mother’s work. Morse in her studio, tells how her mother explained to one of them who thought that Nina’s work was strange, that both their work was the “same”. Morse explains why this connection is important to her, that the line goes back and back to “the clay mother”. Aerial shot of mountains: Morse VO believes this is why she has to get her clay from the mountains.

ACE275.4 (00:21:50 - 00:31:12)
Early 20th century railway films. VO Rubenstein. Film from 1940s of scientists at Los Alamos. Desert scenes. Rubenstein on a myth of “the death of the world…” being enacted next to the pueblo where another myth of the end of the world was in progress. Rubenstein VO on end and beginning, on repeating of events (pueblo idea) versus the “end” as propagated by Judaeo-Germanic belief. A photographic work incorporating picture of Indians as well as pictures of Jewish scientists who left Europe, fearing that Hitler would destroy the world with an atomic bomb and wanting to make one faster than he could. VO continues: Oppenheimer knew that an event of Biblical proportions was necessary, that such an event could happen in the desert. Scenes of scientists, film of atomic explosions. Rubenstein’s photographic show. Rubenstein’s montage techniques. Her VO explains that this is the only way she can piece together the multitude of parts she’s dealing with in terms of time, place, culture, etc. Rubenstein’s VO continues over images of serpents from rock art; the importance of the serpent in pueblo life, its connection to water; it’s generally peaceful but can cause devastation in times of trouble. Rubenstein’s photographic show, and individual images from it. Rubenstein VO talks about subverting the idea of Indians as intuitive and scientists as intellectuals, looking at scientific activity as intuitive ritual and the pueblo world as a different intelligence, and about bridging the two extremes. Morse on the mountain road. Landscapes and buildings. Paintings and religious art. Pueblo buildings, people, some paintings. VO of Pola Lopez de Jaramillo, describing painting titled Who Wins this Game. Local culture is much about the legacy of the Conquistadores; the painting represents different cultural groups, or labels, Latino, Chicano, Mestizo, etc. Lopez de Jaramillo, wondering how and where she fitted into these labels, as she’s been described by all of them at one time or another. Pat Mora believes that being a mestiza, the product of two different cultures, is a great strength, but can also give rise to conflict. Mora reading a poem over viewings of buildings, desert landscapes, and a wall of photographs: “We do not travel alone; our people burn deep within us”.

ACE275.5 (00:31:12 - 00:42:53)
Evening and night scenes in towns. Images of Emiliano Zapata. VO Sandra Cisneros talking about her obsession with Zapata, and the eyes of Zapata as the source of one of her stories. Cisneros on Zapata’s common law wife; she could find little information about her so had to invent her story. Photograph of revolutionary army. Cisneros on inventing a woman powerful enough to have the same stature as a great general. Cisneros says that as the woman was Indian and poor, she could have made her only a whore or a witch, and chose the latter. Landscape, photographs of revolutionary army, of embroidered shawl, of woman lighting candles in church, of women shooting rifles: Cisneros reads part of her story over. Cisneros says that understanding the lives of Latino and Chicano women helps women to understand themselves, to rid themselves of detrimental emotions like shame. Roads and landscapes. Shop-fronts, billboards, people. Luci Tapanhonso reading a story to a class of adolescents about a young woman who is bemoaning her relationship with a Navajo cowboy. Landscapes. VO of Pat Mora reading The Desert is no Lady (1984). Mora saying that she feels the desert is a sensual being, in a primal or mythic sense; there’s a lot of energy in the desert. Landscapes and desert plants. Mora’s VO saying that the desert is untameable, full of textures, colours and surprises.

ACE275.6 (00:42:53 - 00:51:28)
VO of Ramona Sakiestewa, tapestry artist; on how artists’ work changes to encompass the brilliant colours and images of the desert regions. Sakiestewa on how colour and the quality of light affects everything. VO Sakiestewa on colour and the relationships between colours being very important. Pigments, coloured drawings, skeins of bright coloured wools, woven patterns. Examples of Sakiestewa’s Facets and Basket Dance series (1991). Her VO says they’re based on the colours and flowers etc., from the region. Sakiestewa relating how she once recognised that some colours she had used were not too intense, but exactly that of a particular sunset. Sunset landscapes and skies. Aerial views of mountains. VO Emmi Whitehorse talking about “White Shell Woman” (Yoolgai Asdzáá) and “Changing Woman” (Asdzáá Nádleehé) , important figures in Navajo mythologies. Whitehorse at work. Her VO talks about working with what she considers as “feminine” shapes. Images from her work. Harmony Hammond on how a lot of her work is about the body, but in an abstract way. Hammond VO one of her pieces on the metal elements representing the skin of the body and of the earth. Hammond talking about the surfaces of her paintings also being like the skin of the body. Hammond VO describing her ideas about her recent work, Bitter Harvest. Dry desert soil and rocks. Derelict farm building in middle distance. Aerial shot of desert from above wheel of plane and showing its shadow on the ground below. Landscape, rock paintings, photograph of Indian women. VO reading poem about Indian women, chanting, kneeling, digging. Landscape. VO continues. Landscapes, urbanisation, aerial and moving views. Credits.

ACE275.7 (0 - 0)

Full credits  With thanks to Susan Bergholz, Joy Harjo, Vera Norwood, The Tapanhonso Family, Ellen Zweig & the Vasulkas, Horwitch Lewallen Gallery, Santa Fe, Independent Communications Associates, Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, Los Murales, El Paso, Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, Taos Pueblo, Tasile Community College, Tucson Museum of Art. Photographs courtesy of Vicente Martinez, Millicent Rogers Museum, Taos, Range Pictures/Betmann, Southwest Museum, Los Angeles. Music courtesy of Arhoolie Productions (California), Canyon Records Productions (Arizona), ECM Records (Munich), Smithsonian/Folkways Recordings (Washington DC). Camera Simon Archer; Assistant Camera Louise Stoner; Sound Mary Jo Devenney, Margaret Duke; Location Co-ordinator Rebecca Bennett, Rad Hall; Production Manager Fred Riedel, Jacqui Timberlake; Production Assistant Vikki Dempsey; Title Design Oko Productions; Assistant Editor Emily Lincoln; Dubbing Editor Izabella Wroczynska; Dubbing Mixer Chris Trussler; Editor Wayne Balmer, Larry Sider; Associate Producers Keith Griffiths, Susan Morris; Executive Producer Janice Monk; Executive Producer for The Arts Council of England Rodney Wilson; Written and Conceived by Susan Palmer; Produced and Directed by Shelley Williams. This film is made possible in part by grants from: Amazon Foundation, Arizona Humanities Council, Colorado,Endowment for the Humanities, The Ford Foundation, Harry & Leah Gudelsky Foundation, Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Arizona, New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities, Stacker Foundation, Texas Committee for the Humanities, Tucson Community Cable Corporation, Utah Humanities Council and Women’s Studies Advisory Council, University of Arizona. A Feline Films Production In association with the University of Arizona (SIROW) for The Arts Council of England. © The Arts Council of England MCMXCV.
Watch segments  ACE275.2 (00:00:00 - 00:10:46)
ACE275.3 (00:10:46 - 00:21:50)
ACE275.4 (00:21:50 - 00:31:12)
ACE275.5 (00:31:12 - 00:42:53)
ACE275.6 (00:42:53 - 00:51:28)
ACE275.7 (0 - 0)
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